Mumbai attracts over 1.5 million foreign tourists every year. To most people arriving into India for the first time, Mumbai — a mad jumble of colour and experiences — is bewildering. The sheer volume of people and traffic, the garbage, the beggars, the chaos on the streets, the smells — fishy and otherwise —that accost you, the contrast between the lives of the rich and the poor and the fascinating economy that envelops it all can overwhelm the most seasoned traveller. That there is a method to the madness is not evident to even the most experienced eyes. So it’s likely that, to the first-time visitor, any assistance to help make sense of Mumbai would be welcome.
And what more imaginative way to see a place than through the eyes of a child? Clap Global, a unique cultural exchange platform, has recently launched in the city for travellers to visit local schools and engage in meaningful conversation with students. The children get to learn from the visitor and the visitor gets a unique peek into the city — a kind that no ordinary guide could offer.
Of course, it takes two to tango and by letting visitors into the classrooms, the students gain just as much as the Clap visitor. They get to ask questions about the visitor’s country, find and identify it on a map, see and hear pictures and stories about the visitor’s lives. In the process, the student learns about another culture and way of life — and the visitor learns what occupies and interests the children most.
The premise for the start-up, co-founded by Aarti Chhabria and Shirin Johari, is that not all Indian parents have the resources to send their children on elite educational tours and exchange programmes. In fact, numbers indicate that less than 0.1 per cent can actually afford an international exchange programme. What’s more, even the ones who can go abroad are exposed to only one foreign culture in a year. “But if each student in a school participates in at least six Clap Talks a year, then between the ages of 3 and 15, she will gain exposure to over 72 different cultures from around the world,” says Johari, who has spent her career in advertising and was previously creative head of TWBA.
Schools and educators around the world are fast realising that a student’s “emotional and cultural intelligence is as important as IQ”. “Anyone who has studied in a regular Indian school system can tell you this: education needs to move beyond rote learning. The world is changing and children need to be regularly exposed to diverse perspectives and ways of life,” adds Chhabria, who worked in the education sector after her studies at HR College in Mumbai.
The company is for profit and charges a fee from the schools that join the programme. They currently work with 15 private schools and 35 Teach for India schools and offer talks in Mumbai, Pune and Delhi. Plans are afoot to expand to Hyderabad, Bengaluru and Ratnagiri before the year end. “We believe young people will grow more open-minded, adaptive and accepting,” says Chhabria. The company has managed to raise Rs 45 million in funding in December 2017. Some high net-worth individuals have also invested in the venture.
Almost 1,000 travellers have signed on with Clap already. The founders argue that the travellers are growing increasingly wary of typical “touristy” experiences. They want their travel to be more authentic and their interactions with a new place deeper. “When travellers participate in a Clap Talk, they get to witness a slice of real life in a foreign land while making an actual difference to the lives of the people they meet,” says Johari.
To spread the word and message among travellers, Clap has designed an attractive flyer that is put up in cafés, shops and restaurants in areas popular with foreign tourists, which poses the question: “Would you believe us if we said that the best view of Mumbai is from inside a classroom ?” (That’s how this writer tracked down them down — because of a flyer at a café in Kala Ghoda.)
It’s not as if travellers simply walk into classrooms and start speaking. Clap Global has adopted a measured approach to the process and designed a Clap curriculum and framework for the talk to ensure that it is meaningful and that children are able to make sense of it.
Every school that signs up with Clap is given a “Clap Kit”, complete with conversation aids and flashcards to guide them through a talk. Similarly, travellers are given a presentation template that they can customise with their pictures and stories to help them prep for their Clap Talk. The curriculum covers a range of universal topics, such as culture, family, current events, interpersonal relationships, environment, gender, human rights and freedoms, justice and governance. “So students can learn about a refugee crisis or a civil unrest situation straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak,” adds Johari.
Some initiatives deserve a round of applause.