Stanford University
Center for Innovation in
Global Health  

The Revolutionary Optimists

We want to leave the world better for our children, but sometimes our children are already the ones changing the world. A group of kids in the slums of Kolkata lead the charge to improve their neighborhoods health and sanitation.  They call themselves the Dakabuko - the courage of a daredevil.

Empowered by Amlan Ganguly, a lawyer turned child’s rights activist, the Dakabuko fight inequity with art – street theater, dance and puppetry. The Dakabuko share the joys and difficulties of their fight through the documentary The Revolutionary Optimist, which will air in the United States June 17th, 2013 on PBS as part of the Independent Lens Series. The film had its world wide premiere at the International Film Festival of India in Goa, India in November.

The documentary provides us with an insider’s view asthe Dakabuko decrease malaria and diarrhea, improve polio vaccination rates and turn a trash heap into a soccer field. Part of the hope inherent in the film comes from watching these kids succeed in improving the lives of their neighbors, while growing from kids to empowered young adults.

The filmmakers will present the film on a panel at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. The Corporation of Public Broadcasting’s Women and Girls Lead Global Campaign also selected the film to broadcast in 9 countries over the next 5 years.

But the Dakabuko are not done.

Even as The Revolutionary Optimist tours the world, the Dakabuko are moving on to their next project. They are data mapping their slum.

Through arts and craft megaphones and painstakingly hand drawn maps the Dakabuko raised polio vaccination in their neighborhood from 40% up to 80%.  They want to reach 100%.

The filmmakers of The Revolutionary Optimist, Maren Grainger-Monsen and Nicole Newnham from the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics Program in Bioethics and Film, could not sit back and watch these kids struggle so hard to meet their goals without helping.  They brought Ganguly to the Bay Area Video Coalition's Producer's Institute with them and it was at the institute that they developed “Map Your World.”

Using cellphones and a database overlaid on the kids’ hand drawn map, the Dakabuko can instantly update their health surveys and maps by SMS. Ganguly, The Revolutionary Optimist filmmakers and the Dakabuko are partnering with several US-based organizations to build a prototype “Map Your World” to track everything from unclean public school bathrooms to the incidence of diabetes.

Young people around the world share this “courage of a daredevil” and work to develop their communities by mapping their neighborhoods’ public health issues. In addition to the Dakabuko,Grainger-Monsen and Newnham are bringing Map Your World technology to kids  and youth groups here in the United States such as the Youth Uprising in Oakland, St. Paul's School in Oakland and AUNI in Philadelphia, giving these kids power to change their world.

Sometimes the best thing we can do is give people the tools they need to create the future themselves.

Watch the video trailer of the Revolutionary Optimists.


This was written by Kristina Krohn, the Stanford-NBC News Media and Global Health Fellow for 2013-2014.

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