Four days full of inspiration, innovation and a renewed sense of purpose. But also four days of fun, friendship and hope.
This – and much more – were my days at the INK Conference in Jaipur, this past December.
I arrived in Jaipur excited, curious and yes, a bit anxious too. It’s not every day that you get selected to become an INK Fellow out of a pool of hundreds of applications; much less so if what you do is comics.
The inspiration for Plain Ink, my non-profit, came from my participation in the UN mission to Afghanistan. In 2009 I spent six months writing a textbook for Afghan children, which soon turned into a comic book. In a country where the literacy rate is approximately 23%, comics seemed a more promising choice than a standard textbook for communicating vital public information. I wanted to use comics to circumnavigate the stumbling blocks of poverty – illiteracy, failing public health, poor livelihoods and the like.
After avoiding a Taliban attack due to sheer luck, an evacuation, and five more months of work in Afghanistan, my UN contract came to an end. What came next? I decided to invest everything that I had in creating Plain Ink, a non-profit storytelling organisation that produces educational comics for children in emerging countries, such as Afghanistan and India.
After one year in the making and several rounds of piloting in Jalilpur – a slum of 10,000 people on the outskirts of Varanasi – I was proud to show my comics for Indian children at INK. ‘The Village Changemakers’ – that’s the title of the first book – received a lot of interest and curiosity after my talk, and many people in the audience approached me to find out more and browse the sample copies that I had.
Plain Ink managed to print and distribute the first 2,000 comic books a few days after leaving INK, involving schools, clinics and children in Jalilpur as much as sorrounding areas. Educational activities involving songs, readings and demonstrations were also carried out at various locales in order to show children and their families that comics can be a lot of fun, but also very useful in teaching basic notions of communicable diseases prevention, food security and clean water access.
Plain Ink is now getting into its second reprint, and I have been in touch with all those that showed interest at the INK conference. But Plain Ink is also looking forward to broadening its reach thanks to the opportunity and visibility that INK – before anyone else – gave us to showcase our work.
What is more, Plain Ink is also hard at work on some ideas generated by our participation at INK, including children dramas, an education/livelihood program and further stories now being developed.
Being selected as an INK Fellow made a whole world of difference for me and Plain Ink and, I am sure, for many others. May this momentum keep growing, and show that another way – of living, acting and dreaming – is indeed possible.
By INK2011 Fellow Selene Biffi
February 6, 2012
You can reach Biffi at email@example.com
Biffi’s talk from INK2011 will be uploaded to www.INKtalks.com soon.
Check out the Village Changemakers at http://issuu.com/plaininkbooks/docs/the_village_changemakers