“Sir, I did this painting, do you like it?”
Balaji came in unannounced into my room and laid out his painting book before me. It was a splash of colours and strokes imaginatively portraying the future.
He was 13 when he joined our ‘Achieve through Arts’ programme. He used to stay then at the government home for boys at Royapuram in Chennai. His mother, the lone breadwinner of the family had admitted him at the shelter, so that he could stay away from his alcoholic and abusive father and continue his school education.
He has been part of all our ‘Achieve through Arts’ programmes. Our activities places the child at its centre and empowers teachers to kindle their natural curiosity, question beliefs, express themselves creatively, succeed, fail and learn from it .
Our core initiatives include Kanavupattarai, a ‘workshop of dreams’ in Tamil, Kanavu Pattarai is an inspiring three day residential camp inside the beautiful Dakshninachitra campus, organized for children between the ages of 14-17 who suffer from low self worth, disruptive behaviour and truancy issues. Here, children are trained in in role-play, improvisation, creative games, storytelling and dance. The aim of the workshop is to reduce fear improve self-esteem and a sense of belonging among children. 475 children have benefitted from these camps last year alone.
Another initiative is the Structured Arts Education wherein teachers from over 163 government schools in Tamil Nadu engage their children from standards 1 to 8 in our thematic arts curriculum through 25 sessions spread over their academic year. Through a combination of visual arts, storytelling, music and drama, children have also improved their reading and writing skills.
Then there are Art Labs that train talented children from urban slums in fine art, craft, dance, drama and music. Set up inside government schools, colleges and museums experienced artists, musicians and dancers train the children through a structured curriculum. There are 4 such centres in Chennai with 6 to follow.
Balaji is a versatile actor and an artist. He played the lead actor in our play “Patti Vadai Kakka Nari” which had 63 children from the various shelter homes run by the government across Tamil Nadu. ‘The Hindu’ hailed the play ‘fabulous and folksy’ and has been staged 10 times in Chennai.
He moved back home from the Government Home in Royapuram, Chennai when his mother fell sick. He would start his day by distributing newspaper, cooking food, going to school and later doing other odd jobs. He would attend our workshops regularly.
NalandaWay’s art classes are fun, inquiry oriented and full of excitement and expression. Our camps are also places where children learn about themselves, how to express themselves, think deeply about ideas, issues, come up with innovative solutions to problems, understand aesthetics and beauty.
“I laughed so much in the camp when I thought I had forgotten to smile!” said a child who had participated in one of our workshops.
Inspite of being a serious discipline, colours, activities like clay modeling, junk art, print making, painting, the visual arts provide children with creative tools for expression. Likewise, performing arts, dance, theatre and movement, allow children to express freely with their bodies, voices and expressions. With these skills, children find a new understanding of themselves and the world they inhabit.
Balaji completed his school board examination with distinction, but continued working to support his mother, younger brother and abusive father. I still remember the joy and sense of achievement in his expressive face, when he was selected for B Sc Visual Communications course at the Madras Christian College.
“Good job da,” I said and looked at him standing near the door in my office. He seemed uneasy and quite fidgety for a confident person. He came regularly to my office every day after his morning job and before he left for college.
There were noticeable bruises on his chin and arms. One side of the face looked swollen than usual.
“What happened? Did you have a fall?” I asked.
He avoided my question and rambled about something disconnected. After some persuasion he became silent.
“My father bit me barbarously last night because I would not give him money for alcohol,” he replied and showed the bite marks all over his right arm. He had also hurt himself on his face while trying to escape his hold.
“But don’t worry sir. This is not the first time. I am rock solid,” he said and smiled confidently.
Our children might have come from the most exploitative situations but their self-confidence that they have improved by participating in our classes have helped them endure all the struggles that have come their way to stay focused and create the lives that they truly aspire.
This article appeared in the “Aalaap” magazine, June 2014 issue. Names of children have been changed.