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Chennai Children’s Choir

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Presenting NalandaWay’s Chennai Children’s Choir.

The journey started eight months ago. A dream to create a world class choir that comprise of children from the poorest homes, children with disabilities and children who have suffered exploitation. Our benchmark was the “Chicago Children’s Choir”.

We reached out to 240 government and ngo run schools in Chennai. Auditioned over 600 children between ages 10 to 17 for over two days and selected 60 of them. They have undergone training every Saturday and Sunday except for the days during the floods.

We wanted these children to reach the stars like no other and become role models for others. Radio Mirchi bought into our dream and supported the project.

Chennai Children’s Choir made their debut on Sunday at the Tatvaloka auditorium. They sang bhajans of Mirabai, poems of Amir Khusro, and jumpy folksy numbers in Telugu and Tamil. None of them knew Hindi or Telugu before. But they were feisty and fabulous.

A person from the audience told me that he got goosebumps listening to them.

I cried.

Six children in the group are visually challenged, two have spectrum disorder, but every one of them has a song they want you to hear.

They are performing again at the Urur Olcott Kuppam Vizha, Besant Nagar beach, 6 pm on the 28th of Feb, Sunday.

Be there. Bring your friends. They are counting on your support.

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In medias res

Urur Olcott Margazhi Vizha

Me and a bunch of friends have been involved in organising a dance and music festival that celebrates the diversity and oneness of arts. This year the festival is being conducted on the 27th and 28th of February at the Urur Olcott Kuppam near Besant Nagar beach in Chennai.

This video is a sneak preview.

Now I have a personal request. This festival is possible only because of contributions from individuals like you. Please please, click here (https://www.ketto.org/urur-vizha) or (http://globalgiving.org/microprojects/urur) to make a donation now.

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Help the kids smile


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Aren’t these children’s smiles beautiful? Would you like to help them smile?

At Nalandaway Foundation we have started running small workshops to engage children inside 10 transit shelters across Chennai. We are looking for volunteers who have skills in story telling, teaching, playing games, dance, drama, singing, painting, music.

Sessions are between 10 to 12 and 2 to 4 all days. Please contact Monisha @ 9940350836 or Vidhya @ 9566180985. Kindly pass the word.

Thank you Vedanth Bharadwaj, Manaswini, Jayachandran, Usha (Rhapsody), Shujo (SCARF), Rhoda Alex, Siddharth, Shweta, and Deepika for getting things started.

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Walking with Rama

Faith Gonsalves

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When I entered “Barsoom” a bar in Hauz Khaz Village, Delhi, Faith Gonsalves was sitting on a chair with her knees pulled to the chest and immersed in her Macbook.

Barsoom is a woody, science fiction inspired and eclectic space which offers wonderful food, cocktails and great music. It was only seven in the evening and the café looked empty.

Faith is the founder of Music Basti, a non-profit that provides structured music education to under-privileged children living in shelter homes in Delhi.

“We want to make a lasting change in the lives of these children through music.”

“We call our programme ‘Re-Sound,’ which introduces the elements of music including appreciation, listening and song writing through a creative and fun methodology, especially focused on voice and group learning.”

The entrance to the bar had a sliding door, which the guests who had started trickling in seldom closed it. This bothered Faith, she reached out her hand and closed it every time without showing her annoyance. She did not give up.

“Spread across 30 lessons over eight months, our trainers use both Hindustani and Western styles. The programme finally ends with a showcase, where kids perform to a wider audience,” she glowed with confidence.

What impressed me the most, unlike other young social entrepreneurs, who normally struggle for structure in their projects during their early years, Music Basti very soon had built a programme that had clear goals and a well defined implementation plan.

“Music is a powerful equaliser. It brings with it a whole host of learning and developmental benefits – whether it’s learning math and rhythm, language and singing or how to work together with other children,” she concluded.

While I shook hands with this beautiful and confident girl, the bar was filling up with a good mix of men, women and techno music.

Sriram Ayer

‘Walking with Rama’ is series of stories from my meetings with artists, musicians, dancers, actors, craftsmen and mavericks across India.

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Walking with Rama

The Beginning

Three weeks ago, quite whimsically I decided that I would go on a tour across India to meet  artists, musicians, dancers, actors, craftsmen, and schools who teach arts to children. I am hoping that my meetings with these men, women and children would help me make connections, learn about their work and find ways to use them at NalandaWay.

But I also see this as a pilgrimage, a journey for introspection and search for meanings. The journey which I foresee to be short travels through the year, does not have a goal. Atleast not yet. I am calling this nomadic tour, “walking with Rama.” This Rama has nothing to do with the husband of Sita. It just implies, “walking with myself.” My name is Sriram too, just in case you did not know.

I intend to write about my conversations and my reflections here.

My walk with Rama began in Delhi this weekend where I met some incredible women, men and a dog. Their stories will follow soon.

Be nice, read and do comment.

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In medias res

Study tour

I am planning to go on a study tour on arts education across India. I would like to meet artists, musicians, dancers, actors, craftsmen, and schools with experience in teaching their art forms to children. While I prepare my schedule, which I foresee would be short travels through the year, can you suggest names of people/institutions that I should meet? Also looking for fellow travellers who would like to join me on this pilgrimage. Hit me if any one is interested.

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Hope and Faith

“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 .

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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.

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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.

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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.

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