By Ritika Jain
There are teachers and then there are ‘teachers’. Some of these people are working towards inclusion, sensitising kids to social causes and making them proud of their Indian heritage, mentoring kids with no previous exposure and working tirelessly, patiently and lovingly to open doors for a few lucky children.
Cobalt Blue Foundation
Ruchi is a visual artist-cum-practicing counselling psychologist, working in the area of art therapy and mindfulness. Sundeep has done his masters in narrative environment design and is an expert in storytelling and mythology. Together, their vision is to build a community of knowledge exchange by blending the techniques of storytelling, art and cognitive science. They design engaging workshops which both children and parents can attend, and benefit by bonding with each other. They are in the midst of an exciting project with Shiv Nadar Foundation, which is about personality development through art therapy. In the past, they have conducted sessions for kids with learning disabilities with Neemrana Hotels and UNESCO, educating parents from rural areas about why some kids are different but deserving, and can be helped with specific intervention.
Ruchi remarks, “Very often, kids are not encouraged to express freely where the environment is authoritarian. As a result, various issues crop up later in teenage. Art is intuitive. It’s a happy medium for the most non-verbal of kids, where they like to come up and speak about their creations. All our sessions are interactive and there’s group participation where people do hands-on exercises, use body movements and verbal expressions.”
She shares, “Just recently, a teacher was concerned about a girl who was anxiety-ridden and wouldn’t open up in class. In our workshop, she was very quiet in the first few exercises. But as we progressed and asked the kids to design their own superhero, she came up with this fairy that she imagined herself to be. She spoke very fluently and passionately about her creation. Her teacher was seriously surprised.”
Sundeep adds, “Ages one through five are when our subconscious is formed. We’re informed and influenced by our parents and teachers. Unfortunately, not all of us have demonstration of affection or empathy around us. A child could have gone through the pain caused by bullying or rejection. As a result, he doesn’t know how to love himself. Through guided exercises, we make children aware of themselves and gently direct them towards healing via expressing their inner thoughts and repressed desires. This can help them to manage anxiety or come to peace with certain issues.”
He explains, “For example, in the past and present exercise, we ask them to write five words or associate a colour with how they used to feel and how they feel at present. Feelings are abstract hence analysing oneself through exercises backed by psychology such as the inkblot test, rhythm painting and colouring mandalas proves to be therapeutic. Teaming up with parents for mandala making is also like a shared problem-solving task. Their take-back is an awareness of each other’s likes and dislikes and a positive state of mind, plus a 15 minute activity that they can practice together on weekends.”
Theatre workshops by Feisal Alkazi
Feisal is an author, educationist and activist. He has dedicated his life to theatre and conducts regular workshops for children. He’s directed over a hundred productions for schools across India. His group, Ruchika, has staged over 200 plays in English, Hindi and Urdu. He has also closely worked with NGOs like Sanjivini, Aastha and Disha to counsel differently-abled kids.
He recalls, “Some things stick in your memory. In 1997, along with Raja Reddy, I had curated a Republic Day float involving 150 kids with disabilities. It was touching to see friendships born out of these collaborations. At the parade, you could see a lot of kids exchanging ‘I love you’ in sign language. We got a standing ovation. A lot of times, these kids are hidden away by families and have zero social interaction. Imagine the morale boost they get when they’re put on stage, in the limelight. At one such occasion, a kid was just thrilled that he was on stage while his able-bodied brother was in the audience, applauding him.”
He adds, “Some of our productions have revolved around stories from Panchatantra, involving kids from 4-18 years of age. We had to start with the basics. That meant taking the kids to the zoo to see animals because they had never seen them before. And you would think all kids are familiar with animals! I wanted to put each one of them on stage, even if it meant some had to play the part of a tree. Kids are just happy to be included.”
Shape: Art for social action
Probir Gupta was trained in visual arts in Kolkata and Paris. His work has been widely appreciated in exhibitions all over the world and is part of private and museum collections. He’s extensively involved in human rights activism and through his NGO, Muktangan, has worked for and with underprivileged kids on issues like child labour, trafficking, sale in the name of adoption, violence against women, masculinity etc. Since 1996, he has conceived, designed and conducted several projects to sensitive and involve hundreds of young adults to combat various forms of social injustices in collaboration with organisations like NHRC, UN Women, Delhi University and NGOs like Udayan Care, Salaam Baalak Trust and Prayas.
The current project, Shape is an almost self-funded education initiative. Close to his heart, it aims to not only provide the kids with skills to make a sustainable living but to offer therapeutic healing through art. He has mentored more than 20 kids over the last four years. Some have endeavoured to become potters while other have chosen to pursue other job opportunities when they became adults. He’s now working with three girls and an autistic boy, all of whom are in 9th grade. His vision is to not just build a vision for the future for these children but also to give contemporary pottery an Indian identity through them.
According to Probir, neuroscience explains the therapeutic impact of pottery – alleviating stress, enabling an optimistic outlook, improving concentration and self-worth, amongst others. He believes these children, who’ve been through a lot, need this kind of healing for them to take on life’s challenges when they grow up. He says, “Touch itself is therapeutic. And touching clay, giving it form is meditative. You’re so focused on what you’re making that you forget everything else. These kids don’t want to leave the studio. It’s home to them.”