December 10, 2009
During the early summer, we had a visit from two friends of Shikshamitra who took out some time from their travels to volunteer doing dance workshops at school. The culmination of this ended in a beautiful performance! Here is the blog entry they wrote about their time spent at the school:
Dear Shikshamitra Readers:
Our names are Kajori and Meghna Purkayastha. We had the most remarkable experience in Kolkata this year. Out of the many places we visited in India, Kolkata was definitely the most memorable. We were born and raised in Orange County, California, and despite the assimilation to American culture, our parents have kept us in touch with our Indian heritage and culture. As 14 year olds, we have a lifelong desire to pursue community service, especially through our involvement in Swanirvar. Our time spent at Shikshamitra was a continuation of this goal.
We spoke to Sujit and Sudeshna about what we could do while at Shikshamitra, and proposed that we expose the children to movement and dance. We have both been learning the Indian classical dance known as Kathak for eight years, with our teacher Ms. Punam Kumar. Sudeshna asked us to write a brief narrative on the history of Kathak and also asked us to choreograph a short dance piece. We picked the song “Jhini” by the group Indian Ocean.
We choreographed Kathak footwork and added some Bollywood steps to make the dancing more free and flowing. In our dance group, we had much help from other Shikshamitra staff members, Mausami Auntie and Biswajit Uncle. They helped us teach the Shikhamitra students: Kiran, Rajesh, Indu, Priyanka, Anita, Bikey, Prodeep, Neha, Kakoli, and Chaitali. The ages of the students ranged from 7-15 years. After the school session was over each day, the kids assembled in the classroom. We taught from 1:30 PM to about 3:00 PM. We had a lot of fun teaching and getting to know the kids! They were polite and friendly, and very curious to know where we came from and what we liked to do. When they got more comfortable around us, they were not shy to fight with each other and ask for help. Kids will be kids!
In the beginning, we were apprehensive of our language skills. We worried about how we would communicate with the children, as our Bangla was not perfect. However, as time went on, we learned quite a bit of Bangla from them, and they learned English from us – it was quite amusing hearing them imitate our American English phrases like “Good job!” and “Fantastic!” We looked forward to spending every afternoon with them. The rigorous dance practices in the sweat and heat paid off- the kids gave a wonderful performance for the entire school. The dancers were beautifully dressed and looked so sweet for the final day.
We had the most memorable time at Shikshamitra- it was an experience we will keep in our hearts. For this we thank our relatives, Sujit Uncle and Sudeshna Maasi. We made many friends and hope to stay in touch with them. The parting was very emotional, but it will not be our last. We plan to visit our friends at Shikhamitra in the future!
Lastly, our visit has changed the way we do certain things. We found upon our return, that we have become much more gracious and alert about the struggles of life. We work to shed our attachment to material things and focus on working hard to overcome the obstacles we encounter-not complaining or doubting ourselves. Indeed, we felt that we had learned more from the students at Shikshamitra than they did from us.
October 30, 2009
October 05, 2009
For weeks before the Puja holiday break, it was clear that something was UP at Shikshamitra. Kids were huddling in groups, walls were being taken down, decorations were being hung up, there were rehearsals and practice sessions, things were getting cleaned up and there was an overall feeling of determination in the air. Sometimes instructors at schools might feel that having a big event takes away important classroom time but from what we could see, the kids were doing some of their most important learning in the weeks leading up to the Annual Function, held on 14 September, 2009, just before school was to let out for a long holiday.
The children themselves put together their skits and worked with the dance teacher to choreograph new pieces. They made invitations and invited their families and friends from the neighborhood. And while the kids were busy making their own preparations to wow the audience, teachers were also working on their own presentation: the Awards Ceremony that would be held in between the acts created and performed by the children.
At every school, children are awarded for good performance in certain subjects but at Shikshamitra we like to think that academics alone do not make up the student and we try to look at the growth and personal performance of each individual as well. This year, the awards that were presented to our students were based on total performance of the child throughout their stay at Shikshamitra. For some this meant four years, for others it meant six months.
Sudeshna and Kasturi called Samrat's grandmother out of the audience and up to the stage to help award the following unique honours to our students:
For SENSE OF RESPONSIBILITY: Biki, Mohan, Sajahan, Hasna, Ador, Boloram, Chaitali
For EAGERNESS TO HELP / COOPERATION: Boloram, Ador, Babai, Samrat, Chaitali, Hasna, Rajesh
For CONTRIBUTION IN DISCUSSIONS: Shantanu, Sajahan, Biki, Indu, Hasna, Rohit, Samrat
For EAGERNESS TO KNOW AND LEARN: Shantanu, Rohit, Neha, Sajahan, Hasna
For BRINGING A SEA OF CHANGE IN ONESELF: Priyanka and Samrat
For ART: Noor, Sajahan, Rohit, Babai, Mohan, Biki, Ador , Bijoy
For CRAFT: Babai, Rajesh, Boloram, Ador,
For DANCE: Chaitali, Rohit, Anita, Priyanka, Indu, Rahul
For ACTING: Rohit, Shantanu, Babai, Ador, Mohan, Biki,
For WRITING: Anita, Indu,. Pradip, Kakoli, Biki, Sajahan,
For HELPING YOURSELF TO GROW: Hasna and Sajahan
For OUTSTANDING PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT: Biki
For PARTICIPATION AND EFFORT BY NEWCOMERS: Sahidur and Dinesh
Besides the beautiful dance performances that showed what the children have been learning in the dance class over the past few months, there were other acts that were noteworthy. Bikey and Mohan wrote and performed a small skit about two guys sitting at their local tea shop, talking about Rabindranath Tagore – his works and ideas – on his birthday. One of the two guys was preparing for his Class X exam through the open school system named after Rabindranath (Rabindra Mukta Vidyalaya), so the other was curious to know if the board was named after the poet and educationist known for his alternative and open school experiment at Santiniketan. Another performance, which almost everyone took part in was called "Noise in the Kitchen," and was created by the students based on a story a previous teacher had told to them. All the performances were full of fun and we witnessed some fine hidden talent too!
It was an evening of magic, everyone was smiling and feeling a sense of having really accomplished something. Let's hope everyone comes back after the Puja break ready to unleash this determination once again for the new session!
July 17, 2009
The photo above is from two years ago, taken after an art class at our school.
Boloram is an older student who has been with Shikshamitra for several years now. He works hard at his studies and is serious about moving ahead. He is part of the afterschool bookbinding course and is quite an enthusiastic art student! Recently Boloram was asked to be in charge of the art classes for the younger students who now attend in the morning. He took his job seriously and came up with his own plan based on an art lesson he had participated in at our school and at a different school we were helping develop more creative classes at.
On the day of his class, he had small paper cutouts prepared – dove-shapes and wing-shapes – for each of the students. He asked his students to design and decorate their doves and wings using the various materials ( paint, crayons, etc.) he provided them with. He finished off the session by putting the pieces together, stapling on the wings and attaching a hanging loop.
Then, Boloram made a beautiful tree on the back of the door, also out of paper scraps, and he helped the children hang their birds in the tree. And as this photo shows, he fashioned a pretty cool bird's nest out of some string that was stuffed away in a corner as well!
Three cheers for Boloram's innovation and budding leadership skills!
July 13, 2009
It was a Friday Math class. We were discussing exam results – not a very interesting topic. Toward the end of the session, I decided to change the mood a bit, have some "fun" to balance out the "exam" flavor.
A few days back, the children had been asked to cut some circles from paper, so with this preparation already done, I took one of the circles and folded it into one-eighth segments (fractions). I made some cuts along the two radial edges. I then unfolded the circle to reveal a very nice, fully symmetrical pattern. The children and Biswajit started to try the exercise using their own circles and many different patterns came out. Sometimes the students were encouraged to refold the circles back and make a few more cuts to bring out the designs. Gradually, we saw some very intricate designs develop. Soon they all started to use their second circles, as the first ones had no more space to cut out from. Next, out came their third ones, fourth ones, etc... The circles had now become a very prized possession for those who had diligently cut them out beforehand.
The children were obviously pleased with their designs and wanted to display them so they brought down a large sheet of paper that had been sitting around, and pasted their patterned circles all over it. They wanted to hang it right at the front entrance to our school and I let them!
After seeing this poster of patterned circles, the younger children naturally became interested and the activity was repeated in their own class, with some help from Biswajit. Some of them did even smaller sectors to begin with.
The next day, some children from Praajak came to Shikshamitra to watch a movie. As the domino effect took root, it seemed that they also wanted to try their hand at cutting patterns into the circles. With them, we also did some patterns on the long strips of paper that were left over from cutting out the circles. A few of the teachers also joined in and we found that some of the strip designs could be worn as bracelets. At the end of the day, every one of the Praajak children left the school with one of these bracelets around their wrists.
Soooo, how is this related to math? you ask?
Well, it was a good way to introduce and explain fractions to begin with; and the concepts of rotation (circular design) and translation (strip pattern) also came into play.
July 05, 2009
Following a very hot summer vacation, Shikshamitra reopened on 12th June to move into its fifth year. Over the past four years, many of the older students have been exposed to various forms of art but unfortunately, there has been very little scope for physical activities. We were excited to be able to plan out a two-day workshop on theater activities with Jahar Das, who performed with a renowned theater group called Naandikar for many years.
During the two days (18-19 June), Jahar led students through various activities; the main emphasis being on reducing the childrens' inhibitions about moving their bodies. The session began with self introductions where each child was asked to mention his or her name, pronouncing it clearly. Rahul had to repeat his name a couple of times till he said it clearly: R-A-H-U-L and not R-A-U-L , as he has a habit of saying. The names with consonant clusters like Shantanu, Priyanka, Pradip were also given special attention.
The children were also exposed to some basic rhythms (Taal) and Sargam from Indian Music. Jahar had the children practice them repeatedly. He also showed them how they can invent their own music by using various daily objects, such as a steel plate and a spoon, a glass tumbler, a plastic bowl – and integrate these with the music of any regular rhythm instruments. On the first day, Jahar asked the children to enact a small skit without words: Bikey posed as a person reading a newspaper and Pradip was washing his clothes under a running tap. When Pradip forgot to indicate that he was turning off the tap, Jahar immediately pointed this out. He explained to the children that paying attention to the details is an important component of drama. On the second day, they did a skit with words. After doing some rhythm and Sargam exercises, the children were taught a modern dance with an English song.
The workshop was really fun and challenging for the children – so much so that they have asked Jahar to come to school regularly to do more drama classes. We are all happy that he has agreed to take a session once every week from July so that we can finally offer Shikshamitra students a chance to see how their bodies and minds can work together!
April 08, 2009
Sharing ideas and talents with like-minded people and organizations is something Shikshamitra considers to be an important goal. In February, Shikshamitra teamed up with the handicraft unit at Calcutta Rescueto share some of our skills and ideas. We organized two workshops between the groups and plan to do more in the future.
On 10 February, 2009 a group of about 6 Shikshamitra students and two teachers visited the Calcutta Rescue handicraft unit near Soba Bazaar metro station. Riding the subway back and forth from Rashbehari was an experience in itself! We warmly greeted by the staff and craftspeople there. Each of the children went through the step-by-step process of making a small doll with wire, recycled cloth and thread. We were surprised to see how much work goes into one small doll, that fits neatly into your pocket in the end!
Then, on 19 February we hosted a workshop at Shikshamitra to share our knowledge of bookbinding with about four Calcutta Rescue craftspeople and four of the administrators. The workshop was led by Bali and two student assistants, Bikey and Boloram. Bali teaches the afterschool bookbinding course twice a week and it is heartwarming to see how students have gained a natural sense of pride and confidence from learning this new, useful skill. They call themselves, "Chetla Bookbinders!" Bali had prepared a slab of paper to be bound and then torn into smaller pads, so that each person could take home their own hand-bound diary with a cloth cover that same day. He gave basic instructions on how to make the various types of glue that are needed and worked with craftspeople from Calcutta Rescue to put a gauze binding on, get the cardboard covers cut to the right size and then neatly covered in cloth. He gave a demonstration on stitching the binding as well. We all shared a nice lunch together before saying goodbye. Everyone seemed very satisfied with the interactions that took place from these two sessions and reports from Calcutta Rescue say the organization has already started producing diaries as part of their popular handicraft range!
Here is Charlotte, an administrator for Calcutta Rescue, proudly showing off her diary!
January 28, 2009
SHIKSHAMITRA “ART IN SCHOOL” EXHIBITION IN THE COMMUNITY
23 JANUARY, 2009 • 2-6 P.M.
It had long been our founding teacher/social worker, Sukhendu’s, dream to take Shikshamitra into the community by holding an interactive exhibition in the local club. Unfortunately, in 2006 we got involved in holding the huge Bal Vividha festival and this community exhibition had to be postponed. Last month (12-14 December 2008), after holding the highly successful exhibition at school, we discussed the idea with Kishore, the secretary of Alipore Junior Sporting Club (AJS Club) and the parents and everyone was very enthusiastic about holding such an event in their locality. As the exhibits were already with us, this was also the right time. So this became a joint venture between Shikshamitra and A.J.S. Club. The venue was the club courtyard. The community was notified through six posters hung at strategic points in and around the locality. Mousumi, our current social worker(Sukhendu’s wife), was in charge and received supprt from Sipra and Biswajit.
On 19 January, parents were invited for a creative session in the school. They drew, they painted, made attractive needle work pieces, and tried their hands at clay work. As they munched at their snacks and sipped tea, the initial nervousness vanished. Soon they giggled and commented on each other’s work. Maura, our art teacher, was approached and mothers requested her to take English classes for them! A bit reluctantly, the only father in the group made a drawing – perhaps the first since he finished schooling himself. All of these were displayed at the community exhibition and the mothers managed their exhibits by themselves.
By 8:30 a.m., everybody had assembled in the school. Ador, a Shikshamitra student, came with his rickshaw van and took all the exhibits to the venue. It was a great feeling to go together as a Shikshamitra team and start the preparations. Unfortunately the previous day, 22 Jan., was a Bandh (strike) and we had a serious discussion on the 20th about canceling the exhibition. Thanks to Kishore, the ever-enterprising Club Secretary (supporting us from the beginning) and the decorator, Sachin, the entire zone was cordoned off neatly on the morning of the 23rd and was available for us to work on the displays.
To our surprise, Bijoy Das (an ex-student who lasted six months) and Biswajit Das (a ragpicker who lasted 2 days) were the main people sweeping the premises. Biswajit even reminded me that he was one of the first students at Shikshamitra.
• It just took us (6 teachers and 8 students) 2.5 hours to finish putting up the displays; an hour more was spent in detailing and giving technical touches. It was an example of wonderfully synchronized team work.
• The feeling of doing the exhibition in the community was very different, as it was we, the Shikshamitra teachers, who were the outsiders. The insiders were our student community, their mothers, Kishore and his associates from the club. We were comfortably assisting them to make the show a success. They knew every nook and corner and were climbing and crouching everywhere to make the place look its very best. We tried hard to sense the pulse of the community – adding exhibits or canceling some.
• Although the program was intended to start at 2 p.m. we found that we had started a couple of hours early! In a happening community such as this, one cannot restrict children and adults. They just walked in when they got the time!
• From morning, adults and children queried about the Sit and Draw Corner, which they were very familiar with from previous events we have put on. We warned them, with our usual mottoe, that there would be “no prizes because everyone is a winner.” Groups of children in all sizes used the colours and drew til their hearts’ content with family members and friends urging them to do well. The show was staffed by our students, Samrat and Boloram, and teachers Biswajit and Mousumi. Simultaneously, children thronged together to shape things out of clay. Doing the artwork was contagious. Adults, men, and women tried their hand at claywork and some of their pieces were rather original. Mohon, Shantanu, and Shiladitya supervised. The pieces were all put on display and people seemed proud.
• The show was stolen by the enthusisasm shown by all the young readers. They were glued to the library book display we had set out. Colourful books, with 2-4 lines per page, were chosen on purpose. There were also some more difficult ones out. The sheer colour and simplicity of these books stole their young hearts. The attraction was that they could read easily, loudly and move on to the next one quickly. A small child (4-5 years) simply hugged a book, feeling it, and then … even smelling the book too!! Older children (13-14) also refused to leave the books. Children rushed in, dragging their parents and grandparents along. They had come with money. They wanted to buy the books. How dismayed they were when we told them that these were our library books and not for sale! We all knew what the next step would be –starting a weekly library at the club premises!
Many enquired about the school, as they gazed into the charts. Volunteers like Shantanu, Sajahan, Ador, Rohit and even little Neha, did a great job managing the people, especially all the rowdy children. Photographs displayed (from our interesting science classes and our vibrant E.V.S. classes at school) drew many visitors. It was a learning experience for us all. A community exhibition needs more hands-on displays, many more photographs and less written materials. Shikshamitra put up a mime show, dance performance and storytelling at the end of the show – compiled by Bickey, from our upper class.
It took us just about a half hour to dismantle the show – once again, teamwork at its best. By 6:30 pm, we were back at school with everything. Enjoying the evening snack, we called it a day just around 7:15 pm – a super success by all means .