UPDATE AS WE CROSS ONE YEAR
In March 2016, we completed one year of the Community Cultural Centre, Utsah Toli. We have gone through the proverbial Four Seasons. It has been a very enlightening experience to understand the nuances of rural society…and the roles children play within their family unit.
Children collect fodder, fuelwood, water, attend to grocery shopping and warding off monkeys from the agriculture fields, help in repair of houses…and of course they attend school. Utsah Toli does provide them much needed relief from the drudgery of daily life and brings them closer to their childhood. Yet, the demands of their personal lives makes it difficult for them to come at fixed hours for specific durations.
We began with a big bang of nearly 90 members who filled their membership forms, collected the membership ID cards and attended several of our monthly get-togethers – particularly if a party was announced. Now, we are not that crowded. In this period of one year, there is a group of serious, regular members, who have understood the reason and meaning of Utsah Toli. All twenty+ of them somehow find time to come to the Centre…to play games, be on the internet, paint, create handicrafts…and exchange a few laughs.
It was interesting how these children expressed themselves when Aruna came on a visit. She was accompanied by our primary funder, a Canadian artist donor and some well-wishers. We motivated the children to create a little programme for them, which they presented themselves. The dance by little girls and the hand-crafted gifts were of course wonderful. What the children spoke was overwhelming. They spoke about how Utsah Toli has given them confidence, a place for self-expression and ways of learning things from the Internet.
It is true, they have glided into Internet-guided learning with our assistance. Whether it is music or soft toys or paper craft or carry bags. They have learnt how to save Do-It-Yourself You Tube videos on the desktop, which they play back for reference.
So, while computer games are a favourite, the children have moved on in Digital Literacy. We were thrilled to receive Facebook friend requests from some of the children. They have done it on their own and have now begun to update their profile picture. Now, they have been introduced to Skype. It is a big thrill for them. After we leave the centre and reach home, soon enough the Skype call comes in, asking if we have had lunch!
At one point, our ‘official’ musician, Sarvjeet and his friend Dhruv, decided to stay over for a week to teach music and songs. The place was buzzing for the time they were staying at the centre. This is clearly a favourite and we have to find a way to make it a regular intervention.
On the persistent request of some cricket enthusiasts amongst our core group of children, we acquired wickets, bats and balls…when the weather is good, children are busy with outdoor games.
Some children wanted English to Hindi dictionary before their exams. They were thrilled when Neelima inscribed and handed them over to the excited kids.
The other big thrill is coffee-making. We positioned coffee, milk and sugar sachets and now they make their own coffee and chill, so to speak. It is a great pleasure for them to make it for us or any guests who come in. Impromptu cake-ice-cream-snack-cold drink parties are enjoyed by those present on a particular day. The children really look forward to these surprises.
Our matron, Nirmala, continues to supervise everything else at the centre. She is the interface with the community, particularly the parents – who seem to monitor the centre and activities through informal gossip while passing by.
Meanwhile, the children had a great experience during the annual documentary film festival we hold here in Naukuchiatal. In a space of less than two weeks, they made bags from handmade paper, dolls from socks, glass-painted candle stands and spray-paint greeting cards. Thanks to The Lake Resort / Mahendera Verma, we put up a stall and the children and Nirmala sat there presenting and successfully selling their ‘wares’ every day.
Festival guests were happy to learn about Utsah Toli and for a first time, the sales were cool. Of that, we kept some against further purchases and gave the children some pocket money. The rest has been kept as a kitty with Nirmala that children can access for a loan if they wish. We have set the terms & conditions for the loan and sent a letter about it to the parents of each child. It is a small step towards Financial Literacy that we hope to build on ahead.
As a sign off, here is a link to a video clip of the music learning at the centre. https://youtu.be/ERxdDNUsEn8
As we move into the second year of Utsah Toli, we foresee some primary challenges to resolve:
a) How to increase the regular footfall of girls.
b) How to get parents more engaged with the centre.
c) How to sky-rocket the children in English-speaking, when the basics, especially at school, are so poorly positioned.
Sundays are our special days at UtsahToli and the first two Sundays of August were very special. We had Prof. Girija Pande, Director, Social Sciences, Uttarakhand Open University in our midst. He introduced the concepts of openuniversity, distance education and vocational training opportunities available at UOU. This was a mine of information that the youth and children were totally unaware of before. We believe this knowledge sharing will prove immensely beneficial, specially for girls who wish to go in for higher education. Social factors deter parents from sending their girls to distant places for higher education, so distance education is a fabulous option for them. The possibility of getting ‘certification’ for various vocational skills through an open university was of great interest to all.
On that day, we announced that we will now set up aUtsahToli Debate Society. There was one young boy who knew what this means and he explained it to all the members present. They loved the idea…it was decided to have a debate the very next Sunday…and the members decided the subject: Should students be allowed to carry mobile phones in schools? Four speakers were shortlisted, two each for and against the motion.
The Debate Day was a resounding success. The speakers spoke well, considering this was their first time ever. The points they brought up were exceptionally pertinent and fully reflected that conceptually, children in rural India are as much in tune with the times as in urban India…and they have strong arguments for what they believe in. Please see the DEBATES section for more details.
ACTIVE LINK FOR SEPARATE PAGE
Seeing the full level of engagement, we announced that there would be a debate once every month. Lo behold! All the children spoke in a chorus, “No, every week!” So, for now, debates every week. The next subject the members have chosen is: Should we make a rush for the big city after higher education?
Meanwhile, the self-guided learning through Internet has reaped some simple results. Independence Day being round the corner, some children became hell-bent on learning how to play the notes of the National Anthem on the harmonium. They have learnt it, put in lot of practice with the aim of playing it in school on the D-Day.
Since the inception of UtsahToli, sketching and painting has been one of the top favourites of the children and youth. They have taken to glass painting with much fervour. Over the months, we had a huge collection of the art work, so we decided to have our own little exhibition.
The children were really excited with the idea and were deeply engaged in the preparations. We ironed all the papers on which the children had done their art work, then gave them borders (in the absence of frames!) and then put them onto to large boards. Visitors were highly impressed with the creativity of the members of UtsahToli and the overall enthusiasm of the children.
We invited parents of the UtsahToli members to kindly come and give us their feedback and thoughts about the centre. Not many parents came. What was interesting though, is that a grandfather was present. He made several comments that conveyed that he fully understood the need and value of something like the UtsahToli Community Cultural Centre. We believe this to be very valuable because the word of such elders counts for a lot in the community.
Among the ‘parents’ who did come, ALL were mothers. The mothers of Uttarakhand (like the mothers of Manipur) are a very strong social factor. They pay diligent attention to the health and education of their children. One of the mothers was totally engaged in reviewing the UtsahToli website on the computer. The female literacy rate in Uttarakhand is higher than the national average and the next generation is reaping the benefits of this fact.
We had visitors from the Alliance for Science. This is a group of science teachers, who use fun and games to convey scientific concepts. The members of UtsahToli thoroughly enjoyed the session that explained balance and weight through various ‘experiments’ that they could explore themselves after the initial demonstration.
Navin Pangti, a designer, was also present. He specialises in story-telling and the children and youth both loved the story session with him.