Published: June 8th 2006May 5th 2006
Jeeeeeez, kid... smile!
One of my volunteer assignments has involved working with an organization called Tong-Len. It's a non-profit organization which provides education and medical support for the families that live in a slum camp here in Dharamsala. The slum camp is named "Charan," and is home to immigrants from Rajistan and Maharashtra, two distinct states in India (the state I am in is called "Himachal Pradesh.")
Tong-Len has set up two children's schools in Charan, which we affectionately call "The Big School" and "The Nursery School." Essentially they are two large tents smack in the middle of all the other make-shift tents in the slum camp. The Nursery School holds classes for the youngest children (I think between ages 3 and 5) while The Big School accomodates everyone else (kids between ages 6 and 12 - all in one class.) I work at The Big School as the art teacher and as an assistant teacher/lion-tamer for the Hindi class.
Every week, myself and the other volunteer teachers need to come up with new projects to engage the children. Here are some of the projects we've done so far:
* Making animals out of pipe-cleaners. The pipe-cleaners were truly a blessing.
Collette in Charan
My lovely assistant Collette will now line up the children to show off their newly made puppets. Then she'll saw one in half.
I searched high and low for them to no avail, and then one day they practically fell out of the sky and into my lap. As rays of light surrounded me, a booming voice from the sky proclaimed, "David, here are the materials for tomorrow's art project!" I answered, "Very good, my Lord! Shall I seek the Grail next week?"
* Leaf-rubbings using crayons. Ever put a plant leaf under a piece of paper and rub a crayon over the paper to get the colored texture of the leaf underneath? That's what we did. Some of the children loved this and got very creative with what they could do with the leaves (making flowers or animals out of the leaf shapes.) Other kids got bored of it really quickly, so we had to come up with some new diversions fast! We started passing out whatever objects we could get a hold of to the children for crayon-rubbing: coins, measuring sticks, pocket calculators, even cell phones and credit cards. Yes, we got the credit cards back... eventually. When that got boring, I taught some of the students how to draw turkeys by tracing their hands (like I did around Thanksgiving
Posing with the Puppet Theatre
they look like they belong on a rock album cover - photo courtesy of Brent Kim.
time when I was in school.) It didn't matter that none of them had probably ever seen a turkey...
* Making hand puppets out of manilla envelopes, yarn, buttons, glitter tape, markers, discarded Tibetan prayer flags, more glitter tape, and glue. These came out REALLY well. After showing the kids the puppet I created as an example (named "Dude"), they went nuts creating their own. No two puppets look alike, just like snowflakes... We've played games where we use our puppets to express different feelings and ideas. A few weeks later, some of the puppets were falling apart (suffering from pre-mature balding of their yarn hair, missing a button eye, etc...) So we dedicated one afternoon to play "puppet hospital" and repair our little friends.
* The puppets worked out so well that we decided to have an actual puppet theatre down at the school. I drafted a design (ack! the metric system!!), which was given to a local carpenter for construction. Once the theatre was built, Brent, Diane (another Tong-Len volunteer) and myself went to work painting the bare plywood with the colors of the Indian flag, along with the help of one of the local teachers,
Leah and I rockin' it for our adoring public...
Veru (man's got the steady hands of a brain surgeon...) Afterwards, the children helped add the finishing touches by cutting out stars, hearts, moons, and other shapes out of colored cloth with their names on them, and decorating the theatre with them. So much work has gone into this theatre project, so my goal is to make this an enduring feature of the school. We plan to put on our first puppet show soon... stay tuned!
* Constructing flags out of colored paper, aluminum foil, and markers, to decorate the school with. When we were done, we lamenated them to protect the fruits of the children's creative labor from the ravages of the elements.
* Hats made from folding construction paper into different shapes and cutting designs into them. Afterwards we put on a fashion show so the kids could strut their stuff with their new hats. Check out the photos of India's future supermodels below!
The past few months I've been the only constant art teacher, aided by a revolving door of lovely assistants: first there was Collette from the U.S., then Debra (also from the U.S.), Emma from a billion different countries (just like
me), Runa from Norway, Leah from jolly old England, and finally Erica and Christina, two sisters from the States. I feel like Bob Barker sometimes.
There are more photos below