Summer Camp with a Difference

Yay! We are having fun!

Yay! We are having fun!

The landscaped garden with its walking paths is slowly coming alive. It is still mid afternoon and the sun is hot. But in that shady corner at the back of the park there is animated activity. Several groups of children are sitting on colourful bedspreads clamoring for attention from the ‘teacher’ who is patiently talking to them.

Teachers with their students

Teachers with their students

Aviary Photo_131078878317031810

This is a summer camp with a difference, run for the children living in the jhuggis bordering the sprawling housing colony of Hiranandani Estate, Thane. The camp is managed by young volunteers – housewives, who reach the park in sweltering heat promptly by a quarter to four. Children ranging in age 4 to 14 begin arriving in twos and threes and soon the place is abuzz with activity. The enthusiasm and commitment of these young women are infectious. Mostly untrained, they have devised ingenious teaching methods by which they are able to capture and hold the interest of the children. The love between the children and the teachers is palpable and visible at first glance.

It is colouring time

It is colouring time

The children learn English and maths, they draw and paint, learn simple shlokas and play games. In short, they do what is done in upmarket summer camps which charge a hefty fee for similar activities!

‘When the classes had started a month ago, there were about 60 children, but with the holidays, many have left for their hometowns and villages. Even then the average attendance is about 25 to 30 children,’ says one of the teachers.

Each child gets a banana and some dates – both high energy foods loaded with nutrients so needed for growing children, especially from the economically disadvantaged group as these. (All the peels are collected and deposited in the garbage bin at the end of the class – Swachh Bharat Abhiyan!)  Colour pencils, stationery, drawing print-outs for colouring — all are contributed by well wishers  many of whom are regular evening walkers who are happy to see the children engaged in constructive activities instead of running wild in the heat. In fact even some of the teachers have joined the initiative after watching the kids during their walks.

Often it so happens that though people are willing to volunteer for a good cause, they are unable to find avenues that are close to their homes, fit into their daily schedule and are not intimidating. This is one such activity, whereby the resident volunteers of the colony have found a way to make a difference in an underprivileged child’s life.

The children might live in ragged houses; their mothers might work as maids and cooks, their fathers as masons, plumbers, vendors and electricians, etc.; they might only attend the local municipal school, but they are not lacking in dreams or aspirations.

‘I want to be poleesh’ says one little girl, in all seriousness. Her neighbour giggles and corrects her, ‘It is police, ga!’ Another girl, a little older, is more specific: ‘I want to be a soldier!’ she says firmly. Doctors, teachers, engineers…and more.

When I asked the children if they liked to come to the park, they enthusiastically nodded. ‘We don’t feel like going home!’ said one young boy. A class five student, she is determined to learn English well enough before school reopens, to show off in her class. The girls are more articulate than the boys, but that doesn’t mean they latter are any less enthusiastic or intelligent. All of them are confident and exuberant in their demeanor.

Shivam's drawing, decorated with paper art

Shivam’s drawing, decorated with paper art

  • Some are artists — very good ones at that. Shivam is one of them. Incidentally he is the monitor of the class chosen for the task due to his irrepressible impishness. Don’t they say that by giving responsibility to the naughtiest in class, he can be a changed person? When asked which subject he likes the most, he says with a twinkle in his eyes: Çhitra banana! (To draw). He is also in charge of distributing the bananas J
  • Then there is the pretty Anjali, a sixth standard student. She is a designer in the making. Look at her creations!
She designs dresses and jewellery!

She designs dresses and jewellery!

  • Some are brilliant students. Abhay is one of them. The fifth standard student can easily take part in a GK qui competition. His grasp of facts is phenomenal.
  • Roshni, an eighth standard student loves maths and science. She can solve the toughest math problems set to her by the teacher.

The camp lasts for two hours after which the older children rush back home, to help with the household chores. Some help their parents in their work, like one of the older boys whose mother runs a poli-bhaji centre.

Learning the ABCs of meditation and breathing techniques

As part of the activities, a Bal Chetna camp was conducted by the Art of Living volunteers. It includes some basic pranayama and asanas and even meditation! The story-telling sessions and the affirmative statements after the session aim to shape and change the way the children think and react to situations., even while instilling self-confidence in them. And there are games that makes them alert and quick in their responses. It is really an energizing programme, true to the term Chetna and the teachers vouch for its efficacy in calming the children.

Do you want to be the brave and generous lion or the lazy wolf? – Storytelling session

The brain behind this wonderful initiative is Pushpa Subramani, an exuberant social worker, who also runs an art academy in the colony. There are plans for the camp to metamorphose into a regular tuition-cum-activity classes once the summer holidays are over. All they need is a place where they will be protected from the vagaries of the weather. The children are also being motivated to keep their jhuggies clean and hygienic.

The key to the sustained success of such projects is follow up and regular contact with the children. That should not be difficult given the physical and emotional proximity of the volunteers and the children.

Such initiatives can be  easily replicated in any neighbourhood. All it needs is a team of dedicated volunteers who love all children and are willing to give their time and effort.

16 comments

  1. This was such a positive post and its great to see such initiatives. As you have correctly pointed out, many times all it needs is that first step and then things do fall into place 🙂

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    1. Things fall into place, they do! And often too, we don’t find something that would fit into our schedule, suit our interests and help us help someone. This where neighbourhood initiatives score.

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  2. so good to know about this..wish there were more like this..

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  3. That is truly a summer camp with a beautiful difference. And what a way to give back to the society and to those kids too. Great initiative.

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  4. This felt so good to read! Kids really surprise you with the fearlessness of their dreams. Have we become too cynical? Organizing camps like these is perhaps a way to dilute that cynicism, no?

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    1. It makes me feel even better because the L&M is the one who has organised it and manages the children and the teachers. HE teaches the older children science and maths in Hindi, being a Hindi medium student himself.

      Oh yes, it does make you feel less cynical and one of the teachers has written that this article has convinced her family of her good work!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Omesh paul · · Reply

    Excellent initiative , it’s a place where the talent can be identified and nurtured. All do have a social responsibility- great work being done , keep it up .

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  6. It is a great initiative and I’m happy so many volunteers took part in it. Children from underprivileged backgrounds are more receptive and take them more seriously, so I feel.

    I sincerely hope they find a suitable and convenient place to continue this even after schools start. 🙂

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    1. No Varsh, they ‘are taking’ part in it — it is still continuing and will if they manage a permanent premises. Uncle is the one who has got it running and he is an excellent maths and science teacher too 🙂 Can you spot him?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Wow…I have to go back and see the pictures again. I didn’t notice Uncle. Hats off to him! The kids will benefit a lot from his guidance.

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  7. Dashy · · Reply

    A very different summer camp indeed. The initiative is an act of kindness we can all learn from. Kudos to the camp team for taking time and effort for the good will of children.

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    1. Yes, Dashy. It is so easy to start a similar one anywhere – a garage, a park, an empty parking space in a housing colony…..

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  8. More such initiatives need to be taken up in various such localities in India. Places like Hiranandani Estate have well to do people residing and if they can spare just half a day every week, we can educate a lot of such kids.

    Kudos to Pusha, Art of Living and everyone associated with this initiative to educate the kids.

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    1. It is not about well-to-do but about being committed to the cause of enriching the lives of the underprivileged kids. Yes, it would be great if young and old who are bored and have time to spare gave their time and effort to the children’s learning.

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  9. Nice motivational post,this summer camp is really different, mostly people don’t think for such kid’s, though I have not seen them, but still I can feel their happiness, Shivam’s drawing is beautiful and designer Anjali’s work is also great, all the children are getting chance to learn something new and show their hidden talent.

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    1. The joy they exude is infectious and the teachers are all wonderful. Those two factors impressed me the most.

      Like

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