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Home-Away Diaries

“Only connect!” – E.M. Forster

In times when building walls is being noisily celebrated, art silently labours in creating bridges. It is one of the most satisfying labour one can experience. Theatre being the most hybrid form of expression unearths a world of perspectives and possibilities. It thus has the ability to ignite hope and spirit amongst people, come what may.
My journey with The Yuva Ekta Foundation- working on our play “Bargad Ki Chhaon Mein” (In The Shade of the Banyan) – has helped me grow both as a performer as well as an individual. Reflecting on the entire process of collectively creating this production- from stimulating rounds of auditions, the overwhelming visit to Jahangirpuri (of which the stories we attempt to portray), the number of innovative workshops and the consistent rehearsals- I cannot help but share my absolute delight at being challenged on each step!

One might think of oneself as a performer/ individual of a certain measurable capacity. Then of course there’s the typical “scope for improvement” remark that follows one throughout. But never have I “witnessed” the breaking of limits we set on ourselves like I experienced at The Home Away Festival at The National Theatre of Scotland. Our play totally had a life of its own on the day of the performance! The characters came alive on stage like never before. Was it the energy of the space? The audience? The months of hard work everyone had put in? Yes, yes, and yes. But above all, I think, it was because we all actually believed in the infinity of our potential (both of our play and as individuals) that it became the highlight of the entire journey.

Meeting theatre enthusiasts from across the globe, sharing performances and practices, exploring the breathtaking beauty of landscapes miles and miles away, and bringing back home new friendships and such warm memories is something I will cherish forever.

A big Thank you to our dear director Puneeta Roy, The Yuva Ekta Foundation, Dilip sir and Gilles, Simon Sharkey, The National Theatre of Scotland, and all my fellow cast members of “Bargad Ki Chhaon Mein”.

-Harmanpreet Kaur plays the character ‘Anju’ in the play ‘Bargad Ki Chhaon Mein’ that was showcased at National Theatre of Scotland’s Home Away Festival in Glasgow, Scotland.

Intern’s Diary: An hour in Jahangirpuri

On Thursday last week, I had the honour of receiving a personal tour of the notoriously infamous Jahangirpuri. It was built in the 1970s as a resettlement colony for the countless immigrants that had swarmed into the capital city in search for jobs and a better life. However, the unfortunate truth was that the capital could seldom offer many of them even a roof over their head.

Today, this colony, which was built with the aim of providing these people with a better, sheltered life has turned into a place infested with serious drug, crime and waste management problems.

The most obvious instance of the trash problem is the huge waste dump that exists behind the colony. The backyard of the colony is a massive space filled with garbage from all around the city, and while it has some serious health and hygiene implications, it is one of the ways in which many of the people in Jahangirpuri make a living. There are a lot of of recycling units around the colony, which employ young boys to search through the waste dump and gather recyclables such as thermocol, plastic or paper. This is not only good for the environment but also for the society as it promotes societal awareness and monetary support for many of the families living there who do not really have better alternatives for their basic income. IMG_0790However, the boys that work in this field, colloquially known as the “kabaddiwaalas” are infamous for their bad behaviours, notably drug addiction, as they tend to spend the little money they earn on drugs or get easily involved in the gang trade. Moreover, working in such unhygienic conditions is hazardous to their health as they could attain all sorts of diseases from the constant exposure to waste and garbage, as well as get physically harmed in the process. For example, it is very common for them to get cut by broken shards of glass.

The other issue with garbage and waste in this part of town is the sewage system. The sewage canals are not covered and so there are obvious issues with this such as the flooding of this nasty water in the rainy season. Moreover, the potent smell doesn’t help the case. However, what shocked me more was that the sewage pumping station in the area would pump the sewage and dump the junk they pumped onto the banks of the sewage canals, which meant that the streets would be covered in this nasty-smelling, unhygienic sewage disposal, with no means of any sort of cleaning process. Their job was to pump it out, and so they would do just that, and leave it there to stink up, and contaminate the colony that thousands lived in.

We then visited the school, and I was surprised to know that each of the 12 original blocks has its own government school. There were a few things that pleasantly surprised me regarding these. We visited the D-block government school for girls and boys. While the school was not co-ed, both girls and boys learned in the same building. The system had been organized in such a way that the girls’ school ended at 1 pm, and the boys’ school started at 1.30 pm. Thus two schools were running in the same building.

We first visited the principal of the girls’ school. While I didn’t speak to her much, I was pleasantly surprised to have met a special educator who taught disability children in the school. I was taken aback by the fact that a government school offered such facilities to their students, especially when education is free-for-all until the age of 14 in India. She further explained that the system employs these educators as an extra help to their students who spend their days in regular classes with the other students, and are given special attention by these educators outside of the classroom. This impressed me to the core, it was like a breath of fresh air. As a psychology student I study about the importance of a system that identifies and understands the need for special attention for children with disabilities, and I left that day with a much needed faith in our education system. However, we didn’t have much time to discuss the system through which they identify the kids with disabilities, and the training that special educators undergo. This is something I’d like to research further. Also, it is important to note that I only had a preliminary conversation with her which only allowed me to know that there is a system in place for disabled kids, I wasn’t however able to assess the efficiency of the implementation of said system, which is also something I would like to further research.

We then met the principal of the boys’ school, and I was quite impressed by him. He shared a similar passion for education to me, and seemed to understand the importance of a holistic education in India. We didn’t have a long conversation, however from what I heard, the education minister frequented the government schools in the area to see how they were running. This again pleasantly surprised me. He also explained that the theatre workshops that the Yuva Ekta foundation was conducting in the school were really helping the students, and that enabling more emphasis on non-academic learning was is an important part of their learning. I can also assert, with full confidence, that his favorite word was ‘congenial.’

All-in-all, my visit to Jahangirpuri was filled with surprises. I expected to be surrounded by a slum, however I was surrounded by numerous flocks of girls in school uniform walking back home. At the expense of sounding like a typical, oblivious NRI, to be able to see so many girls receiving an education in a country like India really made my heart proud. While there is a serious concern in this place when it comes to drugs and crime and poverty, I honestly think that raising awareness and promoting education will really help the society take a leap forward into bettering their own lives. it is important to remember that rather than giving them help and aid, we must give them the resources to improve their own lives, the power to help themselves. I feel honored to have walked through the streets of Jahangirpuri, and more that that, I felt proud that despite the conditions some of those people live in, they still strive to improve on themselves.

Kaviya Garg is a student at the University of California, Los Angeles, currently pursuing a B.A. in Psychology with a minor in Linguistics. Her passion in life, other than food and travelling of course, is education. She wants to help create a more holistic education system that provides enough emphasis on the importance teacher education and awareness as well as just the students.

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Finding Me – Jaipur Diaries

A new experience is always a delight but I must say that this one was the best. The 6 days I spent at the workshop were a great step to find myself and  it made me aware about social problems and made me more confident and also I was able to understand that one person is enough to change things.

Being a part if this programme changed my perspective towards others and myself. I usually set prejudices for people but now I am beginning to realize that we can never judge a person without knowing him or her. Also, I realized that the most important thing in life is knowing who you are and accepting yourself with all your flaws.
 

When we interacted with students from different schools , we realized that many students were able to relate their lives with the scenes of our play and they said that we inspired them. This comment made me understand the power that we, the young generation possess and if we are determined we can definitely change all the ill practices around us and make the world a better place.

- Malya Sharma is from Rulmani Birla Modern High School and she was one of the 47 participants of our Youth Outreach workshops at Jaipur Literature Festival, 2016 

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FINDING ME: Youth Outreach Workshops @ JLF 2016, 15th – 25th Jan 2016.

On a cold wintry morning of Makar Sankrant, as the city of Jaipur woke up to a Festival of Kite flying, 47 young people made their way to a basement in Jayshree Periwal High School, to begin a journey that explored their sense of Identity and Self Esteem over the next 10 days.

For the 8th consecutive year, The Yuva Ekta Foundation in association with Teamwork Arts, took forward its program on Social Justice and Equity, integrating rural youth in Rajasthan with their more privileged urban counter parts, through a six day theater workshop on the theme ‘Finding Me ‘ – a search for identity, a search for self.

The workshops began on January 15th at Jayshree Periwal High School, where a bunch of 47 vibrant teenagers interacted with each other for the first time.                                                                                                            The participants came from places in Rajasthan as far off as Lakshmangarh, Abu Road, Kumbhalgarh and homes on the outskirts of Jaipur, to share space, energy and experiences with privileged young people from prestigious public and IB schools in Jaipur.

Some had left their villages for the first time and were wide eyed in a big city like Jaipur. Pooja Kumari, Nisha, Reena and Raveena from Doosra Dashak on Abu Road were elated that they did not have to walk miles to fill water before they left for school and were now soaking in stories they would take back home to share!

For Barkha, Devesh, Sai, Radhika and Simran, students of Jayshree Periwal High School, this was a slice of life jumping straight out of their geography books! Well heeled and well travelled, it was a reality check for them to come to terms with the fact that despite all the technological advancements they are familiar with in our metropolitan cities, there are still large chunks of our country where inequity and social injustice are rampant.

What followed was 6 days of exploration and expansion where, with brutal honesty, we explored issues of peer pressure, bullying, body image and all forms of discrimination. The focus was on according dignity and respect to the ‘other’, no matter how different they are from you.

The sharing between the young participants went beyond names and addresses, into dreams and aspirations, the similarities surprising those present, that despite such diverse backgrounds, they were so tuned into each other. Each one was encouraged to speak and to share without fear. What evolved was an interactive performance- ‘Finding Me- Meri Pehchaan’.

Our performances started on 21st January at SJ Public School and before we knew it, we’d covered over 8 schools in all – Seedling Public School, Rukmani Birla Modern High School, Sadhu Vasvani Public School, DAV Sr. Sec. Public School, Gyan Vihar Public School, Jayshree Periwal High School and MGD Girls’ School.

The audience response was instant, painfully honest. Students broke down, expressed their fears, accepted their mistakes, apologized for bullying others publically and wrote to us expressing their gratitude and humility.

On 24th January, ‘Finding Me’ was performed in Bandhali Dhani, Khonagoria Gaon District Community Grounds. Moving from schools into a community felt like a seamless transition, marking a learning curve in this journey. Our interaction with this audience, primarily a conservative Muslim community, was a little more special, a bit more intimate. Hesitant at first, young people and parents from the community shared their feelings with us about the need to bring about change in their lives and surroundings, by being more progressive in their outlook.

On 25th January, after performing in 9 Schools and 1 community, the play was presented at the prestigious Jaipur Literature Festival Grounds. It was invigorating for the participants to perform in front of an eclectic mix of people from different cultures, different backgrounds. The audience enthusiasm reinforced the universality of the issues that the play presented.

‘Finding Me’ has been finding places where it has been leaving its mark. Through our Outreach we have interacted with more than 2500 individuals, including school students, teachers, community members and JLF visitors. Responses to our workshop and performances continue to reach us.

Participating Schools:

  1. Jayshree Periwal High School
  2. Jayshree Periwal International School
  3. Maharani Gayatri Devi Girls’ School
  4. Sawai Man Singh Vidyalaya
  5. Rukmini Birla Modern High School

Participating NGOs:

  1. Digantar, Jaipur
  2. Doosra Dashak, Lakshmangarh & Alwar
  3. Jan Chetna Sansthan, Abu Road
  4. Buniyad Sansthan, Kumbhalgarh
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IN THEIR MINDS, THROUGH THEIR EYES !

When I first met Veeru ( name changed) at the de-addiction centre for juvenile delinquents in Sewa Kutir- SPYM Sahyog, I was struck by his concentration level and his love for colours. Thoroughly enjoying the vibrancy of colours while painting match boxes, he started telling me about his family and lifestyle. Veeru’s father was an alcoholic and he passed away when he was very young. His mother got married to someone else and left him.

I was in dire need of money. Hence I had to do what I did”, says Veeru.

The need for survival is the biggest need that drives any species. Faced with a choice between survival and landing up in the delinquent centre, what else could a fifteen year old Veeru have done?

Eighteen year old Nawas ( name changed) has a happy family of mother, father and siblings at home. He was studying in class ten before coming to the centre and his mother wanted him to be a lawyer.

My friends told me it was cigarette. I did not know what was inside the roll. When I started enjoying it, I needed more of it”, says Nawas.

Psychologists suggest that late teens are an age when there are extensive hormonal changes in boys and girls. There is a need for thrill and excitement. Such is the age when the activities of the peer group always appeal more than those of elders or other family members. When this peer pressure leads to drug abuse, there begins a vicious cycle. Drug consumption leads to a need for more drugs and this leads to illegal activities to obtain the means to get more drugs. In the process, the teenager might end up selling drugs to other teenagers.

Kamal ( name changed) is eighteen years old and he lives with parents too. Enthusiastic and full of life, he aspires to work very hard once he goes out.

My girlfriend had left me. Drugs gave me a lot of comfort”, says Kamal .

We live in a society and culture where there is an obsession with finding ‘love’. The movies we watch, the songs we listen to and the books we read, all seem to reinforce this belief in a need for a partner. The need becomes all the more strong when we see our friends indulging in ‘love’. In such a situation, when a relationship fails, there is almost a sense of guilt and shame and also an urgency to prove one’s heroism. If not a relationship, then perhaps there are other ways to fit in to the peer group.

The dazzling eyes of twelve year old Raam(name changed) had caught my attention the very first day that I had stepped into the centre. His agility and chirpiness had literally won my heart. Experimentation, peer pressure, these are traits associated with boys and girls in their mid teens. What could have led a boy who has not even stepped into his teens to substance abuse?  It is possible that we are exposing our kids to too much television and media influence. Research suggests that children are most prone to being affected by what they see on the television screen. It is also possible that there is an excessive companionship and dependency on older boys in the peer group who become role models for the younger ones.

Delinquency is not just a social problem; it is the root of a much bigger social problem. Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory suggests that an individual’s personality is mostly established at the stage of early childhood. Early experiences have a large role to play in the development of personality and continue to affect the individual’s behaviour in later years. It is essential that children go through a healthy development during the early years of their lives. The rise in energy levels that takes place during the adolescent years should be directed towards productive activities. Keeping them engaged in art, music, dance, drama, sports and so on, gives them a proper outlet for the aggression within, as well as helps in their personality development. Furthermore, this aggression needs to be kept in control through parental check and disciplinary measures. Most importantly, children need to be given an ‘I can make a difference’ boost. If they are constantly reminded that their actions will make a difference to society then they will be more prone to indulge in activities which are beneficial to them.

However, the biggest problem arises when children do not have the means to ensure that the above mentioned suggestions are enforced. Poverty or absence of parents and teachers as role models is the bigger problems that lead to delinquency since they are extremely difficult to solve. In such a situation, it is imperative that the state and society steps in to ensure that the children are not left to rot. After all, the kids are the responsibility of the society as a whole and their actions will affect the society as a whole too. It is our responsibility to make sure that every Veeru, Nawas, Kamal or Raam grows up to be an ideal role model for generations to come.

Adrija Roychowdhury is a Masters student studying History from Delhi University. With a keen interest in theatre, adventure and human stories; she aspires to become a journalist in the future. She is currently, also  volunteering at the Foundation to write about different narratives of human motivation, social justice and human rights.