During our expeditions, we have the privilege of connecting researchers and volunteers with the smart and humble students in our partner-communities in India and Uganda. The connection created with one another over a fast-paced ten days does not get overlooked. We always find, despite a mild language-barrier, that we are able to develop a connection with students as we work alongside them and share a special experience with each other.
One of the incredible ways that we do this is through our Art Workshops. These engaging programs bring art materials to students and show them what is available at their fingertips, reminding them that the world, and even old leaves or broken branches around their school can provide the artist with material to create a story, and be inspired from what surrounds you.
During our India February expedition, we were joined by award-winning artist, Shruti Chauhan, who engaged the students before, during, and after the expedition to create a story together, and for the students to test the limits of their imagination. Continue reading for Shruti’s take on the process!
First, students were asked to provide us with a list of story ideas. At first, the ideas they came up with were related to religion, good vs. bad in society, drawing conclusions through an expression of moral values, etc. In seeing this, it was important for the students to move away from this conventional and stereotypical method of storytelling, and rather have the child in them bring out their creative side. The power of this could help us leverage their spontaneous and fun loving characters, by thinking outside the box.
To reach this outcome, I workshopped with the students to create a story on the spot by giving each student words that are related to what they are exposed to on a daily basis, like their environment, surroundings, daily chores etc. For example, these children live in mountains covered by the most amazing flora and fauna, their families depend on wood, they don’t have induction plates or gas to cook their food so they will cut and fetch wood from forest or trees in the area and use it for cooking.
So I used Hindi words like “ladki”- girl, “lakdiya”- sticks, “Badal”- clouds, “Bijli”-thunder, “Bagh”- tiger, “tendua”- panther, “Hiran”-deer, “khelna”-playing, “jungle”-Forest and “gufa”-den. I wrote these words on a piece of paper and made slips for the students. I distributed the slips randomly to the kids and asked the students who received the word “girl” to imagine and create a character, and then build and narrate a story for that character. The kid sitting on the right would have to do the same with the word s/he gets but would now have to continue the story i.e. join his/her character to the ongoing story.
During this activity the student who had the word “girl” was a girl herself. I therefore asked her who she wants her character/role to be. She first named her character Soni, a very common Indian nickname, and then started describing the character the way she felt like. She described her as someone who wants to be free and explore things on her own, which was the beginning of the story the students created together. The other students then started adding their characters and creative thoughts and ideas that had no limitations. They were having lot of fun while doing it, encouraging participation in the the group between themselves to keep adding to their story
After completing the story, each of them started drawing their character as per the story line. Following is the story the students created!
Soni goes on adventure
In the Village called Suyalgadh there live a girl named 'Soni'. Everyday she went near a forest to collect woods. Her parents had informed her not to enter the forest as it is not safe.
But one day she went inside the forest to see why her mother and people around in the village were never allowed to enter the forest. When she entered the forest, she saw a talking Monkey. The Monkey said to Soni, "Hi! I'm Mannu and I would like to help you to collect some wooden sticks." Soni was happy to hear a talking Monkey and she lets Mannu collect sticks for her. Mannu went from one tree to another for wood sticks. But on one tree he came across Chikki the bird. Chikki asked Mannu not to take sticks from her tree as her nest was build on it. So she takes them further inside the forest where there were few dried trees.
While they were collecting sticks they come across a den. Soni gets curious and went inside the den. So they made sure that nobody was inside the den and they went inside and started playing. Suddenly they hear a roar from outside and they rushed behind a big rock and hid there. They saw the Tigress coming inside. She was very hungry so when she was about to go out it started thundering and suddenly it was raining and she couldn't go outside so she came back inside the cave. Soni, Mannu and Chikki got stuck inside the cave and they were scared too. While they were thinking about how to get out of the cave it stopped raining and the Tigress could hears deer shouting. The deer was calling for her lost daughter by making a sound, 'Ghwaakh, Ghwakh!.' The tigress goes out to attack the deer and behind her Soni and her friends runs out to save deer's life by distracting the tigress. When the tigress looks at them they start running for their lives and by mistake enters another den where they see a Panther sleeping..