Around 6 months ago, my wife asked me if it would be possible to bring a class of 10and 11 year olds to Kovalam to interact with The Banyan. She volunteers at a local school, HLC International, and was doing a topic on social reformers. She felt that the story of The Banyan was perfect to let the children know that social reform was still going on today and was not buried in the past.
Class 5 came and spent the day with us in March. They were introduced to The Banyan and were told the story of its foundation. They also spent time with staff discussing the issues of serious mental illness. Ms Porkodi did a fantastic job of working at the children’s level without ever patronising or trivialising the issues – a wonderful session to watch!. At lunchtime they interacted with residents at the Protected Community, playing games and chatting to the residents.
The trip was so inspiring that many of the children rated it as the best school trip of the year. One even wrote on her final exam paper that she was interested in a career working with the mentally ill.
It was a pleasure then to have the opportunity to engage with this class on their project for Design for Change (DFC). DFC is the brainchild of the Riverside School in Ahmedabad and runs during the Joy of Giving week. A DFC project should engage children in something to promote social change. It runs as a competition and last year HLC International’s project was highly rated, finishing in the top 3 schools – from more than 3 lakh entries.
There were 3 main aspects to the project:
- Improving the physical environment at our Health Centre in Kovalam
- Engaging children across the school in an awareness programme, by training children in street theatre
- Taking the street theatre to other schools to spread that awareness.
In order to fund the programme, the children undertook 2 key fundraising initiatives – a door to door canvas raised around Rs1 lakh and a school fair, which took in nearly Rs1.5 lakhs. Some of this money has been used to buy paints, but a donation for the residents of about Rs1 lakh has also been made. We look forward to discussing with the children and the residents ideas for what to use this money for.
The children worked with a local artist from Cholamandal Artist’s Village, Mr Selvam, as well as a regular volunteer to our Vocational Training team, Ms Kalyani, to design wall paintings to start brightening up the Health Centre.
A beautiful banyan tree now adorns the wall thanks to the children of classes 6 to 12.
Some of the younger children also worked with the artist and our upstairs corridor now resembles an art gallery!
This is only the start and we hope that there will be further painting done as the year progresses.
During Joy of Giving week, our street theatre team then worked with the children to develop a street play. This was performed to a number of schools and was acclaimed by all who saw it. It is this activity that will start the process of social change, helping to improve awareness amongst Chennai’s children of the issues of mental wellbeing and thereby reducing stigma.
We’d very much like to thank the children and staff at HLC International for partnering with us during this project and look forward to developing a longer term relationship to make change happen.
– David Nash
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