By Nabiya Ethiraj – Programme Manager (Outreach) Rural Mental Health Programme
The Rural Mental Health Programme initiated learning centres activities 5 years ago to create a platform for socio – economic transformation through academic support. The RMHP now has 9 learning centres in total, in which 4 centres serve tribal children, 3 serve dalit children and rest serve children from a mixed community. In total 420 children are now accessing services through the RMHP learning centre programme.
2 years ago, we began to have annual day celebrations for our learning centres to celebrate the achievements of these children. On our last two annual days we had sports, arts and cultural competitions. But, what we found was that many children went back home with no prizes, and other children didn’t come forward to participate in the competitions due to fear of failure.
So, this year we decided to change our annual day celebrations a little. Instead of having competitions, we gave the children a chance to think about and come up with programme agenda with both theirs and their teacher’s inputs. Some of the children are very good in art, children from the tribal community are very keen to showcase the traditional foods an herbal remedies (e.g. snake bite remedies). So, it was decided that this year our annual day celebration for the learning centre would include an exhibition to showcase art, herbal remedies and plants, traditional food stalls and craft works.
The artists were able to describe their art pieces, how they made them and what they meant to them. The children who showcased herbal remedies, talked about the importance of those herbs and others spoke about the traditional foods they eat at home.
After the exhibition, all 420 children had the opportunity to showcase their talents through drama, dance and songs. Since it was not competition, everyone participated with no hesitation.
Feedback Shared Regarding Learning Centre Programmes:
“Wherever we go people will look at us as if we come from some other planet. We always feel excluded from groups. But here, everybody has same chair, same food, same opportunities to express our talents. I am the first girl from my family to go to school, I believe I will become a good teacher one day and can help my community. I am very grateful for the help I’m getting for my education.” – A child from Oragadam Learning Centre
“My children used to stay at home, they hesitated to talk to others including their classmates and teachers. I was very scared about their future. After they started to come to the learning centre, they started representing the learning centre, and their academic performance also improved. Now I am not scared for their future, I have 100% confident that they will rock in their life. I feel very proud to be their mother.” – A mother from Kovalam Learning Centre
All attendees to Annual Day were given plants as gifts (vegetables, flowers, herbs and fruits) to decorate & plant in their respective gardens.