Because all the world's a stage
Eight months ago, when she first began attending the two-hour long sessions at Rangmanch Foundation, 14-year-old Sapna Joshi could best be described as shy and reticent. “Ask her to talk about herself and she would clam up. But today, she can address an audience of 50 quite comfortably,” reveals Ram Dhangar, co-founder, Rangmanch.
The organisation, which currently works with over 50 low-income children aged between seven and 14 years, has brought this change in several other students too. Confidence-building, however, is just one of the ‘life skills’ the three young founders of Rangmanch want to impart to the slum community of Cuffe Parade and CST BMC community in South Mumbai.
“We aim to nurture four types of skills — self-awareness, social competency, citizenship, and problem-solving — through performing arts,” says Vanita Kariappa, co-founder, Rangmanch. The 20-year-old, in her final year at Jai Hind College, says it was her love of working with children that pushed her to set up the foundation with Dhangar and their colleague Parvati Singh.
The members of the initiative
“There are enough and more organisations in the city that focus on education and sports. We feel it was just as essential to have a parallel education in performing arts. It ensures the child is creatively healthy,” opines Kariappa. The trio also found that 30 per cent of school dropouts in low-income families were due to boredom. “This initiative, we hope, will bring some fun into their lives and push them to continue attending school too,” she adds.
The three youngsters met while they were volunteering at Down to Earth, an organisation in Cuffe Parade. “We had planned to organise a musical with the children at the organisation. They loved the idea so much that we were encouraged to think on a larger scale and launched the organisation earlier this year,” reveals Kariappa.
Discussions and skits
Currently in the process of interviewing professional dancers and theatre artistes who can teach the children the right techniques, Kariappa and Dhangar are aided by volunteers. “Vanita and I take turns conducting the sessions. I usually begin with concentration exercises, where I get them sit in the padmasan position and get them to breathe in and out,” explains Dhangar.
Current affairs, general knowledge and community issues form an integral part of their sessions. “Often, the children come prepared with topics they want to discuss. We get them to team up and they perform skits about these issues,” reveals Dhangar.
Two weeks ago, the children decided to discuss discrimination and the importance of educating the girl child. “They are very well aware of the problems they face and are keen to find solutions. In fact, they often come prepared with ideas on how to solve them. During one session, we dealt with physical abuse and the children decided the best way out was to speak to their respective parents and let them know it wasn’t acceptable,” he adds.
The foundation, which is being supported by Unltd India, gradually introduced structure to their programme. “We have designed a curriculum and made it a one-year- programme,” says Kariappa. The first time they invited entries at their Cuffe Parade centre, they were met with 70 eager candidates. “We held auditions, judging them merely on their level of commitment and sincerity, and picked 30 for our first batch,” she adds. They now have 55 students over three batches. “We struggle with HR. But if all goes well at the end of their programme the children will be able to put up a musical for audiences,” hopes Dhangar.