An Update

I was asked to write a little update:

The Fulbright DAT experience has remained with me every single day, even one full year later.  In January 2016, I traveled to Chennai, India to research and work with an arts education non-profit organization called NalandaWay.  Through that experience I was able to investigate the challenges of bringing art education to marginalized youth in urban and rural settings throughout the state of Tamil Nadu.  By visiting schools, making presentations, providing workshops, and attending arts and yoga related courses I was able to gain a perspective of how rich and integrated art is within the culture and community, but often missing in poorer schools.

One of the most memorable experiences I had with NalandaWay was visiting an arts camp they facilitated in a beautiful rural area on the border of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.  A group of 30 students came from a local school in an effort to build leadership skills through collaboration projects based in art.  Although I was primarily there as an observer, I was given the opportunity to lead and facilitate several group art activities and teach yoga as a transition activity.  This was an exciting moment for me because I was able to connect with the students in a different way and they no longer saw me as a visitor or an observer, but someone who was there to be a part of the experience and learn from them as well.

After the arts camp experience, I met with my adviser and we talked about the lessons I taught at the camp.  She was interested in learning more about my teaching philosophy and the other lessons I developed in my school back in the United States.  I shared and adapted more of my curriculum so NalandaWay could use the lessons in their own context. This type of dialogue and collaboration spawned many ideas of how to implement art into schools in a much deeper way.  My adviser was encouraged by my work and thought the curriculum I created was relevant and consistent with the mission and vision of the organization. At that point, she and the director approached me to create additional curriculum and offered me a consulting position to continue to work with NalandaWay after I returned home. Over the next 6 months I worked with NalandaWay to create an integrated arts curriculum for the elementary school based in science, social studies, math, and reading activities.  Currently, they are piloting the lessons and training classroom teachers to use the lessons in class to augment their daily curriculum.

One of the other great experiences I had in India was attending the Fulbright Conference in Jaipur, India.  All Fulbright scholars from Southeast Asia came together to share their work, and I was fortunate to be on a panel of educators.  On that panel I met others interested in my work and connected with Deepa Srikantaiah, who was studying the intersection of math and arts education for marginalized youth in Bangalore, India.  We discovered we both had a strong passion for arts education integration, mindfulness practices, and also lived in the DC metro area.  We decided that we would plan to meet up after we completed our respective Fulbright programs.  Since our first meeting back in the States, we’ve been working to create an arts startup that uses art as a conduit to improve math learning and motivation for marginalized children.   We recently added a third member to our group, and we are now in the planning stages of returning to India in January of 2018 to work with Parikrma School in Bangalore.  We will provide a week long workshop and art exhibition for 7th and 8th graders from that school.

When I started out on this journey I had no idea how great of an impact this experience would have on my own life and I feel that I’ve come away with a new definition for what it means to be a global citizen. I’ve felt extremely fortunate to grow personally by taking on new experiences and challenges while living in India.  More importantly, I was able to find ways to collaborate with others and share ideas to forge personal and professional relationships that continued even after the Fulbright experience ended.  It is these continued relationships that have developed into deeper connections and meaningful opportunities that allow the world to be a little smaller.

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Tanjore- ummm sure.

Tanjore painting is really hard.  There are lots of steps and you need lots of patience to create one.  I took a Tanjore class in Chennai for about 6 weeks and I didn’t even finish.  I can see how this art is looked on with great respect.  Everything about the painting needs to be perfect from the very beginning.  I spent hours on this painting and I didn’t even get to the painting part.  I have my work, and will finish one of these days.  This style of painting is still practiced, but they are very time consuming and it takes professional artists hours and hours of painstaking skill to create one that is masterful and full of beauty.  My teacher’s work was amazing.  You could instantly see that his work was of high value and really special.  His paintings were also four times as big as the small one I didn’t finish.

At times when I was working on this I thought it was really labor intensive, but I had to remember it was also meditative.  You could do nothing but focus on what task you were doing.  You had to pay attention to only that part, or else you would probably make a mistake.  Oh– and I made plenty.  Some days I was there for 4 hours working on the placement of the stones, or putting on extra putty to make them stick.  By the end of the class I felt like my back was stiff, my arms were stiff, and my fingers were going to fall off!

But I still worked at it, it was a great challenge for me to undertake, just so I could see what it was like to create such a piece.

I also met some great people along the way.  The arts center was a fun place.  At the times I was there, I always talked with the other students and teachers.  It was a great environment to be a part of and I thoroughly enjoyed working there.

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Start with an image and a board.
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This board has already been prepared for me, lots of primer and several pieces of muslin. You have to measure a border, which is actually a common practice in school too.
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Here is what the back looks like.
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You draw an image on tracing paper and then transfer it to the board. Things need to line up or else something will be cut off later.
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After the image is transferred you begin adding stones. I added too many in the middle.
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Then you cover them with muck. It adheres to the board.
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With the muck, you also build up other areas to create a relief on the surface before the next steps.
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And then you add more muck.
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Then you can add some more decorative stones on top of the muck to had added height and of course – fanciness.
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You can get elaborate, but you don’t want it to be garish.
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Here’s a different view.
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Next it’s all about the gold leaf. Yes, there is real gold in there, so don’t waste it.
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This is a stressful part, because you have to cover all the areas well.
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Once you have all the areas covered, you begin cleaning off the stones and cutting away the excess
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You keep working on removing the excess.
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And keep working on removing the excess.

I just realized, I don’t have a picture of the rest of the steps. I’ll have to post a finished piece when I have it finally completed.  As you can see, there is a lot of work that goes on in creating a Tanjore painting.  It is a dying art and it’s hard to find masters that can teach you the proper steps.  It isn’t to be rushed, you can’t finish this kind of piece in a few hours, and it takes time to perfect.  I was glad to have the experience and to understand how much work it takes to complete just a small one.

The other people who were in this class with me were creating pictures for their homes.  People who create paintings such as this have great respect for the art, but also the art serves as a function for people who practice Hindusim, it is a blessing to have one of these paintings in your home.  As you may guess, there are popular images.  Many of Ganesh, like my example, but also Krishna, Durga, Rama and Sita, and others.

Time to wash the elephants?

So after we painted our elephants, we walked them over to a grassy area with long hoses and washed them down.   The elephants took turns drinking from the hose and splashing themselves with the water from their trunk.  We scrubbed a little bit and they the handlers allowed us to sit on top of the elephants.  Little did we know that we were about to get washed ourselves.  They said,” Make sure you leave all your electronics with us”.  Uh-oh, that could have been the tell-tale sign.  Good thing I brought a change of clothes.

We walked over to another grassy spot and got drenched.  The handlers let the elephants fill their trunks with water and splash us.  It was cold, wet, and amazing.  They got us pretty good.  We couldn’t stop smiling.

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Jaipur – Round 2

In late February and early March I got to spend a week in Jaipur.  It truly is a jewel of a city.  Located in Rajasthan, it boasts one of the most visited cities on the “Golden Triangle” circuit.  I can see why.  It has a rich history of forts, palaces, majestic views and a number of locations for shoppers to buy all kinds of beautiful block print materials, tailors and seamstresses who can make anything you desire, and of course beautiful gems.  There is a lot to do in and around the city.  This time I made it to many places that were a little bit off the beaten track, but totally worth it.

The main reason for being in Jaipur was the Fulbright Conference.  Each year it is hosted in a different city in India.  All the Fulbright scholars that are in the country as well as neighboring countries in the Central Asia are invited to attend to share their research, listen, meet and make connections.  I was on a panel of educators to present what I had been working on with NalandaWay.  It was a great opportunity to listen to my colleagues, as well as listen to other researchers present on their subjects.

I felt fortunate to be a part of the whole experience.  Not only were we well taken care of at the hotel, I had a chance to extend my stay and take a printmaking workshop by a master printer.

This is going to be a series of posts, because it was a week long adventure in Jaipur.  It was an extremely interesting place to visit a second time. There were a lot of things I didn’t notice or experience the first time because I was mostly in heavy tourist areas.  This time I ventured out into other parts of the city, had a chance to visit some real neighborhoods and interact more with local people.  I also was able to compare my experiences in India. Having been in South India for two full months before traveling back to Jaipur, I realized that it was a much different place than Chennai.  Jaipur seemed to be a bit more conservative, and there was a clear dividing line between tourists and citizens.  I really  hadn’t experienced that in Chennai, even though it was obvious that I was an outsider.

I was glad I got to observe these kinds of experiences, it made me think about how India is such a diverse place, full of possibilities, challenges, experiences, and cultures.  There is no wrong, there is just different.  It’s hard for me to lump India into just one package now.  There isn’t just one India.  It would be like saying the United States is all the same.  Each region has it’s own special traditions, culture, and attitudes. The more I visited, observed and took part in the daily life, the more I learned about that particular place and myself.

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Amazing view from my window, over to the right is where you would go to see Old Jaipur.
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Roof top party!
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Well appointed room, but later in the week I could hear everything that was happening below it….weddings, parties, turban ceremonies.
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Carved wall in the hotel.
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Strange prints in the elevator.
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Turban wrapping ceremony.  I was engaged in this activity for at least an hour.

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This woman was looking for her “date”.  I saw her come in, look around, and she couldn’t find him in the sea of turbans.

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Hanuman!
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In the lobby area, every evening they had traditional Rajasthani dancers and musicians perform for the patrons. 

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Something is going on down there.
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Last meal in the restaurant.  The staff worked long shifts, we would be down there at any time of day and see the same staff.  This restaurant was called the 24/7 restaurant, and I think it meant that anyone who worked there, also worked that shift.  We were well taken care of.  The staff worked hard.
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It actually stormed!

An arts camp, with the future in mind.

I took thousands of pictures while I was in India on the Fulbright. I carried my camera around with me wherever I went. The one time where I ran out of memory and battery power was the time I spent at the arts camp in Kuppam at the Agastya Foundation. I wanted to record everything I witnessed all the days I was there. The Kanavu Pattarai arts camp was something I wasn’t sure I was going to experience. Fortunately, I did. The experience was something that I will never forget.

This particular Kanavu Pattarai camp is supported by collaboration between the NalandaWay Foundation and the Agastya Foundation. NalandaWay provides the teachers, the curriculum, the resources, and Agastya Foundation provides the space. The camp pulls from near by towns. Both boys and girls, ages 13-16, attended this camp. It was not a residential experience but a day camp for 3 full days.

The first day students were introduced to each other and jumped right in on camp activities. The teachers organized the whole camp, and when there was some spots that needed an activity I filled in with yoga and a quick lesson in making origami cranes. I also participated in a trust exercise, which was really fun for all of us.

All the students were extremely excited to participate. They made a large amount of art in just three days, and presented on topics that were important to them and their school community. It just goes to show you, that when students are given a chance to perform, act, interact, create, make, design, and do—THEY WILL! Most of the students were really into the arts projects and produced a lot of amazing work together.

Collaboration is a big piece of the puzzle for this kind of camp, especially since the goal is to build a community of peers. One of the best parts of the camp for me was when the students were tasked with creating a group song. It was a huge challenge. Many students were very happy doing visual arts, or even making posters, and speaking. BUT singing? That was a big leap for some of them. Many of the students didn’t know what to do, or how they should attempt that particular task. However, there were a few girls who would not give up. While the group took a break from song writing, a couple of girls stayed back to finish the melody and lyrics. They were the only ones in the building, and I don’t think they were even aware that I was paying attention. What I saw was true collaboration, respect for one another, and the desire to come together to accomplish the task. These girls continued working on the song until everyone came back in the room. They shared their lyrics and taught the whole group of students the melody of the song. The other students were amazed, excited and couldn’t wait to be a part of the musical task once again.

As a group they practiced (led by the girls and a few other boys). The way the girls problem solved and helped their fellow peers was amazing. They reached out as a team to put something together that would bring a lot of joy to everyone in the whole entire room.

On a whole, this group exhibited a wide variety of talents and problem solving skills. I thought that this was a strength because they all had a particular way to exhibit that strength. It made the group of 30 kids extremely strong.   Students exhibited a lot of empathy and compassion for each other. Most times when one member of their group was having difficulty another would job in and say,” Maybe we try this?” The students always seemed like they were looking for ways to solve problems, think creatively, use the set limitations to their advantage, think outside the box to use limited art materials in a new way, and most importantly not give up on the project or each other. Only a few students really needed some extra help, but I think it was only because they had never had this much going on at once. Not much exposure to arts, not much exposure to group work and collaboration.

The Kanavu Pattarai camp is much more than a few days for kids to get away from school and have fun. This program is creating ways for kids to build their self-esteem, gain leaderships skills, practice problem solving, and be more self- aware. Without the arts, students are unable to see some the values that already exist within themselves. By providing arts camps, NalandaWay is essentially strengthening the school communities. The students who participate in these camps take everything back with them and share it at their school. They are able to talk about their experiences and show what they accomplished by participating in the camp.

 

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The camp space.
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Student receiving a welcome pin!

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Camp rules.
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Students creating their small group poster.
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Student beginning work on her self portrait with a tiny mirror.
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Decorative self portraits.  Using color and pattern as symbols.
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Students had a lot of discussions with each other for collaborative projects.

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Working on their community poster, discussing issues that are important to them and their community.

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Presenting their community posters to all the other groups.

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Me!  Teaching origami cranes, step by step.

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Uma and I on a tour around Agastya.
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All the camp goers and the teachers.
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The lovely girls who put the song together.
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Traveling to the camp spot.

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Shadow puppets to tell a story.
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Clay figures.

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Trust game– “Crazy taxi”.

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I was delighted to collaborate with NalandaWay on this program. I was able to expand the camp to five days, and add additional components like yoga and mindfulness. The more time we spend providing meaningful programs for youth to connect to each other and their own communities, the stronger we build the future for all of us.

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A peak at what’s around

I had the chance to visit the Kanavu Pattarai camp in Andhra Pradesh.  I was mostly in the very southern tip of that state where Tamil Nadu and Kerala come together.  First we traveled by train, and toured around in a car until we got to Kuppam.  That is where the camp was held.  The landscape was very similar to the southwest.  Dry, arid, blue skies, and puffy clouds.  It felt like a very familiar place.  I loved the Southwest when I lived there, and I really got used to being in this type of environment again.  If felt so familiar.

It was the perfect setting for the camp.  Very quiet, serene, beautiful.  Rambling vistas everywhere to just stare at, and take a very deep breath.  I think students would have no problem feeling inspired to create in this space.  In the morning and evenings it was quite cool.  However, just as you may have guessed, the day time was hot.  You really had to keep up your fluids up here, or else, heat exhaustion.  I loved visiting the Agastya Foundation and staying on their campus for those few days.  It was a great break from the traffic, humidity and people-packed city.  It would have been great to see more of the State itself, but I was happy I got to see  this small corner.

 

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The conductor of the train, wearing  nice jacket, but what you don’t see is the clipboard.  It had a very colorful cartoon character, and a unicorn on it!
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AC.
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Trains fill up fast, sometimes it was standing room only.  Not to mention 3 people to one long bench.
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Everyone has there hustle.  There are people selling everything: toys, jewelry, games, food, snacks, tea.  You name it, you can probably get it.
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Part of one of the schools we visited on our way to Agastya.
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Streets are far less busy here than Chennai.
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Trucks, palms, and mountains.
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Watching the sunset, was lovely.
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Small town we passed through to get to Agastya.  We had some tea and chips.

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We drove far away from the towns and villages to a huge plot of land that is the campus of Agastya Foundation.  We crossed over this big water body and we realized there was a full moon. 
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Outside of our dorm they are building a shrine to Agastya.
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After breakfast we walked the road to the art camp building.
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View from art camp.

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Another view from Art Camp.

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Typical South Indian Cuisine! That big spot is for the rice!
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You can tell it’s hot.

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View from camp.

Road trip to Camp

The major highlight of being involved with NalandaWay Foundation was being able to attend, observe and help facilitate an arts camp called Kanavu Pattarai (dream workshop).  The purpose of the camp is to immerse youth in community building strategies. By using arts based and mindfulness practices, Kanavu Pattarai camps educate and train diverse communities to create responsible children who are expressive and positive in their choices.

Before we arrived at the camp for this session, our group stopped along to visit some other groups at some different schools who had already experienced Kanavu Pattarai in previous sessions.  The kids had recalled what they learned, shared with us the art and skits they created during camp.  I even got to facilitate some group yoga practices.  What a treat!

The best part for me was being able to interact with the kids, and noticing how receptive they were to my presence and trusting me to guide them through some poses.  What a warm reception and some stand out, unforgettable moments.

Here is a glimpse of some of the students I met, the schools I visited, and what they shared with us:

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Students were game for a few yoga poses.  Tree pose is always a good one to try.
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In Andhra Pradesh, the land is a lot drier and rockier.
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Mural painting is big everywhere you go, although this one is fades, it’s still beautiful.
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I had a chance to visit a girls school, the whole school was bright, cheerful, and boasted lots of arts integration.
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Meeting with a group of girls who participated in a previous camp.
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We also visited a residential school.  These kids were energetic, lively, and so friendly.
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Listening carefully to a few members who were speaking about the importance of the arts, but also how the arts can be a catalyst for social improvement among peers.

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Part of the camp process is to create a banner to bring back to the school.  This group worked hard to create a message about equality and acceptance.

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More to come from this trip. Stay tuned.