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.

More memories of Puducherry

It was a lovely treat to be able to visit “Pondi” many times while I was in India.  The proximity to Chennai made it an easy getaway from the busy city.  Getting there was the hard part– and making yourself return was sometimes even harder.  What was it about Puducherry that I enjoyed so much?  I suppose I would have to say it was a world away from from hectic streets, loud cars honking their horns, and a place where you could just “Give time a break”.

In many ways it was an ideal place to get away, and an artist’s retreat.  In other ways, it’s an easy breezy place in India where you can find good food, nice accommodations and feel like you’re on vacation.

I loved being close to the water, and enjoyed many great meals, but I also really appreciated seeing art on the streets at every turn, the interesting history of the city with a French connection.  In many ways this is not totally India, it’s a little France  inside India, which is strange.  Yoga is also an important part of life, there’s a big ashram, and of course Auroville is close by.

These pictures and videos represent some other vantage points, many from bus trips.  As I look at these pictures I feel happy and calm.  And who doesn’t want to feel that way?

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Tuning in and out, and tuning back in.

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Empty seats, before I started a workshop for my host affiliate, NalandaWay.

I feel like I should apologize for the long absence.  I have been wanting to blog about my experiences more regularly but so much is going on that it’s hard to settle in and write.  I think that has been an ongoing battle for the entire time I’ve been here.  That, and trying to post with poor connection quality.  Posting, adding pictures, and videos has been quite a challenge.

I hope to maintain more of a balance for the next 2 months while I’m here, so I can share more of my experiences with you.

One of the goals of my Fulbright program is to create more lessons, curriculum and programming.  Not only for my host affiliate, but also for my own use.  I’m going to be spending the next few weeks focused more on what that looks like, and try to put it all together in more of a complete package.  A lot of people don’t really realize how much work goes into planning lessons that are well rounded.  Writing lessons that other people will understand and use effectively is actually really challenging.

One of the the things I hope to include in this package is identifying ways to include regional and local arts into the curriculum.  What I’ve been noticing in the school visits is that they WANT to include more arts programming, but are having a hard time fitting it into their curriculum.  I am hoping to make some short lessons that can be used anytime, across the curriculum.  It can be a challenge for teachers of other disciplines to buy into the importance of the arts, but if we figure out small ways to make learning more artful…then we got the hook.

I’m also creating some mindfulness exercises.  Short 15-30 minute mindful breaks that teachers and students can do together without any extra materials.  One of the biggest concerns here is testing pressure.  In fact, schools begin testing next month, and it lasts for about a month.  There is immense pressure on students to perform well so they can move on to the next standard (grade), and also pursue higher education.  They have pressure they put on themselves, peer pressure, teacher pressure, and maybe most importantly parental pressure.  Wouldn’t it be great to implement these activities to help students (and families) be more aware of their situations so they could act to change how they feel about their situation?  I think so.

So there is still a lot to do, in a very short amount of time.  So, I apologize for the delay in sharing the experiences I’ve had.  I will be taking time this weekend to share pictures and hopefully post more lessons that I’ve created since I’ve here.  When I first started this blog my goal was to post at least 5 times a week, but I just had to let that dream go.  My new goal– just try to create blog content that is meaningful and maybe sparks new ideas and generates conversation.

So don’t tune out, tune back in!  I’ll be here!  Keep checking back.

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Graffiti art in Pondicherry/Puducherry. This kid looks like he’s waiting, I hope you’ll wait while I figure out my blog posts.

Back online

After a long absence, I am back.  It’s been a really busy few months and I can’t believe I am just weeks away from India.  Since I’ve been absent from blogging I’ve been researching, organizing, and preparing for the big journey.  I’m still not ready, and have been compiling a list of things I really need to take care of before I leave.  I’m not too worried about it, as I’m going to be living in  big city and they will have all the things I need while I’m there.  However, the key is to pack some things that will allow me to feel like I have a piece of home while I’m away from home.

Through the next 4 months I hope that you’ll follow along as I post what I’m doing in Chennai.  You’ll see pictures, videos, short essays and musings about my daily activities, as well as posts about my project that I’ll be working on (art and yoga).

So I’m back, I’ll be posting regularly and I’ll hope you’ll follow along.

Stress, contiuned.

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Water usually has a calming effect on me, but sometimes the water gets churned up, causing a lot of movement and instability. Stress is like that too!

Friday I actually had to really be aware of my stress response.  I’m fine, but something happened where I had to notice how stress was affecting my body.  Since I was able to recognize my response to the stress, I was able to manage it.  Because I managed it, I was able to think clearly and act.

Has that ever happened to you?  Ever get nervous or anxious because of a particular situation and didn’t know what to do next?  Have you been in an argument and it got so elevated that you couldn’t even think about what was being said?

In some cases stress can actually shut down parts of your brain that remembers and thinks.  So, managing your stress can actually keep your brain working, even in extreme stress.  You may notice what happens in your body when a stressful situation occurs. For example, on Friday, I noticed that my breathe quickened, my heart rate increased, I was in a state of freeze.  I didn’t know what to do next.

I believe that by regularly practicing yoga and mindfulness I am getting better at being aware those sensations.  I was able to recognize I was feeling stressed and then do something to calm myself down so I could do something about the situation.

Here is a practice you can use to notice sensations that come up in your body*:

Focus Breath

  •  Start by closing your eyes or softening your gaze, exhale and let all the air out of your lungs.
  • Now breathe in and breathe out. Continue this breath 4 or 5 times.

Arm Movements

  •  Sit with a straight back and your feet on the floor.
  • Press your hands together at your chest.
  • When you breathe in, take the palms out in front of you and then apart to the sides.
  • When you breathe out, bring the hands back together, then to the chest.
  • As you bring your hands out try stretch your fingers out wide.
  • Do this a few more times to find a rhythm.
  • Now sync the movement with your breath, inhale for 4 counts and bring the arms out, exhale for 8 counts and bring the arms in.
  • Do this for 4 more rounds.
  • After your rounds, relax your arms down to your lap and just sit.  See if you can notice sensations.  Notice how your arms feel.  Take a few breaths here just to notice.

Mountain Pose

  •  Stand on mountain pose (feet parallel and hip distance apart, standing up straight, shoulders down, tall spine).
  • Press your hands together at the center of your chest and close your eyes or look down towards your hands.
  • Breathe in and out for 4 rounds.
  • On your next breath in, tense your whole body from the bottom of the feet to the top of your head.  Breathe in and tense all the muscles you can – your toes and feet, legs, stomach, arms and shoulders, hands and fingers, even your face.  Hold!
  • Breathe out and release and relax the muscles.
  • Repeat tensing the muscles again on an inhale and hold.
  • Breath out and release and relax the muscles.
  • One more round, tense the muscles from the feet to the head.  Hold.
  • Breathe out, release, and relax.
  • Shake out your arms and legs.
  • Come back to stillness after a few breaths.

Standing Crescent Moon

  •  Begin in Mountain Pose
  • On your next breath in reach your arms up above your head and clasp your hands
  • On your exhale, keeping your arms straight and hands together lean to the right just enough to feel a stretch on the side of your body
  • Inhale, come back to center, arms still straight above your head, and hands clasped.
  • Breathe out, and lean to the left
  • Continue the sync the movement with your breath
  • Do a few more rounds
  • Next time you exhale relax the arms down at your sides
  • Now do the same movement, but hold the pose 3 breaths per side.
  • Notice if you start to feel more sensations, or have an urge to come out of the pose early.
  • Notice small and big sensations
  • Use your breath to keep you call, even if it’s uncomfortable.  Knowing that you’ll come out of the pose any time if you need to.
  • After 3 rounds of holding Standing Crescent Moon release your arms down to your sides relax.
  • Stand in mountain pose and just notice if you feel anything.

Neck Movements

  •  Sit down in your chair once more.  Straight back.
  • On an exhale let your right ear fall towards your right shoulder
  • Inhale and bring your head back to center
  • Exhale, and let your left ear fall towards your left shoulder
  • Repeat and sync this movement with your breath for a few more rounds
  • Bring your head back to center
  • Exhale look right
  • Inhale back to center
  • Exhale look left
  • Inhale back to center
  • Repeat  this movement with your breath a few more rounds
  • Back to center
  • Inhale, lift your chest up an look up slightly, be careful not to strain your neck
  • Exhale, tuck your chin and roll your head forward towards your chest
  • Repeat a few more rounds

Mindful Breath

  •  Notice the rhythm of your breath right now.
  • After noticing, deepen your breath.
  • Close your eyes or just soften your gaze.
  • Continue to make full and complete breaths.
  • Notice if you are sitting up straight, or if your posture has changed.
  • Place your hand on your chest.  Notice how your chest moves as you breathe.
  • Now place your hand on your belly. Notice how your belly moves as you breathe.
  • Place both hand in your lap, and now see if you can notice the belly and the lungs move as you breathe.
  • Notice your ribs expanding and contracting.
  • Notice the small movement in your shoulders as you breathe.
  • Just notice, no judgement.
  • Open your eyes and notice how you feel.

Silent Refection

  •  Sit silently for one minute and just notice how you feel.
  • Close your eyes or just look down and focus on yourself.
  • Notice your feet resting on the floor.
  • Notice your legs relaxed on the chair.
  • Notice your arms and shoulders, a bit more relaxed.
  • Notice your breathe and notice the muscles in your face may feel more relaxed.

How do you feel? When you notice sensations that mean stress in the body, what can you do next time?

*(Remember that you are your own best judge of what feels good for yourself or for your students. This is how I usually sequence a practice for myself and for students.)