Monday, November 23, 2009

The Koel's Song - A Book Written by Adivasi Children

Via InfoChange India

It’s a slim storybook for children, but what’s unique about it is that the stories in it are not written for children, but by children. Called Kokiler Banshir Sur in Bengali (roughly translated that would be Songs from the Koel’s Flute), the stories in this book are short and sweet. The illustrations too are done by the children.

Kokiler Banshir Sur comes out of a literacy project by the Uttar Chandipur Community Society, called Suchana. Gradually, this non-formal school in Uttar Chandipur, about 6 km from Shantiniketan, in West Bengal’s Birbhum district, took on a life of its own. It presently caters to the education and health needs of around 150 children, aged between four and 13, from six villages in the region.

Somnath Dolui, who was one of the three main resourcepersons for the creative writing classes every Wednesday for about three months, guided the children through the entire writing process. He said: “In stories, everyone talks -- the sky, birds, rivers.” He told them to write about anything. To bank on their own impressions, members of their family, their experiences. And to try and come up with a funny ending. That’s all the instructions he gave. This freedom resulted in a riot of imaginative, original stories.

To get the children to think independently and write their own stories, Somnath had to be a storyteller himself, first. He drew on his own repertoire of stories and books from the Suchana library.

Sometimes the teachers gave them story-starters, and sometimes they started with a discussion on a recent event or a day they had enjoyed. They were then asked to write about it. Each had an exercise book in which to write their stories; some had five or six. From this pool the best stories were selected and finally voted to become part of the book. It took a year for the book to be printed, but the anticipation of a book in print kept the children enthused right from the start.

Children who attend the early learning group (ELG) classes at Suchana are mostly from adivasi or tribal communities. About 77% of them belong to the Kora and Santhal communities and are largely children of peasants and fishermen. Needless to add, most of the children’s parents have had little or no formal education. So even if the parents desire an education for their children -- something they never had due to lack of opportunities -- poor accessibility and poverty keep children out of government schools in the area.

The stories in the book reflect this proximity with nature. Take, for example, Pooja Hazra’s delightful story about three ants which records the conversation between three ants on their colour -- black, brown and red. The red ant says it is red because it sucks human blood; the black says it is covered in soot; the white ant got its colour by dabbing on powder every day!

Kokiler Banshir Sur is priced at a modest Rs 50.
Read the entire article here.

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(Thanks for sending us a mail about this article Chintan!)

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