Rajesh Khar writes about a recently conducted workshop on reading and writing in Kilkari, Bihar Bal Bhawan in Patna.
A very low-rise building, coloured in brick red and yellow with plenty of air and sun and spread like a fan in a semicircular design in Rajendra Nagar area of Patna is dedicated to children. They call it Kilkari. It is always filled with children of different sizes and ages who engage in all sorts of creative pursuits here. A good number of children come here everyday and more so during festivals. Kilkari is run by the Govt. of Bihar under the Women and Child Development ministry. It is headed by Ms. Jyoti Parihar who is very keen on making Kilkari into a model of happiness for the children in Patna. Kilkari was set up in 2008 and during its first year and a half, they had thatched huts in place of this new building. As soon as you reach here, you can feel that the people in Kilkari are oriented towards children and enjoy their work. They are very helpful by nature and can be seen running around in Kilkari. It is run like an autonomous body and is quite unlike a usual govt-run institution. One of the best things is that children enjoy coming here very much. The days we were there, about 500 children came to Kilkari every day.
We were invited by Kilkari to participate in their 'Greeshmotsav', the Summer Fest, and were asked to conduct a 5-day story reading and writing workshop for children. Poonam, our Urdu Coordinator and I along with Swagata, our well-wisher and friend conducted the workshop from 4th to 8th of June. The participants were children between ages of 8 and 18. With such a wide range of children, it was not easy to hold common class activities and exercises, however, we found that the children irrespective of their ages were attracted towards the stories we had chosen for storytelling. Once, a connection was established, it was not very difficult to hold the group together most of the time.
About 50 children participated but the number changed marginally every day according to the time that children had at their disposal. Although, schools were closed, children had tuition and coaching classes on besides taking part in some other activities going on in Kilkari. A host of activities were going on and those included 'sky watching', photography, classical dance, theater, music, clay modelling, sand art and drawing & painting. Kilkari is now the first place in Bihar to have a telescope! They just bought it and an 'astronomy club' has been formed there.
Day-1: Understanding essential elements of a story
We began our 5-day workshop with preparing ground for reading and writing. We had an ice-breaking session on what what everyone liked to read and then what everyone thought would be termed as a piece of good writing. The children came out with a large number of attributes they associated with good piece of writing. We then automatically held a long discussion on should stories have morals, teaching, something good to learn etc. and through various examples we arrived at the conclusion that a good enjoyable piece of writing doesn't need any of this. It can be a joyful read and make us think about things, other people like us or not like us and show us things that we did not know. We gave them exercises to elaborate upon a word at the end of the day.
Day-2: The longest story ever
With discussions of Day one as a background, we moved on to the second day - we did a recap of the discussions of the first day very briefly and moved on to a session based on 'What on Earth?' Wallbook.As June 5th was the World Environment Day, it was a very apt story. Continuing with the attributes of a good story and what is enjoyable to read for children, in our group-work we were lead to fantasies, magical stories giving me the preface that 'what happens in the real world, especially in nature, is far more amazing and awe inspiring than the fantasies'. We progressed into the Wallbook. Children understood that this probably was the longest story ever - the evolution of the universe! I had put a number of articles e.g. grains of wheat, rice, boiled egg, milk, empty bottle, spices, piece of wood, paper, match box, balloon etc in a cloth bag and children took out one item voluntarily out of the bag and we wove stories linking to them to the evolution of the universe. Children and a few adults who were present liked the session very much although it was a very long session. The session would have been more intense and interesting if the participant children came from a uniform background or were at least of a narrower age-band. I must still say that these children were very bright and knew most of the concepts that we touched upon during this session. At the end of the session, Swagata helped the children to identify major themes on which they would like to read more or write stories.
Day-3: Pride of Bihar - linking with common background & known characters
Next day, our title, Talaabs of Darbhanga was read out by Swagata. She helped children link it with their common history. A discussion on folktales and legends followed. The story was liked by children very much. Swagata had read it out with full expressions. After the story finished, they discussed its characters, use of simple and apt language, the powerful illustrations etc. There was a lot of discussion on the use of simple yet effective language. The group discussed tonal variations and changes in the meaning conveyed and thus importance of punctuation in a piece. We then discussed appropriateness of words and concepts for various age/level groups. We proceeded to an exercise of mind mapping using simple words like water, mother, salt, hot, day, holiday etc. It was amazing to see how children came out with interesting words, concepts, themes, experiences linked to the given words. This also helped the Kilkari mentor Madhurima in understanding their diverse backgrounds and the equally diverse knowledge banks and vocabulary. Children also wrote down words that could describe Kilkari best and in the process a large number of qualities, notions about Kilkari came out After a brief discussion, they also enumerated things they would like to change in Kilkari and this list was shared with the Kilkari officials then and there.
We ended the day with a discussion on water, its uses, conservation, traditional methods of harvesting and importance of water conservation.
Day-4: Story and its characterisation
Day four began with an exercise of writing using a few words the group had discussed the previous day. Children wrote small pieces of 5 sentences on those words. Each one read out his/her story and the group discussed the pieces. This was followed by another story-telling session in which Poonam read 'The Man Who Thought He Was Smarter Then His Wife'. The children enjoyed the story thoroughly. A discussion on the characters and setting of the story followed. A comparison on a typical day in a woman's life was discussed and then a brief session of translation followed. The group also learned about publishing, its various elements, its process and difference between printing and publishing.
Day-5: Summary and practice
Day five, the last day,began with a discussion on the role of an editor, author and translator. After that, children read out a piece each which they had written as class work the previous day. A few children had written beautiful poems and pieces as per their capacities. We ended the session and the workshop by summing up the whole 5-day experiences and giving the children a number of reading and writing exercises.