SUCHANA, Khanjanpur, India

SUCHANA

supports tribal villages in West Bengal.   www.suchana-community.org

“Suchana believes that equality and social justice are key to a vision which can tackle the roots of poverty. We work with the least privileged to articulate and actualise rights: to quality education, to affordable healthcare, and to livelihoods which support and sustain our cultural identities and our humanity.

Suchana understands that priorities for development must evolve from within the community. We prioritise not simply literacy but education which helps build awareness and initiative to tackle local and global issues. Parents, teachers and other community members are closely involved in running the organisation and developing its future.”

We met Suchana’s founders, Kirsty Milward and Rahul Bose, in 2006 when we visited the town of Santinitekan (where Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore founded the Visva-Bharati University).  We enjoyed their hospitality, shared common interests, found a connection and have kept contact over the years. We also loved the beauty of the region and wanted to return, six years later we did.

Fifty children responded to an invitation for an art and drama workshop despite the villages being shrouded in fog and record cold conditions.  The Bengalis hate the cold!   Our usual group games and activities got us all warmed up and ready for drama and drawing.

Walking to Suchana through the thick morning fog.

Walking to Suchana through the thick morning fog.

Suchana - emerging from the fog into the wintry sun.

Suchana – emerging from the fog into the wintry sun. 

 

This boy was the first to get the humour of Alex's mime routine.   His laughter was joyous.

This boy was the first to get the humour of Alex’s mime routine. His laughter was joyous.

warm-ups in the new classroom.   Kirsty Milward in the front.  It's cold!

warm-ups in the new classroom. Kirsty Milward in the front. It’s cold!

Anne : “I showed the children some of the Australian indigenous art, thinking they may be interested in other tribal communities.   We made ten large group drawings onto fabric; these were inspired by the Australian indigenous people’s x-ray style paintings of animals.   I invited the children to make their own choice of animal for the group work and to include some of its internal organs.  We also focussed on pattern such as cross hatching.  This style of artwork is excellent for expanding concepts of art and developing the imagination.

Again,  the palettes were limited to either warm, cool or earth colours.  It’s challenging for children to not use all the colours available in a box of 25 oil pastels; but at the end, they enjoyed seeing what can be done with few colours and an idea.”

Children drawing

Child working on group drawing

Group drawing of the Buffalo.  These animals are still used in village life.

Group drawing of the Buffalo. These animals are still used in village life.

Alex : “I drew ideas for mime skits from the rural lifestyle – which is rice growing and harvesting, working a bullock cart and preparing the famous kitcheree.  Shy at first, children soon learned the joy of performance and delighted in teaching me aspects of their daily life.

India seems to be a natural home for physical comedy – the clowning skits brought out lots of laughter.

Holding the pose and focus for the Artist/Clay exercise.

Holding the pose and focus for the Artist/Clay exercise.

 

Later, when Anne and I were walking through one of the villages, we met a participant who was keen to show us his home and village, and also some of the skills he had learned in the drama session.”

The picturesque village houses are mostly adobe with thatched roofs. Their squarish forms are softened the natural curves of adobe building and the blue colour walls contrasted against the yellow ochre shades of the thatch and the red tracks that meander through the village. At this time of the year, mountains of rice stalks provide food for chickens, goats and cows; it is also be used for thatch.  Handmade straw brooms are in constant use keeping the houses and public spaces meticulously clean.   The water pump is a feature in all village life.  Cooking is done in small dugout fireplaces sometimes in huge woks.  Bathing and ablutions are still conducted privately in public spaces.  Many of the rhythms of the village have not aspects have not changed for centuries.

View images of village life in West Bengal in a photo essay http://youtu.be/nUOjhH0eUvw

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