We are working with two groups of children, both of whom come from impoverished backgrounds.
The first group live in a girls’ home set up by the Unatti Foundation. The second are street children. The 18 girls who live at Unatti Home could have expected to be a living a similar hard life on the streets, instead, they have been given a wonderful opportunity for a bright future. Some of the girls had been abandoned by their families, others had lived in over-crowded homes,or were from families who had members with a mental illness or suffered from addiction, some have lost parents. All lived in extreme poverty.
At Unatti, they are being brought up in a loving and caring environment. There is a major emphasis on giving the children an education that will ensure the cycle of poverty is broken. They are supported by house-mothers who guide them carefully and gently, one of whom is currently undertaking a BA in Science. The Unatti Foundation in Nepal is managed by Ramesh Pradhananga who is passionate about achieving change through education.
The Unatti Home is located at the edge of the old city. We walk there down narrow pathways; pass a weaver, a vegie garden and lots of street children. The house is tall, dark and narrow and it seems now the needs of the girls have now outgrown it. It has an energetic and homely feel. The girls can see us approaching the home from the rooftop terrace and we our arrival is heralded by shouts of “Hello brother! Hello sister!” We feel humbled by their daily welcomes.
We remove our shoes and all gather in their dining cum study room. It’s narrow with a number of bookshelves and two low tables with mats around them. It is small space and unsuitable for drama so we have been running the workshops in a shared playground outside. It is small and has a beaten earth ground – rough and uneven, a small slide, some monkey bars and lots of tyres with which neighbourhood children endlessly play.
In drama, we start with games; they help break the ice, develop a sense of a group and trust, as well as affirm the pleasure in learning. The girls already have established a very strong sense of group and appreciation of learning, so this step is mostly about breaking the ice with us – and encouraging them to relax and have fun. As a result, we have been able to introduce a more complex series of games than I anticipated.
Actors train in Movement to learn how express themselves physically and to understand how the body moves. I introduce a number of training exercises to open the girls to confidently use their bodies. We build on a gesture and imagination to create forests, rivers and mountains, as well as develop character and express emotion. It can be challenging for those who are not used to thinking and moving in this way, but after a week or so we can see their confidence is emerging.
A major component of drama training is Improvisation. Improvisation is about creating situations on the spot and engaging freely and quickly with others. Through teaching some basic skills in role play we are encouraging the girls to overcome their shyness and uncertainty as well as their propensity to giggle. We are aiming to get them to stand in front of others and perform with confidence.
Although their English is good, they are encouraged they improvise in Nepali so they don’t have the additional concern of translating.
At first it was challenging for some to overcome their polite, demure and delightful personalities, and for others to overcome the urge to giggle; however, by the end of one week, standing in front of others was not so daunting. We see their natural spirit and imagination emerge, and in some we see the spark of something more.
As a group, these girls are so open to what we offer them; they are prepared to try new things even when it is uncomfortable and totally unknown to them. They have been prepared to go on the journey and they are delightful to work with. We have seed a strong commitment to the work and it will be interesting to see where it leads.