We have just returned from our second Make Do Tell tour of India and Nepal. The objective of this tour was to return to the communities with who we worked in January and February 2014 and to look for other communities that might be interested in and benefit from our work.
Our journey started in Cochin Kerala, where Anne gave a paper to the International Conference on Social Work Practice in Mental Health about including arts practice in training community mental health / Alcohol and other drug workers. Anne teaches first and third year BA students at Chisholm Institute Melbourne and her paper reflected on the growing role arts has in these students’ studies. The connection between arts, mental health and social work is an on-going interest of ours. Anne collaborates with social workers through at SECASA, and we both train social workers and students in Nepal. This conference was organised through James Cook University, Australia in collaboration with the De Paul School of Social Work, Angamaly India.
She then went on to the Community Empowerment, Coping, Resilience and Hope 2014 Conference in Hyderabad where she gave a paper about our work with the salt pan communities in Gujarat. The conference was organised through the Brisbane Institute of Strengths Based Practice in collaboration with a number of Indian institutes and organisations. This is the third of these Strengths Based conferences at which Anne has presented — the last one, held in Nepal, was the impetus for all of our subsequent work there.
Anne has collaborated with Drs Abraham Francis and Venkat Pulla over the years — contributing chapters and artwork to their books as well as co-authoring a chapter with Dr Pulla which was included in a book launched at the conference. The organisers conscientiously include, and sponsor, people from many nations, and foster an environment of engagement with all conference participants. These conferences were a wonderful opportunity to share with others about our work, and especially the role art can play in creating and maintaining healthy communities; we meet old friends and make new connections.
While Anne was at the conferences, I was forty-five kilometres away from Cochin running drama workshops at Calicut University in the town of Thrissur. I arrived at the invitation of Sreejith Ramanan, who was a student in Singapore where I was teaching at The Intercultural Theatre Institute. This workshop was organised by Manu Jose, a theatrical colleague of Sreejith. He has started the organisation called SODA which provides professional development opportunities for actors in Kerala.
There is a vibrant theatrical community in Kerala working between the traditional cultures of story telling and dance, and acting styles more suited to film and TV. The workshops were open to student actors and experienced actors who gave form all parts of Kerala and as far away as New Delhi.
We worked on the neutral mask and clowning which gave the participants opportunities to discover and re-discover their creativity and their playful humour. I was gratified how all the actors took with vigour and enthusiasm the tasks given to them. I am hoping this is the start of an on going relationship with SODA.
After joining Anne for a day in Hyderabad, we were off to Gujarat to run classes at Mahatma Gandhi International School in Ahmedabad and the Salt Pans communities around the Little Rann of Kutch near the village of Zainabad.
We, of course, had worked in both places before and were eager to return. In Zainabad we were very warmly greeted by the Tariq Khan, a local teacher who had so ably helped us on our previous visits and you may have read about him in previous posts. Tariq’s enthusiasm for our project is very gratifying. He participates wholeheartedly, performing himself, translating for us, encouraging and congratulating the students in their work We know he has taken some of our exercises particularly in mime and clowning back to his class at the local school.
The community at Salt Pans were very warm in receiving us. It was like seeing old friends. They recognise me as the “joker” the local term for clown.
We noticed in the last two visits how they had benefitted from better monsoons. This had resulted in the more salt being produced which gave them more income. They all seemed healthier than from our first visit. They very much enjoyed the art program, creating concertina books, with images of their everyday lives – harvesting salt and cooking food. Everyone in this community gets involved in our activities – from very young children to grandmothers.
As we had extra money from our crowd-funding campaign, it was wonderful to be able to buy some sun screen for the men and women who work long hours in hot sun while harvesting the salt.
In Ahmedabad, we ran some classes for our good friends at The Mahatma Gandhi International School. This community is suffering from a big loss, the death of Tara Chazot, a student of the school and the daughter two of our friends. The grief is palpable. Anne worked with Tara’s class-mates to help them express their grief and loss through clay. She will write a special blog on this.
She worked with the clay with other classes. Unlike in Australia, where clay comes ready to use in plastic bags, here the clay arrived dry in hessian bags and the students thoroughly enjoyed the process of making it into workable clay. A few years ago we spent an extended period at this school and the clay was a much loved art material – this time, there was no question about what students would like to do! They were absorbed by their creativity with the clay.
I taught clowning, mask and a physical approach to improvisation to the senior students studying for their Baccalaureate. I also worked with grade nine who were researching their neighbourhoods. We created characters and situations through improvisation, based on people they see in their communities. I directed grade ones in their first ever performance.
As this is our third visit to the school in as many years, we have developed warm relationships with students and teachers. This is an aspect of our work we have always enjoyed.
In the next blog we will talk about our work in Nepal.