This is the fourth year that we have been to the salt-pans in the Little Rann of Kutch India. We first meet the ‘salt-people’ in 2012 when we visited the Rann to see the wildlife – animals and birds – that inhabit this desert environment. On that first visit, we could see the people were sickly and learned that this was because the monsoons had been poor, consequently the salt production low, and the money earned from it was little.
The following two monsoons were good and on each visit, we saw improvements to the lives of these people. But this year, again, the monsoon has not been kind.
Our main motivation to return to the salt-pans (2016) was to work in a new school that was to have opened specifically for the salt-children. A big part of our program is to encourage and support learning through the arts in formal and informal places; we wanted to develop the program from being held informally around the hut of one salt-family to being located in the school. This way, we are assisting teachers and community leaders in their endeavours to get children into school. Offering our support to the salt-pan school teacher, who would have very few professional development opportunities was also important.
We didn’t realise that the poor monsoon meant that fewer families had come to the Rann to produce salt. We were told that because of fewer children, the school had not opened and we found ourselves back at Vikram’s hut. It was great to return there – we have got to know the family now and there is always a big welcome, smiles, tea and a look at the photos from the last project.
We work very closely with two local people: Dahnraj Malik, who runs a safari/mud hut resort and Tariq Khan, who is a local high school teacher in the village of Zainbad which is about 10 km from the saltpans. Many other locals support the project in smaller ways. Tariq is a crucial part of the project – an excellent translator, but also a gentle and caring teacher who encourages each child to learn and develop.
On the first day, twenty children turned up. Fewer than the 50-60 we have had before, but a good number for a project. Some of the children have not been to school and struggle to hold crayons, manage shapes or grasp concepts – so a small number allows us all time to help children understand. Some children have been to each of the projects and have developed and remembered a range of art and drama skills.