| The workshop at Patipukur Girls School on Sunday
A sense of the aesthetic, artistic and sublime. To be promoted by Calcutta’s towering symbol of beauty, the Victoria Memorial. But this time, it is not for the benefit of art students, history buffs or the culturally conscious. The target is around 3,000 economically challenged children across the city.
“Educate your parents” is the theme for the extensive awareness project that kicked off last weekend with 300 kids. It is being implemented in Calcutta by Smilearth Foundation, an NGO working with children. “The Victoria Memorial authorities found that sensitisation campaigns for adults were not effective, but that parents generally did listen to their children,” explains Sanghamitra Chaudhuri of Smilearth. So, children were the ideal toehold into families.
Chittaranjan Panda, curator of the Victoria Memorial museum, who has conceived the project, felt the need to “create the sense of aesthetics” in those whose locality does not encourage it. “We are trying to create an audience for the Victoria Memorial,” says Panda. “It is appealing to anyone with a mind sensitive to art and history, which has to be nurtured. So far the focus has been on elite schools and colleges. We felt it was time to tap a sector that we have never considered,” he elaborates.
But how this rather subjective sense can be inculcated in children from non-formal schools and non-schooled children from urban and semi-urban slums with little academic grounding, and even less social experience with the arts, was a tricky question. And one that has not yet been fully solved. But the programme has been launched, with a basic framework in mind.
On Sunday, the first batch of kids from the Students’ Healthcare Centre assembled at Patipukur Girls School. Passing on a sense of beauty to the children also includes the basics of hygiene and environmental care. Through a fable, the kids — between the ages of 10 and 18 years — were told about the benefits of keeping the house neat, helping out around the home, planting trees and staying clean. A sit-and-draw was then held where the group was asked to paint a picture representing what they learnt.
“This is just the beginning of a process. We will follow this up with home visits to see whether they are implementing what they have learnt,” adds Chaudhuri. The trickle-down effect on the parents will also be measured in this way.
The city leg of the programme has, so far, covered the South Dum Dum municipality. Children from the Dhakuria, Tiljala, E.M. Bypass, Behala and Kidderpore areas will be the next participants.
This is not a one-time association with the kids. Participants who show promise in the fine arts and handicrafts will be given the opportunity to enrol in vocational training courses, keeping in mind the potential to use the arts as a means of income. To create awareness about heritage, they will be taken on excursions to places of interest — starting with the Victoria Memorial, of course.
But the concept of culture extends to lifestyle as well. The children will be encouraged to take a stand against addiction in their own families, to speak out against domestic violence and to be productive members of family and society.
Impacting the environment through simple and low-cost methods, like cleaning up and planting trees, preventing people from littering, is also a part of this process.