The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Fantasy treat for Kalighat children
- Spanish NGO comes down with musical

Eleven-year-old Puja Sardar lives in a shack under Chetla bridge. She is forced to beg all day to feed her grandmother, and drags her weary, gaunt frame back to the same pigeonhole to crash out for the night.

Six-year-old Sahana’s mother is a sex worker from Bangladesh with no permanent shelter, a drinking problem and a dangerous disconnect with her daughter’s present or future.

Both these hapless girls, however, can forget their trauma and distress for a few days and get transported to a fantasy world of joy and colour, thanks to a unique handholding that brings to our shores a group of Spanish volunteers every summer.

The Spaniards from Madrid-headquartered NGO Mundo Cooperante are back in town as part of the ongoing collaboration with city-based New Light, a community development and HIV/AIDS awareness programme working with sex workers’ children and youth of Kalighat.

“This time, we are doing Waterworld, a dance-theatre musical, with the 165 children of New Light,” says Marco Mendez, the director of the project. Marco is one of the five in the 20-strong Mundo Cooperante ensemble who are on an encore trip to Calcutta.

Waterworld, running in Spanish public schools for four years, aims to combine a “deep lesson of physics with burning issues like global warming” through dance movements and music, explains Marco, who has worked closely with young dancer Maria De Duenas on the project.

“We are understaffed and don’t have the resources to create something as beautiful as this for the children on our own. Having our Spanish friends back every year also gives these kids assurance and a sense of stability, since they see their mothers changing partners every night,” says Urmi Basu, executive director of New Light.

For Raju, Babai, Rashika and the other children from the Kalighat NGO’s three units — the Night Shelter, Dalit Shelter and Soma Memorial Home (re-christened Hogar Meridional) — the song-and-dance routine with the aunts and uncles from Spain is a much-needed balm they look forward to.

“It also means a lot to us and the relationship with the Kalighat kids has become so intense now, we can’t wait to get back,” smiles 24-year-old Maria Badia, who teaches Spanish to foreigners and immigrants back home in Barcelona.

The New Light Carnival comes off at Uttam Mancha on August 14 at 5.30pm.

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