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BOND OF CULTURE, THEATRE OF LIFE 

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BY MADHUMITA BHATTACHARYYA   |   Calcutta   |   Published 08.08.01, 12:00 AM

Calcutta, Aug. 8 :    Calcutta, Aug. 8:  'Give me something to eat. Now!' he shouts. 'How can I, when you've drunk all our money away?' she wails in reply, tears streaming down her face. A flash from a skit performed by children from Moynagram, Midnapore. The 'husband and wife', Arpita and Mukhtar, are sponsored by city-based NGO Sahay. The fact that this is a fight commonly faced in their village is clear from their very real tears. But both kids are in school, like most of the boys and girls in their village. Song, dance and theatre is a part of their life - they have even performed on the Calcutta stage. On Tuesday, they were performing pieces based on 'local folklore and lifestyle' along with a dozen others from their village and Bankura for a special visitor. Arthur de Bussy from the Holland-based This Is My Life, an NGO 'promoting the performing arts amongst the under-privileged children', had dropped in at the Economic Rural Development Society (ERDS) in Boral, South 24-Parganas. Currently in the 'feasibility stages', Bussy and his colleagues aim to provide a forum for artistes from across the world to meet and share ideas. His older company, Planet Junior Productions, organises the World Children's Festival for artistes every summer in Europe. The new project will involve 'internships' in Europe for selected children. 'At This is My Life, we hope to forge long-lasting bonds for continued cultural exchange,' explains Bussy. The ERDS, one of Sahay's partner organisations, works with 725 children in three districts: South 24-Parganas, Malda and Dakshin Dinajpur. An affiliate of Child International, Sahay sponsors over 20,000 children in Bengal. The 12-year-old NGO works with 24 partner organisations across the state. The sponsorships, routed through the international partner body, go towards education, health and family assistance. Tuition fees; low cost, high nutrition food supplements; medical assistance are basic services provided through the local-level partner NGOs of Sahay. Vocational training and income-generation projects, such as distribution of vans for vegetable vendors, are taken up too. 'Social workers in the area interact with locals to find out their needs,' explains project coordinator Anjana Anand. Currently, community groups under the ERDS have proposed the distribution of cycles to children who have to walk long distances to school. The children are sponsored until they turn 19. 'This is a very exciting time at Sahay. The kids we started work with at our inception are crossing the threshold into adulthood,' smiles project director Niraj Agrawal. These young adults are, in turn, the core of voluntary youth groups in the villages working towards development. To further harness the skills of the children, Child Art, an exhibition of their paintings will be up at Nehru Children's Museum on August 10.    
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