We had the great opportunity to run workshops in Varanasi with the ‘School of Life’, a non-formal school that gives the chance to disadvantaged children of the neighbourhood to follow high-value educational courses. Around 50 pupils live in a shelter – a large house near the school, in the south part of the town. For more information about ‘The School of Life’, please click on that link, or on that one.
For a couple of months we’ve been in touch with Katie, a German so dynamic girl who runs both the school and the shelter. She also teaches English and Science Few times off for her… We discovered ‘The School of Life’ on internet via the Irish-based association ‘SCOOP’, which collects funds and runs charity programs all over the world.
At our arrival in Varanasi, we meet Katie, her husband – who is a doctor and takes care of the children’s health when he is in India and the children at the shelter. The house is surrounded by a nice garden where we all have a dinner all together. We all sit down on carpets on the grass, forming a large square on the middle of which a giant pot full of a delicious food prepared by the cook is brought. The children help for the service, the older taking care of the younger. At the end of the dinner, everybody goes to wash her/his plate.
We then have some time to discuss further with Katie about the workshops. It’s Saturday and we plan to run 3 sets of workshops with 2 groups in the afternoon of Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. The day before, on Sunday, some of the children will come with us to find some stationary. Thanks! In fact, they helped Sophie, not me: some tourist stomach troubles caught me on Saturday night and I stayed to bed all day long. Sophie would have the same the day later…
On Monday afternoon, we start the 2 first workshops with the first group. We occupy a terrace on the first floor of the school, working on carpets. The weather is clear, the temperature warm enough and in the background we can see Ganges river. Perfect! Most of the children have notions of English, but for a better understanding Katie translates our speech.
The first workshop is dedicated to the “openness to the world” workshop, and consists of explaining to the children our project and building with them our route on a large map. The children are invited to stick on the map the different countries we plan to cycle through. The quiz is pretty difficult for the children – but it has been the same for all our visits. We go quickly for Europe (too many small countries), even quicker than in South East Asia or Nepal, since we do not locate the most important cities of the old continent: Madrid, Barcelona, London, Manchester, München, Milan… because children in India hardly take care about football, they clearly prefer cricket! The children are very calm and pay attention to us, so everything runs smoothly.
Then time has come for a soda break before starting the second workshop dedicated to the self-portraits. The aim of this workshop is to give time to the children to pay attention of themselves, have fun with painting, and be a part of a global project since an exhibition will be held in France at the end of the trip with the paintings of all the children. Once the few instructions are given, we let the children drawing and looking at them in a mirror. Some of the children need a slight help, but most of them are pretty confident. There are even some who really take care of the face proportions, although we did not mention such a technique.
Once all the drawings are completed, we start with the paint. Children share the colour plates and are first told to mix paints to find a colour that matches their skins’. Once the skin painting is done, they can take care about the details, then the hair, and finally the background (if they want). Children seem to enjoy with painting, which is funnier than drawing. The atmosphere is relaxed and the paintings run well. The art teacher of the school even came to give us a hand and remains very discreet and positive, even if there is a lot to say for a professional like him about drawing and painting techniques that we do not use or even know…
Two hours after the beginning of the workshop, all the paintings are completed. We let them dry in a classroom. The children are very helpful to clean everything and we can leave the place before the night comes. Very nice afternoon!
The day later, we perform the same workshops with the second group. The children are as nice and disciplined as the day before and we also have a good time. Katie, who has some work to do cannot assist us all the afternoon, but the Indian director of the School helped us, and even the best English-speaking children spontaneously translate to their colleagues our instructions. Easy job than ours in these conditions!
The third day, we plan to perform the third workshop – self-portrait “in the manner of Niki de Saint-Phalle” with both groups almost in the same time. Each group a dedicated terrace to stay, and the staff split to help both. That workshop is made to give some good time to the children while painting, and to show them that a subject can be treated in art in very different ways.
The drawings have to be very basic (an oval for the face, 2 large circles for the eyes, a mouth with big lips, simple hair…) and the instructions are given step by step to the children in order the drawings to be completed very quickly, and the children are told to put a personal detail in the drawing. Then painting begins. The children choose 4 bright colours and shall use only them, without doing any mix. 1 hour later, the paintings are done. The faces are cut and stick on black sheets of paper, before children add their name in Hindi with bright letter on the background.
The result is awesome and we can really thank the children for their behaviour and their involvement during these 3 days. It’s time to us to say goodbye to the children, after having gone a photo-sessions with the masterpieces. Unfortunately we must decline the invitation to eat from the staff, my stomach being upside down one more time…
Nevertheless, we keep a really great memory of these wonderful moments spent with the children and the staff. We would like to thank a lot all of them for the warm welcome we received, and wish them best luck for the future. Do not hesitate to help them, they really deserve it!
Here are the masterpieces « in the manner of Niki de Saint-Phalle », impressive, aren’t they?