This is a continuation of the Blog post on the Summer Camp. To know more about the experiences of the students and volunteers, do see Part I of the blog post.
Beautiful Location: serene and calm
The Camp was held in the peaceful, serene and beautiful Jeevdaya Jain Dham at Bhalivali village near Virar. The location had 9 acres of unspoiled land outside of the hustle and bustle of city life. There was also a Panjrapole (animal shelter) for cows and calves. The students had spacious dormitories for their stay and visited the Bhojanshala for all their meals. There were well-appointed halls for the activities and workshops. The credit for discovering the place and recommending it for the camp goes to Ms Alka Shrawane.
Unique exposure and experiences
The location of the camp allowed the children to have sensory experiences that are difficult to come across in city living.
Firstly, the space to roam about in the large open areas was a big boon. Then, a Panjrapole (animal shelter), where the children could experience touching cows and calves for the first time. Some of the children were put off by the smell of the cowshed and some got frightened by the size and sound of the cows, while some others boldly stroked the cow’s body and marvelled at the touch. They got to experience walking barefoot on natural earth and had the sensory experience of feeling fallen leaves and flowers under their feet. They heard bird songs and animal and insect sounds which are unique to a rural setting.
Activities of the Summer Camp
The aim of the camp was to provide pre-vocational guidance to the children while also teaching them important life skills to manage their mind and body to be able to live healthy, happy, well-adjusted, independent lives. An attempt was made to have something for everyone, be they academically inclined or not.
Activities of academic interest: some of these activities were conducted in smaller groups so that children got individual attention from the faculty and they could be instructed as per their capability.
· French Language: Ms Zuili Marathe came for 5 days to introduce French language to the children, the idea being that some of the children could consider careers as translators or instructors of foreign languages. The children participated enthusiastically and even practiced the language during their free time at the camp. Even after leaving the camp, they have formed a Whatsapp group to learn and teach the language to each other.
· Computer skills: Mr Aditya Dhanavade conducted training in scanning printed books and converting them into Braille. Senior students from the Dombivali centre did an exceptional job of teaching the students from other locations to use the latest in technology: Ms Roshni Patro and Ms Drishti Gaba, taught them how to use the portable Braille device Braille-Me, Mr Aryan Joshi taught how to play chess online and young Mr Shravan Joshi taught how to use Daisy Player, a handy device that can be used by students to record lectures and dictate notes.
· Conversational English: Ms Geeta Subramaniam conducted sessions on spoken English and encouraged the students to practise speaking in the language confidently as it is the language of work and business internationally.
In addition, inputs by Ms Neeta Jog, Chief Legal Advisor to MSEB, regarding opportunities in the legal profession were also very informative and useful for the students.
Pre-vocational guidance: children got their hands dirty and actually learnt to make products, which they could go home and market.
· Hand made products: Mr Rupesh Mahajan of Gaurang Goshala, Saphale, taught the children how to make useful items using cow urine and cow dung, such as soap, toothpaste, floor cleaner, lamps, dhoop etc. There was some initial reluctance to handle the raw materials but soon the children had a lot of fun creating these articles and even using them the next day. Ms Sampada Palanitkar taught them how to make products like Tea Masala, ayurvedic face / hair packs and ubtan (bathing powder). The children were given the list of suppliers from whom to source the raw materials, given detailed instructions on how to make them and were encouraged to go home and start making and selling these products on a small scale in their communities.
· Entrepreneurship primer: Dr Kishor Bambardekar, chemical engineer by profession and a promoter of rural entrepreneurship gave a very enlightening talk on various entrepreneurial opportunities available to the visually challenged. He discussed businesses like solar energy, manufacture of simple product like detergents and soaps, which they could start without using too much initial capital. He gave them the formulae for the chemical products too to try out at home. Many of the students were very energised by the encouragement he gave and they promised to give small scale entrepreneurship a go when they went home.
· Healing practices: Dr Vanita Kelkar taught the children Sujok Therapy- a Korean alternate healing technique that uses acupressure in the palms and feet to cure various illnesses. The children practised these techniques on themselves even after the session. Introduction to Reiki was conducted by Mr Gopal Rawal, a former student at Snehankit Helpline and now a successful event manager. These therapies were introduced to the students for improving their own health and also to consider the career options available in this field.
Personality Development and Self-Management: with the view that a healthy mind and a healthy body are required for achieving anything in life, the following tools and techniques were taught to the students.
· Yoga/ Physical exercises: Ms Pallavi Shankar was the lead teacher for Yoga and Physical exercises. The children woke up every morning at 6 am sharp to practise the exercises. Ms Alka Shrawane also helped during these sessions.
· Haasya Yoga: Dr Sunil Karve gave a lecture on Laughter Therapy-Haasya Yoga and made all the students and volunteers participate in a series of activities involving this technique.
· Conflict Management & Communication skills, Positive Thinking: Dr Sunil Karve also gave useful inputs on communication skills and conflict resolution. Mr Gopal Rawal gave the students very important instruction on the power of positive thinking.
· Jain philosophy: One of the Sadhvis at Jeevdaya Dham spoke to the students about the practice of Jainism and non-violence.
· Mobility Training: Ms Pallavi Shankar and Mr Aditya Dhanavade gave the students training in mobility and using the cane. This is a very important faculty for the students to develop for independent living.
Fun Activities: There were many fun activities too that were organised after the learning activities of the day were completed.
· The children listened to inspiring documentaries and recordings of interviews with entrepreneurs before bed time.
· Group games such as Antakshari were played in the evening. This children were given ample time to roam around the campus and chat with each other. Sometimes they talked through most of the night and were yet fresh for activities the next day.
· Prof Utkarsha Mallya spent time with the children and engaged them in poetry recitation and story-telling. Ms Mangala Raje also spent quality time with the children.
On the last day, the students formed groups and demonstrated what they learnt, be it French, or Yoga or singing. They also shared their personal stories of the challenges faced by them.
Finally, the icing on the cake was Paritai’s inspiring speech to the children. She spoke to them from her own experience and instilled in them the attitude of never giving up. She stressed on the importance of being independent, a Mantra she lives by and which is at the heart of all activities conducted by Snehankit Helpline.