Magenta’s office manager Marion Duggan is currently in India with Magenta’s corporate charity Clowns Without Borders UK, bringing laughter into the lives of people affected by crisis. Here’s her report from Dehradun.
When I arrived in Dehradun, after my welcome ceremony of turmeric and rice placed on my forehead for health and prosperity, we went straight into devising our show with Rupesh Tillu as our director. Our house and rehearsal space are part of the movement Nanhi Dunya meaning Small World, which bases its schooling methods on that of Steiner. Children here pay what they can each month and the money is split between the teaching staff at the end of the month depending on their needs. The classrooms are outside and the children learn through play.
After our first full day of rehearsals a few of the children from the school came into the rehearsal so we could sense what was funny and what was not. We continued like this for three days and did our dress rehearsal in the school in front of journalists for the Indian Tribune and Garwhal Post.
So far the tour in India has been one of extremes, much like the country itself, from the distances our team have travelled to get here to the size and diversity of our audiences. The team is made up of two clowns from England, one from Swaziland, a project coordinator from Spain living in Mussoorie, a photographer from Spain and our guide from Dehradun, India.
We performed our first show to 25 girls in a safe house and our second at SNEHA School in the biggest slum in Dehradun where 1,200 pairs of eyes greeted us as we arrived and set up.
Our beneficiaries here have ranged from children living in slums, Tibetan refugees, children and adults with disabilities and girls and boys rescued from trafficking. The unifying factor of all of these beneficiaries is the ability to laugh despite their circumstances.
SNEHA was set up by Reeta, a trained doctor, one of four girls with a father who insisted all his daughters would get a university education. She spoke to us about setting up the school in 1996 with no classroom, only going into people’s homes. The school prides itself on the intake selection of its students being 50 per cent girls and 50 per cent and boys. Many of the families would choose to send their sons to school over daughters if only one school place is available. Reeta insists they take the girl. This is just one of the many ways Reeta is championing female empowerment. The school keeps finding ways to bring the community into the building, some women and girls being allowed by parents to visit the school for the women’s sewing groups.This has inspired me and been close to my heart on days when the situations our audiences are dealing with have seemed too hard to process. Behind each partner we have worked with there is an individual who has started out and not given up, even when it seems the issue is too big to take on. On all occasions so far here, that individual has been a woman. Despite the hurdles, they have carried on and found ways to show love and care, never losing sight of hope and the vision that education is the tool and way out of poverty.
AASRAA, one of our partners here, works with children from the slums that are out of the school system, sent out to beg on the streets or litter pick. These children are often addicted to tobacco leaves their parents give them to suppress their appetite, or sniffing glue. AASRAA takes the children into the school system and as the organisation is growing, so are the methods of working with the young people. The teenagers that started with AASRAA as children are now being given the tools to make money in traditional Indian artisan methods, like block printing, weaving etc. CWB UK led a workshop with AASRAA staff, sharing with them games and exercises they may use in their work. The staff talked about how hard it is to gain the trust of a child who has been abused by their parents so our workshop focused on playful ways to build trust and confidence in young people.
The positive feedback we have received from both teachers and children after the show has been overwhelming and a great reminder that that sharing laughter is the shortest distance between two people. So far we have performed to 4,314 children, 1,200 of these from the Tibetan Homes Foundation for Tibetan refugees. One child who fled Tibet a year ago commented ‘It feels a great pleasure for me to see everyone laughing. I always see so much sadness. Many of the children here are orphans and are far from their motherland’. A teacher commented that children live what they see, and we feel the ripple effect of our work when we witness the children in the school opposite playing out the routines from our show. Many of the children we have met here in India are witness to and experience situations that for an adult to process would be hard. I hope and feel that in the 60 minutes of our performance they are free from the adult responsibility and are allowed to be children.
Clowns Without Borders UK is planning three more projects this winter: a trip to Calais over Christmas, working with refugee youths in London and a trip to Lesvos, Greece. For more information about the charity or to join Magenta in supporting this worthwhile cause visit www.clownswithoutborders.org.uk and to donate https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser web/donate/makeDonationForCharityDisplay.action?charityId=1009801