A bright sunny March morning welcomed us when a group of Bhumi volunteers and external volunteers, decided to add color to Avvai Home and Orphanage, Chennai as a part of the Bhumi’s Festival of Volunteering 2016. BALA (Building As Learning Aid) is an innovative idea towards qualitative improvement in education by making use of the school infrastructure to develop a child-friendly and fun-based physical environment – by transforming spaces such as corridors, outdoor pockets, etc. and the built elements like walls, furniture, floors, etc. into learning material. We decided to carry out the activity, i.e. altering the built elements visually, at the shelter home and the adjoining primary school. The kids from the home were buzzing with excitement and anticipation to see the end result.
At the shelter home, we drew alphabets and numbers on the wall. We also picked different ‘canvases’ such as the ceiling fan for some interesting Warli patterns, and the floor for a game of Paandi (hopscotch). We were extremely thrilled when around 40 Cognizant (CTS) employees came forward to volunteer with us for this initiative the next weekend. The walls got worked upon with very cute child-like depictions of scenes from everyday life such as children playing under a tree, animals in a forest, height chart, etc. What might have been a whole-weekend project got done within a day, thanks to the great enthusiasm and drive expressed by the CTS volunteers!
At the primary school, we wanted to portray concepts from their textbooks but in a fun and simplistic manner that would catch the children’s attention. We decided on themes such as the solar system, the importance of animals in a forest ecosystem, water cycle, etc. The following weekend, a wonderful team of 30 employees from Johnson & Johnson (J&J) Pvt. Ltd. wanted to help out with the primary school. The day proceeded at jet speed and also ended with beautiful outcomes, thanks to the J&J employees.
Following the initial painting drive during weekends only, we Bhumi volunteers started going to the school to paint whenever we could find time. We continued the artwork on the pending walls, and the blackboards in all the classrooms were also repainted.
Most kids had gone back home for their summer vacation, however the ones present at the shelter home got involved in the artwork with much excitement. We then realized that including the children in creating the paintings would give them a sense of ownership and they would not just learn better but also look after the walls well. For instance, two little kids who helped out in painting vowels on a strip of wall were so happy with their work that they went to the elders of the school proclaiming that the wall was theirs!
On the whole, over the two months, it was a very fulfilling experience that we hope achieves what we aimed at – that the kids do learn from the artwork. From the volunteers’ point of view, not only did the event bring out the artist in us but also led to a very strong bonding amongst us. As the core team – Srinivasan (project initiator), Janani, Arun, Nashwa, Sudhir, and Varun, we would like to thank Bhumi for this opportunity. We would also like to thank the CTS and the J&J employees for their support. Many thanks to both the Bhumi and non-Bhumi volunteers without whom this event would have never happened – special thanks to Srinidhi, Sushmitha, Meenakshi, Maha, Sangeetha, Srimathi, Evangeline, Raji, Abinandhanan, Arunan, Naveen, Raju Bhai & team!
This BALA project has inspired us to try it out at other homes and schools, as we have come to see how powerful a medium like art can be to teach children. As the French artist Fernand Leger put it, “Man needs color to live; it’s just as necessary an element as fire and water”!