The Plan: During the initial stages of formulating our Service Learning Project idea, our group had originally planned to work with the children to create a story. Using this story, we would then assist the children in producing the story into a creative medium. We had multiple ideas on how it could be produced in order to provide the children with options and be open to their creative process. We considered theater, drawing, incorporating the mural and several other methods of expressing creativity. We decided to bring art supplies with the possibility of making puppets with the children as well as video and audio equipment in case we wanted to formally interview anyone or record our final product.
Day 1-3: Progress is slow and little time has been given to work on our Service Learning Project. The kids have a hectic schedule at the Ashram. It starts off with CrossFit and Aarti at 6:00 a.m., breakfast by 7:00 a.m., and across the field for school before 8 a.m.
Once they’re home from school at 1 p.m. it’s lunch, quiet time until 3:00 p.m. study time, chai time, some free time from 5-7 p.m., then Aarti, dinner and bed by 9. Figuring out how we’re going to swing this may be more challenging than we thought.
May 10: After a day of shopping, eating and sightseeing, we decided to go into the little book store that was attached to the cafe where the group started and ended the short afternoon trip. They went in there to look around with no real idea of what they were looking for. When out of the corner of our eye we seen children’s books. The children’s books were about the Hindu gods. Jackie started reading them right away as she would when presented with children’s book in any location. The first one she started to read was about Ganesha. Ganesha was special to India Field School as he was the remover of obstacles and The India Field School had found that each year he was on their side making the trip smooth. Right away Jackie knew this book would be special. With excitement in her eyes she realized this would spark a move in the service learning project. She showed it to Debrina and they agreed that this story would make waves in the Service Learning Project. Two copies were purchased and off we went back to the bus back to the Ashram. As we sat on the bus the excitement grew around the book they had purchased as Jackie read the story to her fellow students.
It was unclear if the children would enjoy the story or if they would even want to use it. But we were sure it was a good place to start. Jackie could not wait to get back to the Ashram and read the story to the children.
Jackie’s Story: I gathered the children to come and listen to the story. I sat down near the playground outside to read the story to the children. The children were all facing different ways and they seemed as if they weren’t sure exactly what to do. Once I started reading and with support from my group members the children all started intently listening to the story. At the end of the book the children that were a part of our group were all super excited to remake the story. They decided to shout about which character they wanted to play and outfits. It was the perfect ending to a story of uncertainty.
Debrina’s story: When we began preparing for the play, getting some of the children engaged wasn’t an easy task. When first arriving in India we made the assumption that we would be able to jump right into creating a play. As a student of child studies, I temporarily forgot what was needed in order to effectively work towards a goal like a play. Building rapport and relationships ended up being the focus of our interactions with the kids as opposed to strictly focusing on the play. I was the one that needed to be more present. I noticed that the more energy I bought to the relationship, the more they reciprocated back to me — which indirectly aided in preparing for the play. Initially when we were practicing I only intended on pretending to be a mouse to help gain the interest of the children to join. Afterwards, we realized that the exchange of energy was most prominent when I was on the stage with the children, including for the final performance. On the night of the showcase I was sick with a fever; however, the energy of the children was contagious and helped me overcome my obstacle and be as present and energized as them.
Ashley’s Story: It was hard to know what my role was in the play in the early stages of our process. While a background in theater, I couldn’t help but crave to be up on stage with the kids or directing the entire play. I wanted a production! Something that would result in a seamless product the cast members would be proud of, and riveting production that could be used in our final project back home. I might have forgotten that we were collaborating with children. At times there was a language barrier and at others times the children’s attention drifted elsewhere. This need to produce a seamless end piece also made the journalist in me worry endlessly on capturing the perfect shots and audio that could be used for our Service Learning Project presentations back in Canada. Although my journalism skills appeared to fail me while at the Ashram, as much of the audio I captured on video turned out far too poor to be used in any final product, I was losing the essence of being a journalist. While I’ve been taught throughout my degree about the nitty gritty when it comes to producing film, imagery or audio for publication, the true nature of being a journalist surrounds the story. While the girls in our play may have enjoyed the play when it was all said and done, it was the down time we shared with the girls that were the vertebrates to our overall story. Sure, the play was cute, even humorous at times, it was the moments where the girls in our play began to lose interest in our rehearsals and instead wanted to braid our hair and paint our nails.
It was in these moments where bonding with the Ashram children truly took place. Not in the cultivating of a play or medium fit for publication. The play was our method of play that allowed us to build rapport and connection with the girls that truly left a lasting impression. This even allowed myself to step out from behind the camera and throw myself into the action of our journey that was taking place and thriving during our highly unproductive breaks. This was working with, not for.
Since our group decided that we would use the book and create it into a play we did our best to rewrite the book into narration. We chose to do it as a narrated play so that the children did not have to focus on memorizing lines but instead they could follow the words with actions. This is where Debrina’s actions came into play and helped create a production. There was also thought about verbally reading the story out loud but that would make our play take up a lot of time. The rewriting of the book took some editing and we came with a different copy each time we met with the children. The spoken parts were chosen by who could pronounce the Hindi words and when the first narrator (Kiran) was on stage.