Written July 3, 2008
Today I saw, without a doubt, the most exciting summer camp in all my travels.
In a village called Morhisha in the major tea-producing District of Dibrugarh, Assam Abhijit, Surjya, Ashok, and I arrived at a school where we saw a large group of children playing in the courtyard. As we approached the children ran inside—it seemed like they did not want us to know they were playing.
This was just the first clue that something unique was going on. After introducing ourselves as the sponsors of the summer camp—and not some rigid government officials, the children went out into the courtyard again. Within moments about 90 children had created a large circle on the veranda, and became spectators for a performance. Without any coaching from the volunteers who ran the camp, 2 boys jumped center stage and began to perform a scene from one of the Pratham picture story cards.
Moments later 3 other boys jumped onto the stage and performed another scene
And after that 2 girls performed a well-rehearsed bharatnatyam dance.
And after that a girl stood up and sang a song… then another girl recited a poem…
I had seen students recite poems and songs in summer camps and classrooms before, but I always felt like those students were being put on display to impress us. What was different here was the way the students themselves were engaging their own creativity and expressing themselves for the pure enjoyment of it. And the enormous class size (again about 90) demonstrated that the students loved it.
One of Pratham’s main objectives of holding summer camps has been to create a lively, fun atmosphere where students would enjoy themselves (in turn generating strong attendance from children) while they developed their reading, writing, and math skills. In all my travels—from Punjab to Gujarat to here—this camp was the first one to unquestionably reach this goal, and it was only 3 days into the one-month long summer camp.
[Kids in the Morhisha summer camp]
After spending almost 45 minutes with the children, I wanted to see who was responsible for this wonderful work. So I introduced myself to Padma Das, a petite and gregarious woman in her early-forties, with 2 children attending the camp. I asked her how many volunteers there were, and she introduced me to 4 other women.
[The Morhisha summer camp volunteers with Ashok, Abhijit, me, and Surjya]
Padma said that they were long-time friends who all had grown up in Morhisha and were looking for a way to boost education in the community. “When we met the Pratham Block Coordinator at a Gram Sabha meeting, we liked the idea of a summer camp,” she said. “When we found out that the local government education officer was not going to open up the school for the summer camp, we went to his office and convinced him to allow us to use these grounds.”
A child walked by and showed Surjya a color drawing he had made. Surjya commended the child on his picture, and Padma told me that the following week a professional visual artist would be coming in to teach the children to draw.
[Kids in the Morhisha summer camp drawing]
At that point I asked, "Why are you running the summer camp?" and Padma replied, "Because we love our children and they need it. And even if Pratham doesn't help us, we'll do it again next summer-- no one can stop us."