The World Crafts Council's efforts to sensitise school children about our artistic wealth are slowly but surely bearing fruit. A "dream team" of volunteers set up by the president is committed to the propagation of crafts. The members after much brain-storming get a plan of action in place in coordination with the school authorities.

“It is a wonderful experience,” says Kokila. “I'm so lucky to be here.” She can't stop talking about the joy of teaching her traditional palm leaf craft to the school students, who are busy fashioning small artefacts – birds, fishes, crabs, coasters, baskets, door decoration and flowers. Their faces glow with pride and a sense of accomplishment.

What will they finally do with these articles they have so carefully fashioned? “I will give them as gifts to my mom,” beams 11-year old Akshaya of Class 5 of Chettinad Harishree Vidyalayam while her friends nod in agreement.

“Craft education forms an important component of our activities,” says Usha Krishna, president of the World Crafts Council (WCC), and the first Indian to occupy the office. “We have organised these workshops in schools to sensitise the children to crafts. It is important for the young to know what wealth we have in our country in terms of craft, and develop a respect for craftspersons and the work they do. As teachers, the craftspersons feel elevated and the children are also enthusiastic. We started with fresh flower weaving, palm leaf craft and mat weaving. We later went on to tie and dye and shell craft.”

A total of 460 students from Classes V to VIII have been covered till now by this programme in five schools: The Padma Seshadri Bala Bhavan Schools, Harishree Vidyalayam, Children's Garden School, MCTM and the Padma Sarangapani schools. Fifteen teachers have participated.

“We have completed a year and a half of this activity. The schools pay for the resource person and the materials. But since we want to take the benefits to all cross sections, WCC is funding the project in Children's Garden School,” says Usha.

Team effort

A “dream team” of volunteers set up by the president is committed to the propagation of crafts. The members after much brain-storming get a plan of action in place in coordination with the school authorities. “We take various factors into consideration including the practical aspects, the materials needed, the colours and the costs,” say Hema Srinivasan, Jayasri Samyukta, and Soumithra Srinivasan who form part of this team along with Rajam Subramaniam, Renu Sabanayagam, Sudha Shivkumar, Santhi Balaraman and Visalakshi Ramaswamy.

The dedication of the volunteers is apparent as they make sure at least one of them is present at the school site for the weekly session which lasts for two hours. An inaugural talk where experts communicate easily to the children and interaction with the craftsperson are held. Documentary films and a grand valedictory session are all planned and executed by the WCC members in each school.

“The learning experience and interactions are valuable,” says Deivanai, principal of Harishree Vidyalayam. “This programme is linked to a larger one at our school called Fair Trade in association with the British Council which is offering the Global Curriculum Programme. There is improvement in dexterity and involvement of the young. We plan to take the children to Pulicat.”

Says Bhuvana Kannan, head of the Junior School, “The children are quite discerning and talk of better wages for the craftspersons and how to improve their lot. They realise how the craftspersons live and want the middlemen eliminated.”

Adds Neeta Agarwal, a class parent and a member of WCC, “Children now realise the value of labour. When they see crafts elsewhere, they will learn to appreciate them. The children are happy to work with eco-friendly material such as palm leaf. They learn of local initiatives and the skilful use of readily available materials.”

Catching them young

Sundari Raghavendran, a parent, says, “Normally children don't know anything about handicrafts. They are only taught painting and drawing, clay modelling and origami. This programme educates them.”

The WCC funds the programme on shell craft in Children's Garden School. The children are happily engaged in adding plumage to peacocks or setting their flower vases on pedestals. “These children have not been much exposed to crafts in general. Later they can use this to supplement their income or as a means of livelihood,” says Hema Srinivasan.

The craftsperson Abraham Ramam says the creatures of the sea have not been destroyed to procure the shells. Tie and dye in various colours and patterns is the product of the children of the Padma Sarangapani school.

Says Priya Jayakrishnan, correspondent of the school, “Training has been imparted in shell craft, palm leaf and tie and dye. It is magical to see the products take shape. We were surprised to see the boys enjoying the work and excelling at it.”

“We would love to take the programme to more schools,” says Usha. “More funds and volunteers would enable us to cover more institutions and also reach out to underprivileged children. It will be good if crafts education comes under Corporate Social Responsibility.”

Crafts are part of our heritage, and form a badge of our identity. Once smitten by craft is to be a connoisseur forever. As these young children are sure to be and take forward the threads of our tradition.