The best way to learn about a country and its culture is to live in the community and follow their daily life, and even better, photograph them to take stories back to friends at home. Students from American high schools have had several such experiences in India, living in States as diverse as Assam to Karnataka, through CLIC Abroad or ‘Children Learning International Cultures’, an organisation founded by travel writer and photographer Bhaskar Krishnamurthy from Karnataka.
Bhaskar has lived through many photography experiences, including, he says, an ULFA militant kidnapping in 1999 before he moved to the U.S.A.! “Photography is often seen as an elitist thing. I didn’t want it to stay that way,” says Bhaskar, explaining how he involved the local communities of Augusta, Georgia, where he lives, in photography festivals. Based on the success of those projects, the engineer felt it was a great idea to do something like this in India. So in 2009, he, along with friends set up CLIC Abroad, with the idea that children from America and people from India mingle at photography workshops held within communities here and together build and narrate stories. Most visits last about 12 days.
“The first camp we had was in Bodoland; after initial hiccups, over 5,000 rural people participated in the rural photo exhibition. My focus is on education through visual representation and empowerment through participation,” he reiterates. A product of SIT Tumkur, Bhaskar studied mostly in various parts of rural Karnataka and then moved to Bengaluru.
“Till date we have brought down over 100 American children studying in classes nine to 12. Just last month was our latest venture where a group of students from the Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College lived with elephant mahout communities in Karnataka in Dubare, Sakrebylu, and Aane Chowku (Nagarhole), talking, among other things about the gaps between conservation and the man-animal conflict,” says Bhaskar. CLIC Abroad currently has a tie up with about eight high schools and colleges in America.
“The idea is to understand the dynamics of the community, and figure out how best to participate or help,” adds Bhaskar, giving examples of how sometimes students donate something as simple as shoes and socks which children in remote India don’t have to wear to school. On the other hand, they helped light up an entire village that didn't have electricity, using solar lamps. The students raise their own funds or save up to pay for their trip.
Shelby Evans, a 20-year-old communication student, says of her recent trip to Karnataka: “Rural, where I’m from, and ‘rural’ in India were very different. Farms were smaller, crops were unusual, and the farm equipment was handcrafted. However, while I found the landscape and the culture to be incredibly different, the people were kind and hospitable. The kindness here is not unlike the kindness of the Southern (American) hospitality, I find at home. It was comforting for me to see that kindness across the world.” Her classmate Austin Morris got to straddle two worlds - riding elephants, coming across King Cobras, and then visiting schools and interacting with children across age groups and seeing how they learn.
Thomas Grant, assistant professor of journalism at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, in an email response, says: “My students and I couldn’t begin to understand India until we had travelled there. In CLIC Abroad, what students get is a chance to touch and feel India in a way that no movie or book ever can. It allows young people from both nations to embrace their similarities and understand their differences in a personal way. I could never teach this. In Coorg, we came to understand India’s relationship with nature. In America, nature is often something to be dominated. If a wolf eats a sheep, the farmer is allowed to shoot it. But in Coorg, we saw wild elephants trampling through coffee estates, yet the farmer was not angry with the elephant. He wanted it to leave, but he wouldn’t harm it. We talked to two girls whose mother had been killed by an elephant, yet they wished no harm on the elephant.
They merely wished that that the elephant would be moved far away. This respect for nature was one of our most incredible takeaways from India. Indians have learned to live with nature, and Americans could learn much from that.”
For details look up >www.clicabroad.org