Mumbai

Art for learning and healing

Saturday Art Class aims to instil core values in children from disadvantaged backgrounds besides helping them express their emotions

There is excitement in the air as the children of Class III of the BMC School in Mohili village, Saki Naka, wear their aprons with ‘Saturday Art Class’ printed on it and look at the blackboard on which the Indian flag is neatly drawn. Todays’ topic, they are told, is to learn about the Indian flag and the meaning of Republic Day, and the activity is to make the tri-colour themselves with paint and ice cream sticks.

“What are the three colours in the Indian flag?,” asks their teacher, Manasi Mehan, and all the hands rise immediately. However, they are in for a surprise when they are told ‘orange’ is incorrect and the right colour is ‘saffron’, a word they are not familiar with. Likewise, they learn the significance of each colour: saffron for bravery, white for peace and cleanliness and green for protection.

“Through Saturday Art Class, we try to instil values and life skills in children from socially disempowered backgrounds by using art as an alternate method of learning,” says Ms Mehan, one of the founders of this not-for-profit.

An idea takes shape

The impetus came to Ms. Mehan a few years after she started teaching students of Class II and III in a BMC school in Jogeshwari in 2015 as a Teach for India Fellow. During one of her classes, the students were asked to talk on ‘My daily routine’. One of her students described his daily routine as waking up at 5 am, helping his uncle run his pani puri stall, making breakfast for the family, leaving for tuition at 9 am, attending school from 1 pm to 6 pm and later helping his other uncle at his grocery store. “This made me realise that most of these children do not have a childhood. At a tender age, they are burdened with responsibilities and are exposed to situations that make it very difficult for them to ‘just be children’,” says Ms. Mehan, who decided to take art classes for the students on Saturdays.

To her surprise, the students started freely expressing their thoughts and emotions, making art a form of therapy. Ms. Mehan then met Chhavi Khandelwal, an architect, who expressed her passion for art and visited one of the classes.

“The first class was a simple hand-printing class where the children were made to dip their hand in paint and just explore the texture of the paint. These handprints were then put up in class and the value of teamwork was inculcated,” says Ms. Khandelwal. The response they got from the students was phenomenal, which resulted in art class being conducted every week. Seeing the positive impact it had on the students in terms of improved attendance and concentration in school, they both decided to co-found SaturdayArt Class in July 2017.

They raised ₹4 lakh through crowd funding, with which they bought paints, crayons, stationery etc. “Initially we started with four volunteers. Today there are 161 mentors from diverse prfessional backgrounds,” says Aayush Bansal, Business Strategist. Mentor training sessions are held in-house as well as through Delhi Art Gallery in Kala Ghoda with which they have partnered. “These trainings ensure that the quality of the lesson plans conducted each Saturday is not compromised upon,” says Ms. Khandelwal.

The curriculum covers a nine-month academic year and the classes are held every Saturday in eight BMC-run schools and one orphanage across Mumbai, impacting 1,126 students. “We believe that a good education is not just what you gain from books but also what you gain from your experience as a student. Hence, we incorporate core values of patience, sharing, gratitude, teamwork, respect, cleanliness and equality into our curriculum to mould the child’s character,” says Ms. Mehan.

Every week, different types of art practices are taught based on the core values. Each lesson aims to make the art work relatable to the children. “Through art classes we try developing children’s visual and motor skills and give them opportunities to articulate their emotions,” says Ms. Khandelwal.

Dalin John, Assistant School Leader, BMC School, Mohili village, says the Saturday Art Class has led to improved attendance and concentration in school, bolstering children’s confidence in an environment where they can be free, “just how a school should be for a growing child.”

Ms. Mehan says they plan to showcase the children’s art work and bring together the community of mentors and students, in addition to widening the network of coordinators and mentors. The plan is also to introduce different forms of art like music and dance. “Most of these children have neither had the platform nor the opportunity to display their talents,” she says. “By inculcating core values and honing their imagination we try to make them responsible adults who will contribute to the growth of our society and nation.”

Saturday Art Class

Founder: Manasi Mehan and Chhavi Khandelwal

Founded: 2017

Funding: Donations

Staff: 161 volunteers

Website: saturdayartclass.com

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Printable version | May 27, 2020 11:51:57 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/mumbai/art-for-learning-and-healing/article22765928.ece

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