Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Bridging The Gaps 2016, Lucknow

I rushed out from work at 3pm and boarded my flight to Lucknow with a backpack and a stomach full of pongal, vadai and sambhar. My friend Vikram had been to the BTG camp the previous year and he had then sworn I would love it. Following which, I had made up my mind to make it the next year. Things worked out and I was able to ! And man what an experience.

120 kids. 60 coaches and mentors. 5 days of frisbee, sun, art, dance, claps, sweat, honesty, tanda paani, and masti.

The camp was a beautiful space that aided one to experience time outside his/her shell. It was designed so that one feels safe enough to be his/her self - the layer of judgement whipped away with a magic wand. Sangeeta, an eloquent dancer, one of the organizers, put it beautifully - she said they designed the experience to take place in a "womb-like environment". From day 1 to day 5, I could see some of the transformations in this conducive space - a boy who struggled to say hello, gave a thank you speech holding a mike; a girl who was not allowed to step out of her home, danced away to glory with a swollen ankle; a girl who came knowing only Tamil, left with the ability to translate Hindi to Tamil; a boy who was hesitant and shy to speak left after making a 100 friends.

What was most amazing about these transformations was the way in which they were facilitated. Volunteer coaches both experienced and new, came together to first understand mentoring, and then to implement it in their teams. This 2-fold approach towards impact was aimed towards multiplying the outreach, so that an estimate of 3000 children would benefit from the lessons. These coaches exhibited raw passion and seemingly endless energy in engaging the kids through every aspect of the camp. You could see the coaches' influence in the eyes of the children when they addressed their coach - didi, akka, anna, and bhaiya. 

Every day began at 05.00 am and ended well past 10.00 pm - action packed. And through out the day one could see the energy troughs and peaks. 05.45 am saw children and adults with half closed eyes and a slightly unwilling walk into the buses. 06.15 am saw the exact same bunch jumping and howling to waka waka in the middle of a huge green ground. It was then time for frisbee. In these few hours, coaches learnt the nuances of communication with their senior mentors' guidance; children learnt to hold their frisbees and clap one, the crocodile way. I got to walk around in the scorching sun, discover stories of the wonderful people who put together a miraculous camp, and catch the occasional disc. Every frisbee session ended with 200 people breaking into a dance before boarding our buses back to the dorms!

The day saw sessions of gender equality modules, art inspiration, painting, playing, singing, dancing, and thinking. In every one of these sessions the children reacted beautifully to the materials we presented. They owned it, and made the lessons their own.

I ran the art sessions and got to see the kids bring out their creativity with the right tools. The goal was a simple one - in pairs they had to gather fallen leaves, flowers and twigs from the play ground and create a meaningful logo for their team. Here is what we saw - talent at its best form. These children reminded me of a lesson that is perhaps forgotten every now and then - where there is a will, there is a way. Always.

After some amazing mind work and team bonding, it was time for frisbee again in the evening. Liz, an amazing organizer, who was always seen with her Mary Poppins backpack, said it was all she could ask for in a day - children playing frisbee and dancing to the tunes of lungi dance.

Post dinner in the dorms was probably the most fun part of the day - a couple of hours of dancing, just dancing. Again from day 1 to day 5 - you could see the children/adults learning to mix around and dance with anyone, transforming.

For me it was a lesson in sharing, camaraderie, giving, smiling, letting go, losing yourself, and creating. Most importantly it was a lesson in saying "yes, and.." - always makes my day to see this one in action! It was a lesson in proving to oneself that once you do step out of the comfort circle, you experience yourself!

It wasn't just the kids who went away with realizing who they could be, it was also the adults who went away realizing what they can inspire.

"We can't do all the good that the world needs, but the world needs all the good we can do"

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