Sunday, June 6, 2010
I am fortunate that I have been able to keep my engagements with Mauka and Studio Alaya active at the same time. In February 2010 I accompanied few craftspersons from District Bageshwar (with whom Studio Alaya develops handcrafted copper products) and officials from Ajeevika, an IFAD supported Govt of Uttarakhand initiative on an exposure visit to Kathmandu, Nepal. The purpose of the visit was to learn from various craft business models as well as participate in a Seminar and Handicraft Exhibition organized by the FHAN (Federation of Handicraft Associations of Nepal). Our itinerary included visits to Allo (Stinging Nettle) craft processing units, Wood carving enterprises, Metal ware as well as Ceramic based craft enterprises in and around Kathmandu.We also visited several retail outlets run by federations and producer cooperatives such as Dhukuti, Mahaguthi,Sana Hastkala and interacted with resource persons from ICIMOD and Fair Trade organisations in Nepal.
It was a wonderful learning journey for me and my team members. The range of crafts and the level of skill and craftsmanship evident among Nepalese craft enterprises is amazing. Combined with professional management skills, patronage from international tourists and embedded with the social mandates of Fair Trade, these craft enterprises are a force to reckon with. While the same natural resources and similar craft skills /traditions are found in our state of Uttarakhand as well,our crafts producers lack the high craftsmanship, superior quality and professional business acumen of their Nepalese counterparts.
In February- March 2010, we finally began our design-based classes. The course content include a basic curriculum on design principles, and a lot of effort went in interpreting assignments for ease of understanding. Ideas like composition, harmony, balance, rhythm, were discussed with the students and practical assignments were given out to help understand these ideas. These assignments were designed to help students develop an understanding of visual expression and
how we interpret visual imagery. We drew a lot from media such as TV and print advertisements to explain 'concepts', composition, color and content. It sometimes felt difficult to do so, as most of the terms are in English and we had to find related terms in Hindi to help share the idea better. So Harmony became 'smta'and rhythm became 'tal,ly'. It is good to have an English to Hindi Dictionary on the computers, as it helps us in finding the right match. My Hindi typing is horrible. I have to press all the keys for the correct letters and matras.
We also realized that perhaps we need to encourage local interpretation of these ideas and so we let students take inspiration from local environments. At the same time, since we wanted them to learn from other sources and from other regions, we encouraged learning of the terms/ideas in English as well. After all if one of them wants to develop this learning into a livelihood activity, they will need to be well versed with the common terms used in the industry.
Through November-December, the classes went on full of fun and enthusiasm, with our first batch of girl students being remarkably punctual, perceptive (curious) and participatory in the lesson delivery. They made us think through our curriculum again! We in turn are quite excited to see their initiative, and are amazed to see what effort they have put in trying to understand English/ speak in English.
English! Every word is a new challenge, and the twists and turns of grammar make our students lose their way around too often! Early on in the classroom, we realized that we have to start with the 'absolute basics', as our students struggle with basic grammar and comprehension. So we are going back to junior school grammar with our students. We are also learning that teaching English is not an easy job at all! There are just so many challenges in explaining rules and usage!
When to use 'will' and when to use 'shall'?
What is the difference between 'has' and 'have?
Where to use 'will' and where to use 'would'?
We knew it would be fun and challenging, and the camaraderie in the class is making us try to do the best in our search for the most convincing and easy to understand answers! Recently we have started basic computer classes with few students who are regular in class. We plan to use the computers to build English skills, for instance, get our students to 'write' assignments on the computer, where they can edit spellings, learn from the dictionary etc.
Also we realized that it takes a lot more to learn English than just attending a class. What seems to be a key factor is also the general level of confidence. Some students are bravely fighting their under confidence, and some just give up after a few sessions. We had a couple of drop-outs who felt challenged by the task and gave up early on. We are still encouraging them to think it through and have told them that we are open for them whenever they feel they are ready.
Though our fees itself is nominal (Rs. 250 per month), some of our students have also expressed difficulties in paying even that amount. For girls in particular, as they are dependent upon their father/brothers for any form of expenditure, they find it difficult to pay the amount. So we have decided to split the fees in two instalments- whatever one can pay, we are ready to accept that amount. For the balance, we are encouraging them to make small craft items that we can buy from them, so that they can earn money themselves to pay for the fees as well as get some extra pocket money. Let us see how it works out.
In late 2009, I was selected by the Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship (www.fyse.org) a South Asia based forum for the Paragon Fellowship (www.paragon100.asia), which recognizes young social entrepreneurs in the Asia Pacific region and provides them non-financial mentoring support to grow their initiatives. I hope that such opportunities will help build further linkages to expand my work.
We also had Commutiny friends visiting us in the last week of December! Manak and his friend Anthony came down to spend some time with me. It was good to see them. They visited our workshop and design studio and I enjoyed showing them around and having them meet all our people.