everybody loves clay

Attendance: 57 from Grades 6-11, in two groups (although it was intended to be for 30 students from Grades 6-8!)

Learning goals: gaining awareness about different ways of seeing and interpreting the world (also #goals: carry out a workshop after a 6.5 hour ride in public bus and one hour of sleep)

Activities: Snap-clap-stomp, face cover (originally intended to do blind contour portrait), empathy sculpt (alt. empathy draw)

Interesting projects: The success of the face cover differed wildly between the two groups, and I suspect it has something to do with the order in which we did the activities. For the first group, we did it in the order above. For the second, we were afraid we were running short on time, so we did empathy “draw” first, but it’s much less time-consuming (and, I imagine, satisfying) than using clay. So we did, after all, have time for the face cover exercise, and a good 50% or more of the ~30 managed to get theirs to stick on their faces (and their neighbours’ faces, too). They did, however, look like so many Kaonashis (No-Face) from Spirited Away, and I will admit that the end result was decidedly creepier than I intended in light of certain recent events in the US.

Insights/surprises: Empathy sculpt has been an interesting “failure” in both Lunawa and Kakkaiyankulam. I was tempted not to do it at all, but I’m glad I did. The kids here seemed to have even more trouble than those in Lunawa giving up authorship and trusting their team. Once again, though, we did have a single team (of girls, this time) who said they liked working as a team. And there STILL wasn’t enough clay – but this is what happens when you expect 15 kids per group and have almost 30. I just need to bring enough clay for 50 kids in future, I think!

Because there wasn’t enough clay for the first group, we adapted the exercise a bit for the second, with the help of our fabulous new translator Peranavan (I’m glad I asked Kamal to suggest someone to me rather than going with other, less satisfactory people I’d worked with previously). Peranavan suggested creating a drawing exercise with the same intent, which may have worked had we not said at the start that we were going to give them two minutes to draw something (there needs to be the element of putting all you have into it). Instead, the kids rapidly drew outlines of houses and flowers and trees at the start, and subsequent rounds were merely spent filling those outlines in colour. The kids still didn’t enjoy the shared authorship though. Definitely not an intro exercise, after all. I’m curious how students from Ladies’ College (my old school) would react, though, and I plan to try out a holiday workshop next year to see what happens.

The kids in Lunawa needed constant monitoring to get anything done – during snap-clap-stomp, they stopped engaging the minute my back was turned. These kids are a lot more disciplined, and will generally do what we ask to the best of their ability (with the exception of giving up their clay, apparently!).

Workshop feedback: As always, they count activities completed as things learned, rather than thinking more deeply to consider what themes we aimed to bring up in the workshop. I do think that this is the result of having 30 kids per workshop, though, and we’re learning a lot about how numbers affect how we conduct workshops, and what we can actually discuss. Here is the full pdf of 45 (!) feedback forms (some wandered off after then bun

Continuing challenges: Because I no longer have the resources and capacity to do weekly workshops (as I did in 2012) the first day back is always one of recalibrating significantly. We got twice as many children as expected, so there wasn’t enough clay, or buns (we solved this problem by giving everyone half a bun, poor things) or Milo (we could not solve this problem – they drank their own water instead). We are, however, gaining the resource to come slightly more often, so I hope we will be able to do something in January or February as well, before I do another holiday workshop next August.

* * *

These workshops always commence with a small bucketload of bombshells lobbed at the last minute, despite our best laid plans. This time, the Nallur festival meant that tickets for trains three weeks into the future were booked solid (creating a minor panic before I settled on buses) Kamal called us a week before to say he wouldn’t actually be able to make it over the weekend (but kindly found us a wonderful replacement in Peranavan, who we dub Kamal, 2 because he’s just so fab) and Mr Farhan called us Friday morning (i.e. the day we were to leave) to tell us the kids wouldn’t actually be having holidays the following week after all (after a brief moment of panic, I suggested we just do the workshops after school).

I’d bought tickets in advance for “Safe Travels,” a nice air-conditioned luxury bus. I reasoned that if we were going to arrive in Vavuniya at 1.30am, we might as well sleep in comfort on the way there. Despite all our planning, though (carefully arriving an hour in advance to a nearby McDonald’s, getting to the bus stop on time, keeping our eyes peeled and on the lookout at all times) Safe Travels let us down with a dollop of irony by simply rolling past the stop. Everything was a bit confused, with us tearing down the street after the bus that managed to simply disappear, the bus stand guy (who he was, I do not know – Lini has pegged him as part of the private bus mafia) telling us first that our bus was yet to come, then telling us we had indeed missed the bus, another gentleman waiting to drop off his daughter confiding in us that this was all a racket to make more money, and then deciding to take two tuks to the bus stand on Bastian Mw in Fort to take a much less comfortable but eventually more reliable non-AC bus to Vavuniya. The journey that was supposed to start at 8pm commenced at 10pm, and we were borne along amidst a blaring playlist of music that repeated every hour for the 6.5 hour journey. We were lucky enough to all get seats next to each other, for which I am very grateful. I still have to figure out how I can get my 5000 rupees back (again, I am blessing the PKG Fellowship every day for cushioning us against moments like these).

We stumbled out of the bus at 4.30am – fortunately Nelly Star was a mere five minute walk away (I didn’t want to risk sharing my room with a mouse as I did last year at Hotel Indran’s) and we crashed for an hour before hoisting ourselves up again for our very first workshop. Our new driver, Peranavan, was extremely obliging as we sorted out buying breakfast and workshop snacks, and we’ve got a new bakery-partner in Ranjith of Ridmani Bake House.

The roads are getting better, and Peranavan is quite the Speedy Gonzales, so we were in Kakkaiyankulam just before 8am. Oddly, not a single child was in sight – usually they hang around in the playground before the workshop begins. On calling Mr Farhan, he told me he had sent me a message saying that the kids had a class and to come at 10am. Oh Mr Farhan, I can always count on you to make my life interesting. We decided that having the hour to set up was a good thing, and set about splitting up the space. In doing multiple workshops, though, I’m learning that there really is only one classroom (the one I usually use) which is nice and airy and conducive to our workshops; the others are a lot smaller and stuffier. Sarika and I created a really nice workstation in one of the smaller classes, though, based on my learnings from Lunawa – pulling four tables together and grouping six chairs around it. We even managed to pull together tables of similar heights in a single group, which greatly satisfied my perfectionist soul. It ended up being a good thing we made an “extra” grouping in the corner because of the sheer hordes that descended upon us between 9 and 9.30am. It felt as though the waves of children’s faces were never-ending. Switching over went fairly smoothly, though.

By the end of the workshop, I felt as though my brain was (were?) shutting down, and I dozed off on the ride back. I was terribly disoriented during our brief stop at Ammachchi, a lovely little kitchen set-up run by the Ministry of Agriculture, where local women run several stands selling cheap and nutritious traditional food, but felt a lot better after an ice-cold passion fruit juice and a bit of modaham – a really lovely sweetmeat made with green gram. We decided to do lunch at White Stone as usual, and feasted on far too much egg and chicken fried rice, deviled prawns, and masala paneer, after which we were more than ready for a nap.

We regrouped at 5.30pm and discussed workshop feedback, simplified the feedback form, got copies of the form and scans of our current forms, and then headed to Prince Hotel, a restaurant down the road, for a vadai dinner. Back at the hotel, we embarked on a fairly involved hour-long post-dinner conversation around nationalism and patriotism (but it was interesting to watch all of us make our contributions thoughtfully, politely, even a little hesitantly, to each other!), before heading off to bed before embarking on round two.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *