For the seventh consecutive year, from May 6 to 26, 2015, SARVAM conducted a Summer Camp for the children that belong to the villages under their care and adoption. These Camps have become a highlight in the lives of these rural children who look forward to lots of fun, games and activities that are especially organized for them, with experts, professionals and teachers from various walks of life descending in their villages to fill the next three weeks with colour, music, dance, drama, sports, learning, excursions, science and computers—basically a lot of fun and learning.
More than 800 children, in the age group of 6 to 17, participated to learn new skills, character- and discipline-building exercises, art forms, sporting and martial arts activities, health check-ups, outdoor trips, spiritual knowledge, handicrafts, some stimulating and intellectual games, learning how to operate computers and other such extracurricular activities. Some of the main features of the Camp included:
• 800 students
• From ages 6 to 16 years
• Children from 8 villages participated
• Some children travelled about 10 km every day to be a part of the Camp
• Events organized in 3 different villages
• Organizations such as Azim Premji Foundation, Chinmaya Mission, Aram Foundation sent their resource persons
• Community halls, school classrooms and other centres used to organize sessions
Preparation for the Camp
Teachers, trainers, instructors, mentors, coaches and resource persons from Pondicherry, Madurai, Chennai, Villupuram and Tindivanam were invited to take a variety of sessions for the students in all the villages, with different activities planned for different age groups. Several temporary structures were erected so that all the classes could be limited to 30–40 students or less.
In Poothurai, in a very inspiring show of maturity, magnanimity and commitment, the older students took on the responsibility to lead the rest of the students in handling the preparations and execution of the Camp functions. A week before the start of the programmes, students organized themselves into teams and assigned tasks as per timelines for themselves. They arrived to clean the campus, paint, put up decorations and arrange for materials for the various sessions. Throughout the month they took care of many of the daily tasks: watering plants; cleaning the grounds, classrooms and restrooms; serving and cleaning up lunch and snacks; checking on supplies needed for the activities; and more. It was beautiful to see the enthusiasm and thoughtfulness of the children as they happily engaged in their chores. They clearly valued and enjoyed all aspects of the Camp experiences which they have had in the past.
Apart from the Satyam centre, with the help of the Panchayat officials, community halls and school buildings were used for conducting classes since the number of students was very high. The students participated in all activities that enriched their minds, bodies and souls while having a fun and socially engaging time and they were happy, cooperative and deeply involved throughout the entire month. The weather was very hot most of the days, interspaced by a few bouts of heavy rain in the villages, yet neither was the enthusiasm dampened nor were the Camp activities disturbed.
Learning with Fun
On May 6, the Camp commenced after a prayers to the Mother to make the entire exercise successful and worthwhile. There was illimitable fervour and excitement all around. This year, some of the learning activities taught through the span of the Camp included:
• Various dance forms
• Singing classes
• Art and craft classes
• Value education classes, emphasizing on qualities of teamwork, honesty, perseverance, leadership, attitudes, etc.
• Reading and writing Sanskrit slogans
• The Art of Storytelling
• Math and science made fun
• Public conduct and speaking
• First aid training
• Making and presenting puppet shows
• Theatre and mimes as a way of storytelling
• Sports and martial arts
• Spoken English
The whole Camp focused on physical, mental and spiritual development of the children. Experts carefully selected for each session led the children in exploring diverse and important topics including ‘leadership and attitude’, ‘the value of life and dignity’, ‘building self-confidence’, and ‘overcoming negative thoughts’. A day’s schedule could range from learning techniques to overcome stage fright, getting trained on first aid procedures, attending daily workshops for spoken English. Age-specific sessions helped make math and science fun and comprehensible. Puppet shows, art, craft, theatre, storytelling, sports, dance, mime and various other exciting courses filled the timetable for all groups.
Apart from these, students worked to learn and practice interesting cultural arts. Every day, the Camp reverberated with children deeply engaged in singing beautiful songs, dancing on complex choreographed traditional and new routines, practicing intricate skits, performing impressive martial arts, or improving their coordination through synchronized physical exercises. Groups of inspired students, even without adult direction, would on their own create additional dances and songs to add to their repertoire to present to the community.
Every day, all the students who participated in the Camp were given healthy and sumptuous snacks in the morning and evening and served lunch in the afternoon. Mothers and 20 volunteers from the village came each day to help with preparation and distribution food and snacks. The SARVAM coordinators worked for over three weeks without a single break to ensure that the children would be healthy and happy as they attended the daily activities.
All these wonderful days ended with a suitable conclusion during the final programme organized on May 26, in a huge community hall in Villianur, showcasing their newly acquired talents. Beautifully dressed children took to the stage with confidence, enthusiasm and delight in front of their parents and other members of the community. The officials and parents appreciated the performances with pride and excitement. There was a festive atmosphere all around.
Highlights of the Camp
Some of the most exciting sessions in the Camp this year included the various science and math projects conducted by the Azim Premji Foundation team. They sent instructors to help children with easy learning of languages, experiments with microscopes and other scientific instruments and practical social science learning. All the youngsters highly appreciated the generous contributions of time and effort of such highly talented and respected trainers.
The Aram foundation team organized sessions on theatre, mime, skits, art, craft, storytelling, etc. Working on the creative front, they worked with small teams on collaborative projects in art and painting. Encouraging principles of cooperation, parts of the activity required silent co-creation and problem-solving by the teams. Everyone was pleasantly surprised the children behaved so cooperatively, peacefully and beautifully.
The Chinmaya Mission team inspired and nurtured the souls of the students through many spiritual songs and stories. Along with games, they also taught team work and cooperation.
In the computer lab, children worked with Scratch—an animation-based elementary programming language—that is simple, fun and engaging. After the sessions, some older students have decided to create a website about their village for which the initial foundation was laid during the Camp.
In addition to these activities, physical education as usual was an important part of the Camp. Coaches introduced the children to highly skilled acrobatics on poles, pyramids, physical exercises as well as performing the martial arts karate and silambam (pole fighting). Usually these were followed by unstructured games to add to the enjoyment and excitement of all the children.
The SARVAM team is extremely grateful and pleased at the successful completion of the Camp. It was a great experience as many new villages, more children than ever before and many talented and expert teachers and trainers were involved in the Camp. Every year, the Summer Camp surpasses the learning experiences of previous one. But this year, the advances in the professionalism of the presenters, the level of cooperation among the parents and students, and the engagement during the activities represented a qualitative leap over the previous years. The children are already looking forward to the Summer Camp next year!