Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Mid May! Sambhali Reports and Photography Workshop

Khamaghani Dear Readers,

Oh it is Hot 46 degrees + in the sun, plants drying, nobody on the streets in mid day.
Durag Niwas Guest House:
No tourists at all, the guest house is empty besides few long term guest volunteering with sambhali and other NGO's, we have fixed new air coolers in every room, this summer i am planning to convert one hall upstairs into a room so that we can have more rooms in the guest house.

Mumy is well, Family is happy, Ayush has summer vacations from School, Grand ma has been admitted in the hospital, she has some fluid collection in her chest and has breathing problems, we all hope she does well and come home soon.
Sambhali Trust:
One day walking in the play ground behind our house, I saw Karate instructor teaching some little kids, i thought this maybe good for our girls to participate with, here you go below, our girls enjoy the karate class everyday.

Report by

Ms.Hajin Jun

Duration of Stay: 5/11/09 – 5/28/09

University of Michigan, 2011

Candidate for B.A. in Political Science and History

First Impression

Whether good or bad, I came to India without set expectations of what I will experience here, the people I will meet, the work that I will be doing. My thoughts? Anxiety? Excitement? Perhaps more aptly, a sense of wonder and disbelief that I am actually in India.

Two things have made a great impression on me during my first few days here in India: meeting the girls at Sambhali Trust, and a late-night conversation with Govind when I was still jet-lagged. Govind had brought me to meet the girls almost immediately after I arrived at the Durag Niwas Guesthouse. The girls were incredibly welcoming and sweet, and my only regret is that I don’t speak any Hindi, even despite my rather desperate attempts to learn using a Hindi phrasebook. They seem very eager to learn, and brimmed with pride as each told me her name and age in English. There is such beauty and potential in each of the girls.

Later, I was also able to have a very interesting conversation with Govind about Indian society, the caste system and the work that Sambhali does and hopes to do in the future. I’m starting to learn that despite the polished international image India projects of rapid economic growth and development, it still confronts many challenges that are especially acute here. Perhaps even more than the immensity of the issues that need to be addressed, I see the kind of passion that drives Sambhali Trust as well as other NGOs working for social justice in India.

Upon discussion with Govind, I have decided that during my stay here I will teach an introductory art class and write a proposal for a microfinance project for women in Setrawa.

Art report by Ms.Hajin Jun

Teaching an art class wasn’t something that had been planned my arrival in India, but something that came organically out of a discussion with Govind about skills/ hobbies I have to possibly offer the girls here. To be honest, I was a bit hesitant at first about teaching the class. I came to India to learn about women’s empowerment, and I wasn’t exactly sure how an art class might fit into that. I had to reflect and ask myself, what does it mean to be empowered? How does one empower another person? And even, what is art, what has art meant to me in my life, and how might learning art benefit the girls at Sambhali?

A friend of mine referred to the works of Naila Kabeer, a prominent women’s rights activist, and according to Kabeer, empowerment is the ability to make choices—the power to choose one’s livelihood, habitation, and perhaps even thoughts and worldview. I am not yet sure what empowerment looks like in the context of Rajasthani culture, how exactly the two are reconciled to better the lives of women, but my understanding is that empowering another means helping the person develop and realize the means and skills necessary to make the important decisions in life.

The question remains, how can art help? What place does an ability to draw have considering the very real and sometimes daunting challenges these girls face every day in their lives? Does it not seem a bit frivolous? Would not something like English classes be more practical? Personally, learning about art changed the way I perceive my environment and the outside world. It has made me aware of the beauty often hidden in ordinary things, plain things, overlooked things. And learning how to draw gave me the sense that not only can I perceive beauty, but that I can create it. So is it possible that through art classes I can help these girls also see beauty in their surroundings and in themselves? That even despite the challenges they face, they can find and create beauty in their lives as well. I hope that by learning art, the girls will be able to create things they are proud of and build confidence in their own abilities.

In my classes, I have taught lessons on lines, shading, texture and perspective. I have used materials and resources that are readily available here: the girls’ own hands, a piece of cloth, cups and bowls from the Guesthouse. The main point I have been trying to stress to the girls was to draw what they see, not what they think they see. However, I willingly admit that things haven’t always been easy or triumphant. The difficulties in trying to teach with a language barrier are considerable. It is hard to gauge how much of my instructions and explanations are really being understood. The girls seem to understand my demonstrations, when I physically point out the different shapes and lines, and draw it on my page, but I think they still need to develop the skills and the confidence in their skills to draw. They like admiring what I draw, but I seem to have a hard time communicating that with practice, they too can do what I do.

Despite these challenges, there has definitely been improvement from the first day. In the very first class, the girls were unsure even how to go about drawing their hands (some tried stealthily to simply trace their hands on their papers). Even if it is difficult for them to translate what they see to what they draw, the girls who have been coming regularly to class do seem to now at least be able to recognize the shapes and lines they see. The girls are also trying very hard. I assign homework every day, and most students actually do complete the assignments each day. In fact, my favorite part of class is collecting and reviewing their homework.

The art classes are good even for my development. I’ve had to overcome my own anxieties about teaching (I had never taught art before, even in English) and constantly think of new ways to communicate and get around the language barrier. For instance, when I was teaching about shading and values, I learned the Hindi words for dark and light (gera and fica, respectively), which I constantly mixed up and started fits of giggles among the girls. Art class has also been a place of intercultural contact and exchange, where I can really interact with Indian girls. I have been learning a lot, and the relationships I’m beginning to develop mean a lot to me.

Perhaps one of the biggest personal lessons I have been learning through teaching is adapting and being resourceful. It is through teaching that I come to fully understand that I am indeed in India and not America, and things are different. Not better or worse, but different. No, there isn’t a table on which the girls can draw, but they have been learning to draw with books propped on their laps. No, there aren’t charcoal or soft ebony pencils, but there are pencils. Things don’t have to be perfect. Everything is a process, and even if the girls don’t become Van Goghs or Vermeers, that’s ok. If I can just communicate to the girls that they are beautiful, wonderful people, and they can create beautiful, wonderful things, I will have achieved what I aspired for at the beginning of these classes. I don’t think I have achieved it yet, but it’s a process.

Some interesting reports by Ms. Becky Moyce.

I was originally drawn to volunteering with the Sambhali Trust because of it’s emphasis on women’s rights and female empowerment but when I was approached with the idea of extending my photography workshops to the Dalit boys as well as the girls it made perfect sense to me and I was really excited about being involved in such an initiative. Social change can not come about unless a broad section of the society is educated regardless of gender, caste, colour or creed. In order to improve life for the women of the Dalit community their men must also be made aware of the issues facing them and how best to deal with these.

I fully believe that it is essential to reach as many young Dalits as possible to spread the message of hope and empowerment and to illustrate to the community as a whole what steps can be taken to improve their situation. Many of the boys we registered for the boys workshops are the brothers and sons of the girls and women who presently participate in the women’s empowerment project who we approached to be involved in this exercise.

For the Harijan boys learning photography has been a great boost to their self esteem and confidence and during these workshops I have taken the opportunity to teach the boys some basic English and also to discuss with them some very important issues in their community such as Dalit rights, basic health and hygiene, AIDS and STD awareness and how talked to them not only about how such subjects affect them but also how the women in their society are affected by these things.

There are approximately 15 boys in taking part in the workshops and I began by introducing them to photography in the same way as I had done with the girls, discussing the different uses of photography in the media, in portrait and wedding pictures, id cards and even satellite and ariel photography used for maps. To get to know them a bit better I asked them to tell me what kinds of things they would like to photograph and their responses were very varied from photographing scenery, buildings and architecture to models, Children and animals. One of the boys said models ‘I want to photograph my memories’ and another said ‘I want to photograph sad things.’ This exercise told me that we had a group of very intelligent and passionate young men and I was really looking forward to teaching them.

To introduce the boys to looking at and interpreting images I showed them a collection of different images and asked them to decide for each one if they thought it was a good or a bad picture and what it was they liked or disliked about it. They really seemed to like the contemporary and more abstract images or pictures with movement in and they were very keen to know how different affects were achieved asking quite technical questions about the images and showing a genuine curiosity about the subject. Over the next few lessons we moved on to discuss the various different techniques that can be used to produce great photography. We looked at things like perspective, shooting from different angles, focus, background, colour and composition using magazines, newspapers and even the pictures and posters dotted around the walls of the classroom to illustrate the different methods as we discussed them.

The boys really enjoyed looking through magazines and were really animated when talking about the pictures they liked. They were quickly able to identify the various techniques that had been used to produce a certain affect and began to understand the processes of good picture taking. They had lots of good questions and asked ‘how will I know what colours will work well together?’ to which we responded and ‘can I take pictures of anybody?’ This question was particularly interesting because there is often a lot of controversy about photographers versus subject’s rights and it is true that some people take great offence to being snapped and this is something that all photographers must take into consideration when out and about.

Once I was confident that they understood the theory I handed out some basic film cameras and showed them how these operated and how to load and rewind film. The first brief they had was to shoot pictures that represented their lives and so off they went photographing friends, family, homes, pets, places they work and their favourite things.

With Govinds help I used the next two lessons to teach a class on health and hygiene and sexual health. These issues are prominent amongst Dalit people and having the right information on such matters helps these boys to increase their chances of them and their families staying healthy. The boys were a little nervous at first talking about sex and STD’s especially with a female teacher present but once they relaxed they showed remarkable maturity. There were of inevitably a few jokes and giggles as we showed them the diagrams of the male and female organs and discussed what sex is but they all paid very careful attention and it seemed as though most of them had not realised what was involved in the reproductive process up until now. They were learning for the first time about some very important facts of life that they would not otherwise have access to and I was actually very surprised when we asked the boys ‘Do you know what AIDS is?’ and none of them could answer. A positive point is that all the boys were aware that they should use condoms for protection and where they would be able to get hold of these however they were unable to define why they needed to use protection or exactly what they were being protected from.

These lessons in particular were extremely valuable. Not only did they provide an arena to discuss topics that the boys would be unlikely to discuss elsewhere, let alone get accurate information on but in fact the boys actually became more assertive and involved whilst talking about such a sensitive subjected. In fact they commented that they had never imagined they would ever learn such things especially not with a western woman teaching them and they said they felt much more confident about something that had previously been a mystery to them One very important strength of these classes was that it also gave us an opportunity to cover the issues of sexual abuse and harassment which are grievances regularly suffered and accepted by many Dalit women. Explaining to them what qualifies as rape and as harassment and that a woman must be treated with respect and be happy to receive a mans affections is something very important that these men need to understand, having been brought up to believe in the male command of women.

As the photography workshops progressed we began to look at the pictures the students were producing and critique them, discussing which ones stood out as being particularly good and things they could try and incorporate to improve on some of the poorer images. These lessons were great fun and the standard of photography was extremely varied. However there is always a great deal of excitement when you see a photograph you have taken in print and the point at which you can actually hold your end result in your hand is a great buzz. The students really enjoyed seeing the fruits of their labour and enjoyed comparing what they had come up with to what their classmates had produced. These lessons really helped the boys to bond with each other, increasing their confidence and developing their self esteem. Their next assignment was to go out and create some cityscapes, capturing the sights and the people of Jodhpur city.

The results they came back with were still very varied but on the whole quite promising. It was clear that they had taken on some of the constructive criticism from the first batch of images and that they were thinking more about what they were photographing before firing the shutter. We continued to review and critique their images and the boys continued to practice on a theme they seemed to enjoy, their home city.

This week I had also put aside some lesson time, this time to talk to the boys about Dalit Rights and make them aware of the laws that have been put in place to protect them from discrimination and abuse simply because of their caste. For me these lessons were the most difficult but also the most beneficial to the boys. I found it extremely hard listening to some of the abuses and torments these boys have suffered personally because I know their characters and they are all good hearted, creative and for the most part intelligent people. It makes my stomach churn to listen to them talk about the way that they have been treated like animals at times because of the caste system and tradition. When we asked the boys what are Dalits, MahiPal responded ‘Dalits are a backward caste. We were put into one class and given bad tasks to do and that is what became Dalits’. Like the girls, these boys do not seem bitter about their burdens and have grown to expect a certain amount of mistreatment because that is the way it is. After some of the things they told me I would expect them all to have huge chips on their shoulders but they are far from resentful and instead are simply melancholy and accepting of their suffering. Some of their experiences included being forbidden to eat with other staff and from using plates to eat from in their places of work, being bullied at school by students and teachers alike – one of our boys had attended a boarding school where out of over 400 students only 5 belonged to the Dalit . He suffered daily harassment whereby his clothes and personal belongings were repeatedly thrown out of the window. When he complained to the school they ignored him. To my horror each and every single boy in that class had been physically or mentally abused in some way, often both just because they are Harijan people. They were really passionate during these classes and I am delighted that we could talk to them about their human rights and help them to understand how the Dalit rights laws must be used to fight for justice against prejudice and encourage them to stand up for their right to equality in this difficult social climate.

Going back to the photography lessons the boys continued to impress with some of their shots. They produced a really good photographic description of Jodhpur and although some of them were still getting to grips with the theory, the majority were simply fine tuning and what’s even better is that the stronger students were now coaching and encouraging the weaker ones. We spent the next few lessons using digital cameras to hone their techniques. Each lesson I would ask them to shoot portraits or group shots and for one of the digital lessons they went out on location to the clock tower to work on the cityscapes again. These lessons gave them some valuable practice both in shooting pictures and also in assessing the quality of an image. Unfortunately due to the lack of digital cameras and the need to share there was one nasty incident whereby the boys had gotten hold of the girls pictures and deleted them on more than one occasion. The girls were extremely upset by this and retaliated by deleting some of the boys pictures. I advised the boys that as they had persisted in ignoring my request not to delete other peoples pictures they would be restricted to using the basic film cameras. Whilst this was obviously not ideal and caused a great deal of commotion it did teach the students a valuable lesson in sharing equipment and respecting the work of others.

Now as we look towards the end of the workshops there is great anticipation regarding the exhibition next week. Tamana and I have been working very hard to try and secure an impressive venue for the exhibition. This has proved to be far more difficult than anticipated and has opened my eyes to a level of official corruption that I had not imagined could exist. I spent some time last week looking for a place to hold the exhibition and had secured a venue at an agreed price of 500 rupees for the day. When Tamana and I then returned with a deposit we were told that we could not have the venue as it was otherwise hired by the local District magistrate. We went to see the collector and waited for 4 hours to obtain an N.O.C from his office which would permit us to use the hall but when we presented our N.O.C to the auditorium we were advised that if we still wanted to hire the hall the price had increased to 3500 rupees for the day… a massive 600% rise and the poor explanation that the price had gone up since we originally booked and there was nothing that could be done about it. I found this behaviour utterly disgraceful and especially because the use of the venue is for an NGO, it is not for a corporate company that can afford last minute bribes.

Now we have the challenging task of finding an alternative venue, printing up all the pictures and securing a local official to judge our photo competition in just two days. I am confident we will do it because we have to do it for the children who have worked so hard and come so far over the last few weeks. I am really looking forward to seeing their work on display and I am very proud of them.

Photography workshop with Jodhpur project participant

Photography workshop for Sambhali girls

As I had never met the students before I arrived I wasn’t sure what level of understanding to expect from them or how much of a problem the language barrier could be and so I began the workshops with very basic lessons. At first we talked about what photography is and how it is is used, I explained to them how pictures are made and we discussed the various different places that we see photographs being used. We looked at newspapers, magazines, books and advertisements as well as at wedding pictures, portraits, and passport pictures and drivers licenses. Most of the girls associated photography with fashion and advertising talking about makeup, jewellery photography as well as weddings and when I asked them what kinds of things they would like to photograph many of them said they would enjoy taking pictures of fashion items such as saris, make up and jewellery whilst a few girls were more interested in taking pictures of weddings, children or wildlife… in particular tigers!

So once the girls had an understanding of the purpose of photography we moved on to learning about how to read pictures. For the next lesson we looked at a collection of different images and I asked the girls to decide whether they thought each picture was a good or a bad photo and put the pictures into two different groups. At first the girls were a little bit hesitant of being critical and they tended to base their opinions on the majority attitude and just going along with the general consensus but then as the discussion progressed they became more open and independent and began debating with each other about different aspects of the pictures and why they liked or disliked them. The point of this exercise was to get them to understand that photography is objective and there is no right or wrong answer, only personal interpretation.

After spending a few hours talking about photography and looking at pictures I tried to talk to the girls about some of the important elements of photography, we disused things like eye contact, focus and perspective and played a game where they looked at each other from a birds eye and then a bugs eye viewpoint. To practice using some of these techniques we cut out some paper frames and the girls used these to see how changing composition and viewing from different angles and distances could change the way you see a subject. They seemed to really enjoy these exercises and began to understand how different approaches to a subject can make it look very different.

After hammering the theory into them I thought it was about time they put some of this into practice and so I handed out the cameras for the first time. The buzz of excitement was promising and they passed the cameras around, studying them intently and asking lots of questions about how they use them. Their work over the next few days was to shoot 4 images per person per day of their homes, their families and their surroundings practicing all the things we had talked about. Over the next few days the girls showed great initiative, one group managed to obtain free access to the local museum to photograph some animals and archaeological pieces whilst another group used saris and brightly coloured materials they found at home to create dramatic backgrounds for portraits. I was very excited to see the results and when they came back these were quite varied and for a first attempt not bad. The girls were thrilled to see the product of their hard work and as we looked over their first shots we identified which were the strongest images and discussed how they could improve on some of the weaker ones.

For the next lesson then spent some more time looking at pictures from magazines. We looked at advertising images with the text covered up and I asked them to guess what they thought each picture was advertising. They enjoyed this and guessed correctly in the end for most of the shots but there were a few abstract or more subtle images that made them really think about what the image was doing and we talked about how the media uses lifestyle imagery to sell and to influence. After this exercise I asked the girls each to choose their favourite image from a selection of magazines ands to explain to me what it was that they liked about it. Their choices were really varied, some of them choosing fashion or advertising shots with others choosing pictures of children or wildlife and a few landscapes. Funnily enough none of the girls picked a picture from the professional photography magazine which is filled with award winning images and images used to visualise photographic theory and technique. It is interesting how the girls preferred the more common or glamorous mass produced media images.

Over the next few lessons we used the digital cameras for the girls to practice their techniques and review their work whilst taking the film cameras home with them to produce work for their exhibition. This gave the girls valuable practice with both capturing and interpreting images. I asked them to look at their own images and only keep their best four, deleting the others accordingly. At first they lacked the confidence to distinguish between the stronger and the poorer images however the more they practised the quicker and easier their judgement became. Unfortunately they had a bit of a blow when some of the students from the boys workshops got hold of the girls pictures and deleted them. This happened several times and the last time it happened I was furious because some of the deleted images had been really strong and perfect for the exhibition at the end of the workshops. The girls who lost their pictures really were in despair and I personally felt quite awful because I have been in that position where you lose your best shots and it really is gut wrenching, they had worked so hard and gone all over the place working on these images. The only thing I could do was to forbid the boys from using the digital cameras, this slightly appeased the girls and taught the boys an important lesson in respecting other peoples properties but I can’t help but feel that the girls affected found it hard to muster up the same level of enthusiasm as they had before and I felt that I had let them down.

Nevertheless we ploughed on with the classes and now we are at the stage where we are selecting the final prints for the exhibition. Organising the exhibition has proved to be far more difficult than anticipated and has opened my eyes to a level of official corruption that I had not imagined could exist. I spent some time last week looking for a place to hold the exhibition and had secured a venue at an agreed price of 500 rupees for the day. When Tamana and I then returned with a deposit we were told that we could not have the venue as it was otherwise hired by the local collector. We went to see the collector and waited for 4 hours to obtain an N.O.C from his office which would permit us to use the hall but when we presented our N.O.C to the auditorium we were advised that if we still wanted to hire the hall the price had increased to 3500 rupees for the day… a whopping 600% rise and the poor explanation that the price had gone up since we originally booked and there was nothing that could be done about it. I found this behaviour utterly disgraceful and especially because the use of the venue is for an NGO, it is not for a corporate company that can afford last minute bribes.

Now we have the challenging task of finding an alternative venue, printing up all the pictures and securing a local official to judge our photo competition in just two days. I am confident we will do it because we have to do it for the children who have worked so hard and come so far over the last few weeks. I am really looking forward to seeing their work on display and I am very proud of them.

Final Impression by Ms.Becky Moyce

So I have come to the end of my time here in Jodhpur and my work with the Sambhali Trust. The last few weeks seem to have passed so quickly and in this short time I have learned not only what a tragic struggle it is for some of the students I have taught to be accepted and treated equally in Rajasthani society but also that the politics here makes it extremely difficult for NGO’s such as Sambhali to flourish. When I agreed to organise a photography exhibition to promote the work of the Trust and display the fantastic work of the students from my photography workshop I had little idea how challenge a task this would be. Faced with long daily power cuts it has been difficult to complete even basic administration involved in organising an event, such as writing letters, reports and press releases and there was an extraordinary delay in our picture printing which was also put down to the power failures.

In addition to this we found it hard to secure a suitable venue for the exhibition, first securing a booking for a reasonable fee and then being told at the last minute that we couldn’t have it unless we paid 6 times the original price agreed. To me this news seemed to stink of bribery and corruption I could not believe that authority officials would behave like this, especially in light of the fact that the rental costs were being covered by an NGO but I have learned that this is India and anything can happen. In the end we found a great venue which was a little more expensive but after much begging and pleading it was clear that very few people are willing to support charity work here if it means losing money. Understandable I guess but quite sad too. It was also our ambition to secure a local government official to inaugurate the exhibition, Tamanna and I spent many hours at the High Court meeting with various people but they unfortunately they were all too busy to come and show their support for this venture.

Regardless of the many obstacles we faced the exhibition went ahead today and in fact transpired to be a great success. We were a little late starting but the photography work the students had produced was of such high quality and so impressive that this didn’t matter. We managed to persuade Mr.Shiva a local well known photographer to come and judge which would be the winning photo’s and he was very impressed with the work that the students had produced which was a great boost for their self esteem and a wonderful way to end the workshops I have been doing with them. We then experienced some fantastic luck when members of a local photography club turned up and were so wowed with the ability of the students after only 20 days in the workshops that they requested to award their own prizes for a 1st, 2nd and 3rd place. This was incredible because now we had not only two winners but 5 awards and endorsements from several experts in photography, the girls were thrilled.

The photography club members were so impressed with the students work that they have also offered to deliver some further, in depth workshops to the participants after I have left to continue the work I have been doing with them. This is more than I could ever have hoped for the people I have been teaching and I am so proud of them I really can’t put it into words, I am so happy.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my stay here and my only complaint is that four weeks is not long enough, there is so much good work that can be done here and I would love to come back and do more with this organisation. I will definitely stay in touch and continue to support Sambhali Trust when I return to England, the people here are so friendly and the great family atmosphere makes it a wonderful place to live and work.

Monica being interviewed by ETV Rajasthan news channel.

Some pictures taken by our photography participants

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