Recently, Aditi Neelakantan, an aspiring medical student, volunteered to work at Snehadhara. She mentioned early on that she had never worked with children and had doubts about how well she would do here. But she was keen that she tests it herself. The next three months became transformational for not only the children she worked with, but also for Aditi herself.
She writes about the times that she spent at Snehadhara, and how the children taught her lessons that books never could.
‘Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them.’I love this quote from The Little Prince; it is witty, funny and it acknowledges and celebrates the wonderful and incredible minds of children. It made me laugh, and then think.
Rewind. A little over three months ago, I was given the most amazing opportunity to change my life. And I took it, only that time I didn’t recognize it as the most amazing opportunity to change my life.
My first day at Snehadhara Foundation. Ah, what a day that was! As I made my way into the building, I was a bundle of nerves; awkward, anxious but yes, anticipative. I had never really interacted with kids before. Then, during the usual morning Circle Time ritual, as I looked around me and tried to gauge how best I could boost my level of acceptance, a child came came right up and demanded to sit next to me. Well, not too bad a start.
As I made my way to class, I was assigned a wonderful child. He was a smarty! It was a grammar lesson, and this little man was done with his worksheets in minutes. He then took a few sheets of paper from me, and wrote down and drew with utmost concentration – as I later came to know were his objects of fascination – USHA fans and Omni vans!
As the day further progressed, I learnt a little more of him and a few of the other wonderful children at the school. It had been quite something, and I adored every single moment of it.I loved this place!
Out here at Snehadhara, education has a different meaning. It is rather a way of life, as it ought to be. I had the privilege of seeing Arts-Based Therapy live in action, and it was remarkable. There is something about watching children engage with Art, be it making vibrant splashes of colour across the paper or drumming to their own tunes on the djembe, that leaves you amazed. Art is magical, for it has the ability to break past invisible boundaries and form a powerful bond with a person’s inner self.
I also learnt a very important lesson about learning; while we can guide a child, it is essential not to overwhelm him/her with support, for this act, even though it is meant with the kindest of intentions, often does more harm than good. It can incapacitate their innate creativity and impulses. There is no greater satisfaction than seeing a child discover and learn something by himself. Experience indeed is the best teacher.
Coming back to my rather dramatic opening, I claim this place changed my life.
How? During my time here, I have evolved. These children taught me how to shed my inhibitions, something we all desperately need to learn how to do. It is liberating to let go.
I am not a singer. Not at all. And yet, everyday for almost three months, I sang. Out loud, on replay. I had to, to get a child to eat her ‘yellow’ dosa.
I am an introvert. Public speaking scares the living daylights out of me. But, when I’m in class, speech is inevitable. It wasn’t exactly eloquence, but I learnt how to express myself OUT LOUD to a roomful of people. These kids provided me with a fresh perspective on things; life is so much beyond what it seems.I have a long way to go, of course. But, if at the end of a rather hard and frustrating day, you still have a little child run towards you and give you a hug, well, maybe things aren’t all that hard and frustrating after all.
The Little Prince was right. These children provided me with a fresh perspective on things; life is so much beyond academia, getting into college and getting a good job. Helping people is much more fulfilling and time well spent. I have received more than I could have ever imagined from this experience; it has opened me up to an array of opportunities and possibilities.