We had the pleasure of welcoming four interns from The Valley School to our Centre for the first two weeks of our summer school ‘Oh the places you’ll go!’ It seemed the theme of the summer school was so well-matched to the spirit brought in by the interns, for not only did they travel, way out of their comfort zones, they took our children and us to new places of celebration and learning together.

Manya, Medha, Naidile and Janavi have just completed Class 11 and begun Class 12. Over their two weeks here at Snehadhara, they showed us how simple and instinctive inclusion can be, when the starting point is an open mind. They had no expectations when they came in except for some ideas on wanting to learn more on the use of the arts in teaching children with special needs. This enabled an environment that organically facilitated many gifts of learning and facing up to challenges in ways that surpassed expectations.

Though this is their first experience of working with children and adults with special needs, all four of them were deeply caring with the children, attentive to the safety and other requirements of the space, courageous in the face of all that came up and a real joy to work with. There was much to learn from the way they showered their empathetic, loving and unconditional support in the whole range of sessions they were asked to support. From classroom and outdoor sessions, cooking sessions, home visits, music sessions, dance and movement sessions, chanting sessions, craft and tailoring sessions, painting and wall decorating sessions – they experienced them all! They also supported in the routine activities of the children including nap-time, meals and toilet needs. The addition of their voices and songs to the Circle Time and music sessions was particularly special. A small envelope being made for a host or donor would be transformed by their artistic flourishes into a beautiful gift.

Above everything, we were humbled by the gift of their presence which they made to the children for the last two weeks. It was wonderful to see how they rose up to face the demands of each day and sailed through admirably. The clarity and sweetness in their songs reflected their pure intentions.

The whole team was very moved by their beautifully designed final presentation that contained their personal experiences, impressions, learnings, challenges and wishes, woven together with carefully chosen, well-performed music. They each shared their gratitude, initial fears, observations, insights, challenges, aspirations and learnings in the presentation.

Manya described the journey from “How will I be able to help them if they don’t understand me?” to “I found that they connect to our actions and not to our words.” Naidile, who was initially confused on whether to treat them as adults or children (she worked with the senior most group of adults with special needs), realised that they could be easily underestimated but “can do everything if given time.” Medha was just happy to see the brick red building and work in South Bangalore, but soon discovered the children’s world that is “beyond pettiness and words.” She found herself bounding up the stairs even if she was tired and deeply experienced the truth that “life is momentary and you can’t hold grudges.” Janavi got an opportunity to revisit her impression of Arts Based Therapy and understand how it included much more than pottery or visual art. She watched daily, she said, the breaking down of her own assumptions, the thwarting of her need for gratification or how she felt unnerved when she received no feedback for an offered stimulus. She enjoyed learning that “everyone is here for a purpose that is bigger than them.”

They also performed for the children as part of our monthly programme called ‘Houseful,’ in which artists come and offer their art to all the children and then teach them some aspect of their art. They sang and danced for the children and taught us a vibrant tribal song.

Through their internship, the facilitators were constantly surprised and inspired by the way in which the interns extended themselves. It was an opportunity for us to see how open we are to learning from them and the verdict was that there really are many ways to learn and teach – you just have to have your heart in the right place. ‘People and places’ our theme of the summer school, is also about the people we meet on the way to all the places we’ll go and this part of the journey has been truly rich!