By Heather Lockhart-Neff
One of experiences I had with Global SE was four days in a rural, rocky area of Kolar, India, about two hours outside of Bangalore. From Thursday until Sunday, I participated in a camp with 32 young people; created and facilitated by the Bangalore-based NGO, Dream a Dream (DaD). DaD empowers vulnerable youth (children who have experienced abuse, abandonment, and extreme poverty etc.) by providing them an outlet for expression, growth, and experiential learning. Dream a Dream’s approach to education focuses on providing life skills to students outside of the classroom by adopting a child-centric focus. Life skills can be defined as the abilities for adaptive and positive behavior that enable individuals to deal effectively with the demands and challenges of everyday life. When a child misses out on critical emotional and social development due to these life challenges, they are set back. Dream a Dream has been able to fill this gap and counter the inadequacies present in their daily lives. While interning with Dream a Dream for the past three weeks alongside four other Wooster students in GSE, we have come to learn of the driven and passionate community each of its employees, volunteers, and participants encompass, which translated whole heartedly into their four-day camp.
Charisma and energy emanated from each student and volunteer starting with the bus ride out to the campsite. The moment the radio started playing upbeat Indian pop music, the vibrations moved through the tips of our fingers and every student’s seat was empty. The aisles were overflowing with enthusiastic dancing and singing until our arrival, with every volunteer watching and cheering with admiration. Upon our arrival, the volunteers came together to create a group name: Zumi. This was just the beginning of the community building techniques that they utilized. Each of the four days was packed with activities and bonding experiences focused on the children’s ability to learn and grow through self-reflection from dawn until dusk.
The goal of this immersive experiential camp is to provide disadvantaged youth with life skills. The camp facilitators captured, encouraged, and utilize the overall excitement and imagination beaming from each participant. As a result, they are able to build life skills stem by crafting experiences that were turned into valuable memories. Dream a Dream’s unique teaching methods replaces pens and paper with storytelling, artistic expression, and self-reflection. Dream a Dream shuns the typical educational, such as memorizing and reciting a textbook to achieve academic excellence.
This distinct approach to education builds these skills throughout the four-day experience. Each day had a purpose that contributed to the overall goal of life-skills development. Day one was focused on the creation of a strong community and a safe space for self-expression. We started the day with interactive listening games to capture attention and focus energy. These included singing, dancing, and improvisation. A collaborative session followed with the young people and Zumis creating community standards, expectations, and goals, all driven by student opinion. This system was able to hold the students accountable to the rules they created and valued. We then split into predetermined family groups for even greater community-based mutual validation and respect. After several smaller activities, the main activity was to individually reflect by determining one’s own strengths. This exercise is able to shape a creative platform for students to think deeply about what drives them and makes them unique. This becomes the foundation to define oneself and instill the idea that all people have value.
Day two consisted of building upon our strengths by reflecting upon our lives. The lead Zumis shared their life stories, and we followed by example by depicting our life journey metaphorically as a river. We were told to choose five milestones (good and bad) within our individual experiences and five people, places, or things that have supported or influenced us along then way. The river became the outlet through which each participant could imagine specifically his or her life journey. We then shared our representations with our family groups. This proved to be valuable because we learned from each other’s experiences and empathized with them. The second part of the day consisted of the Zumis teaching the students through a series of workshops. The workshops ranged anywhere from karate to analyzing poetry. More specifically, Maite and I decided to create a gratitude card workshop.
For example, one of the students slightly misunderstood the directions but chose words to describe one of the GSE volunteers:
Cooking, Happy, Round, Ice cream, Soil
While amusing, the student actually understood the goal of the exercise. This was to have them find qualities in someone that they admire and appreciate. Our intention was to have the students think deeply about their peers and realize positive qualities that their peer may not be aware of. Another aspect of this is to have the students be able to look at their name in the future and be reminded of all of the positive qualities they possess. We taught them to value, internalize, and express appreciation. In the evening, we created and performed family skits that promoted collaboration and problem solving while artfully expressing ourselves as a whole.
Day three addressed the global issues we face as a community. We were asked to identify some of the most pressing issues in our own communities. They spanned anywhere from women’s safety to waste management. Each person shared a personal experience, which provided a space to reflect on the present. We then split into family groups, then Zumis as a separate group. Our mission was to create a performance illustrating the problem and then a viable solution. This was to create a space for solely the students to understand a community issue and act as a group without the Zumis’ influence.
Next was the students’ turn to lead a series of workshops. Each student took a creative approach to teaching by utilizing anything from nature, art, or communication. I went to two workshops, one where we were taught to make beautiful flowers out of plastic bags, and the second was an improvisation workshop that included several random topics that each participant had to spontaneously speak about for several minutes. By actively learning from the student, their confidence, dedication, and collaboration skills were utilized and emphasized. The last activity of the day was an open-mic night hosted and performed by the students. Each performance was a colorful number composed of dancing or singing and reminded me of the passion and confidence exuded on the bus ride to camp.
Day four concluded the camp with contemplation of the future and appreciation for the camp community as a whole. The first activity was an appreciation circle where each family member would sit in the center of the circle with their eyes closed, and the rest of the family would say compliments, admirations, or positive characteristics we all noticed within the person throughout the camp. This was emotional for some of the young people and allowed for a safe space where people could be valued and appreciated on an individual basis. We then moved into the main activity of illustrating dream trees. These were able to represent roots as the support system, the trunk as strengths, and the leaves as dreams. This allowed for the students to reflect on their past, present, and now future in a very intentional way. The last activity was the stone and seed exercise, where the stone represented something we were leaving behind at the camp, and the seed represented something positive we planned to bring with us. We all created a circle and waited for each member to share their experience. This exercise took about an hour, but it was essential in order create an environment where each participant was comfortable and ready to speak.
Dream a Dream’s method of building life skills at this camp was by utilizing a natural way to learn. They used storytelling, and used moments of misunderstanding as teaching moments. Students were asked to explain themselves and to express themselves emotionally in joy or sadness. We all became a part of each other’s memories, and through this, gained valuable life skills. Throughout the camp’s progression, I could see the students and Zumis configuring and molding into a community. The fast-paced, emotionally driven formula utilized to structure each activity encouraged an environment conducive to growth and self-awareness. Each student and volunteer was given the time to individually express themselves and find the value in themselves and others. By discussing and understanding each other’s lives through their strengths, past, present, and future, we were able to experience each other’s lives in a sense and gain the life skills each of us possesses. I myself learned embrace my excitement for life, to learn from others’ experiences and to always dance on the bus.