I felt anxious and excited as I walked up to the blue and pale green building featuring a tree growing up the facade. It was the morning that I was to begin a four day workshop with 20 children in grades eight and nine at the Parikrma Humanity Foundation in Bangalore.  Parikrma is a wonderful organization that provides free education to children living in the slums in and around Bangalore.  I have been lucky to work with Parikrma’s exceptional students before, in the summer of 2007.  Now as a core member of GETheatre, I had the opportunity to initiate a pilot program on behalf of my friends and colleagues.

As I walked into the building students dressed in blue and green uniforms flashed their eager smiles at me shouting, “What is your name akka?”  Akka is the Kannada word for elder sister.  I smiled back with equal eagerness, “Maya. What is your name?” The energy that pulses through the Parikrma Center for Learning in Koramangala (one of four centers in the city) is infectious… it is the thriving pulse that over 300 children generate with their optimism for a brighter future.

At 1:00 20 wide-eyed and chatty students entered the dining hall where I waited for them. After introductions and some ice-breaking games the group dove right into the meat of our work, creating short theatrical presentations about the things they loved about their lives and their passion for Bangalore.  Accomplishing the goals of the first day, each student handed me a story and a smile before departing home at 5:00 (one and a half hours past regular dismissal time).  With their well-crafted words clutched against my side I also began the journey home, thinking excitedly about their many accomplishments and how extraordinary the next four days would be.

It proved to be a remarkable four days.  The accomplishments of the group far surpassed my expectations.  Each student had their own bright and successful moments and really embraced the goals of GETheatre’s program.  One example of this enthusiasm and hunger for learning emerged at the end of the second day.

Santosh had written a moving story about finding a wallet full of money on the side of the road.  I asked him how he would spend the money.  What would he buy?  He replied, “I would give the money to my parents so that it could help my family.”  Later in the story he comes upon the person to whom the wallet belonged.  And even though that money would have meant a lot of good for his family, he returned the wallet and felt “happy to have done the right thing.”  After watching his fellow classmates bring his words to life he asked if he could work with them on this scene after the class was dismissed.  Santosh and his classmates’ dedication to making this moment of the production the best it could be was unwavering.  The next day they asked to present their scene with the changes they had made on their own.  Memorizing all of the dialogue and adding richness to each moment with fully explored characters, the scene left the rest of the students in awe.  That evening they all stayed past dismissal to work on their scenes.

Even in the shortest of time, I witnessed many of the students bloom and begin to feel more comfortable speaking English in front of their classmates.  By the time the final presentation arrived (at the end of day four), they each spoke clearly and with confidence before an audience of the entire school.  The joy on their faces as they shared their own ideas, thoughts, and dreams lit the space.  After the performance I asked them to share their experiences of the past four days with me.  Each expressed a longing for more time together and more opportunities to work on their English using theatre.  Saranya, a brilliant young woman who wrote a poignant scene about the equal rights of women in the workplace stated:

“[GETheatre] cannot be described because it was fantabulous, marvelous, amazing, and enthusiastic… I felt more bold and confident.  I was taught to be more volunteering.  I wish I could have theatre work for more weeks.  Overall, I enjoyed it so much with my friends and came to know my talents and my friends’ talents…”

Saranya’s comments about feeling more comfortable volunteering her ideas in front of others were echoed in her classmates’ remarks.

There is a reason for this work.  Seeing first hand the way a young person can be transformed from shy and unwilling to share their ideas to boldly presenting their thoughts and opinions in front of an audience of over 200 peers and teachers, I know how necessary opportunities like this are for young people.  The students that I have had the privilege to teach through GETheatre’s programs in both Zanzibar and India are in great need of the confidence that creative expression through theatre can provide.  The career opportunities that become possible with the ability to speak English are invaluable to these students.  It is the tool they need to make positives changes to their own reality.  I have been honored to be part of that process for the students who have participated in GETheatre.  And I am thrilled to know that I will continue to be a part of the transformation of students with each new program in the coming years.

Maya Turner Singh

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