Using Arts for Good to empower needy children in Chennai

VIDEO: TAMIL MURASU
Students who were involved in painting a wall mural in Thiruvanmiyur, Chennai, where NalandaWay Foundation runs its Art Lab Programme. The foundation uses visual and performing arts to help children from disadvantaged communities in India.
Students who were involved in painting a wall mural in Thiruvanmiyur, Chennai, where NalandaWay Foundation runs its Art Lab Programme. The foundation uses visual and performing arts to help children from disadvantaged communities in India.ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID
Singaporean dancer Muhammad Noramin (in black) taught the children Malay dance gestures, accompanied by music provided by Indian Carnatic vocalist Manjula Ponnapalli (far right).
The Arts for Good Fellowship programme in Chennai brought together 30 artists, art administrators and programmers from all over the world, and aimed to spread cheer among underprivileged students.
The Arts for Good Fellowship programme in Chennai brought together 30 artists, art administrators and programmers from all over the world, and aimed to spread cheer among underprivileged students.
Singaporean dancer Muhammad Noramin (in black) taught the children Malay dance gestures, accompanied by music provided by Indian Carnatic vocalist Manjula Ponnapalli (far right).

SIF, NalandaWay Foundation bring together artists from across the world to help students

Non-profit organisation Singapore International Foundation (SIF) aims to bring world communities together through shared ideas, skills and experiences.

It works to improve lives and create greater understanding between Singaporeans and members of other communities in areas such as education, the environment, healthcare, business, livelihood and art and culture.

Last month, SIF joined hands with the NalandaWay Foundation, which uses visual and performing arts to help children from disadvantaged communities in India, to spread cheer among underprivileged students in Chennai.

The two outfits organised an Arts for Good Fellowship programme in the southern Indian city, involving 30 artists, art administrators and programmers from all over the world. The four-day event involved different activities, including a teaching trip to a higher secondary school in Chennai.

Singaporean Muhammad Noramin, a Malay dancer who runs Bhumi Collective and Dian Dancers with a partner in Singapore, was one of the teachers who set out to improve the school's students' learning abilities and reinforce positive behaviour. He taught students Malay dance gestures, accompanied by music provided by Indian Carnatic vocalist Manjula Ponnapalli.

The students enjoyed following his movements and sang along to Elelo Ailasa, a motivational Indian fishing song.

Said Mr Noramin, among five people to win the National Youth Award in 2017: "(Manjula) taught the students a folk song, which was about fishing, fishermen and the sea, and I thought these elements are also part of Malay culture.

"I incorporated gestures that are used in Malay dance.

"Malay dance has a lot of gestures that depict nature but not animals. So I took a cue from bharatanatyam (a form of Indian dance) and included fish gestures.

"I have worked with a lot of students in Singapore, so working with students in India was a relevant and joyful experience for me. I felt that the session instilled a sense of confidence among the students and reduced their fear to communicate."

Arts producer and theatre director Jeffrey Tan was among 10 Singaporeans who attended the session.

"When you are visiting a new country, people show you what they want you to see," he said. "But the school visit was a refreshing experience as we got a live connection with the children and educators there.

"Despite a challenging environment, the children were happy and have a generous nature."

About 100 students from the school also learnt mural painting, which was organised by Arts for Good social entrepreneurs Jigyasa Labroo, Stephanie Turner and Kamya Ramachandran.

At a poetry workshop, the students learnt and wrote poems before visually depicting them on the school's walls.

"While we want the children to paint on the walls, if they do it without thinking, there is no use for me as an expert," said Ms Kamya, who initiated the project.

"Also, these are walls that will probably get painted once in 10 years. So, for the next 10 years, what's on the wall needs to be useful to people."

The four-day Arts for Good Fellowship programme culminated in a forum at Stella Maris College in Chennai, attended by about 100 people. Topics discussed included education for underprivileged communities, talent acquisition, social awareness and mental health.

The four-man panel consisted of social and arts entrepreneurs, including noted composer Tenma, who is the co-founder of The Casteless Collective.

"I have seen caste discrimination in the arts. We take people affected by this and put them on stage," he said.

Panellist Archana Ramachandran, city director at Teach for India, pointed out that domestic violence and alcohol abuse are much more prevalent in disadvantaged communities, and young people need to be taught how to deal with these issues. She said that Teach For India uses lectures, theatre and artworks to educate children from such communities.

The other panellists were Crea-Shakthi's creative curator-entrepreneur Dushyanth Gunashekar and Dream a Dream's Life Skills Programme manager Revanna Marilinga.

All agreed that mental health is an increasingly growing issue in today's world and the arts can be of great use in this area.

• The writer is a reporter from Tamil Murasu and the story first appeared in that newspaper.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 21, 2019, with the headline 'Using Arts for Good to empower needy children in Chennai'. Print Edition | Subscribe