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    Volume 9 Issue 16| April 16, 2010|

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Shikor -- Finding Our Roots

Tamanna Khan

Children engage in creative activities spontaneously and not by force.

Saturday 9:00 am, the sound of 'Sa Re Ga Ma Paa' fills the empty floors of the six-storied Chhayanaut building. By 10:00am the third floor rings with the din of young voices. Boys and girls of different ages sit in a circle along with the volunteers of Shikor starting off the morning with songs. Some of them get up and start playing among themselves or roam to the other floors, impatient for the next activity. The volunteers and the staff of Shikor divide themselves in groups, some singing with the children, some playing with them, others making preparation for the following feat. On the whole there appears to be no fixed routine of who should do what and when. Yet from 9:00am to 12:00pm the children learn new songs, recite poems, listen to stories, and make paper masks, paint, play kabadi and most importantly have snacks, prepared by the staff right in front of them.

This is Shikor (roots), a programme of Chhayanaut for young children aged between six and 13 years. Launched on the third day of Ashwin, 1415 (Bengali calendar), the programme is running successfully into its second year. After the demise of Wahidul Huq, the founder of Chhayanaut, his friends and cohorts got together and decided to do something to keep the flow of his work. Among other ideas, Shikor stood out. The concept developed on the idea that children growing up in the stressed environment of the city are often diverted from humane feelings like tolerance and sharing. The demanding and unequal education system often leaves them confused about their identity. Commercialisation and consumerism develops extreme competition among children but often at the cost of natural blossoming of creativity in their young minds. They are expected to excel in every field of modernism, be it school education, singing or dancing competitions, drama or modelling.

"All we have to do is to be with kids, like kids." -- Lavin, a volunteer at Shikor.

Kamaluddin Kabir, programme coordinator of Shikor, explains how they want to make a difference. “We thought of doing something for the children apart from the conventional education and cultural training that they are receiving from traditional art schools. Stepping away from this custom, we wanted to start a free programme where children will engage themselves in creative activity spontaneously and not by force”, says Kabir. Urban children today hardly ever get the feel of endless fields, fresh air, trees, sparrows and nameless birds, the natural beauty of the surroundings, river and lakes -- things that produce inquisitiveness in young minds. They are growing up friendless, cooped up in small cubicles called apartments getting engrossed in computer games and hooked to the net. For these children Shikor provides a space, an opportunity to know their inner self through various activities that helps them know their roots. Here children can just be themselves without any intervention from elders. The Shikor programme includes poems and rhymes recitation, painting, sculpture, song, dance, games, story-telling, acting, writing, reading, travelling and bratachari (a comprehensive programme of physical, mental and intellectual culture based on folk tradition of physical exercise, dance, music, drama, social service etc.). The curriculum also includes familiarising the children with local culture, nature and environment, festivals, photography, movie, eminent personalities, Bengali food, etc. Unlike other cultural institutions or programmes, Shikor does not aim to make these children experts in any particular field. The staff and the volunteers of Shikor never force a child to sing or dance or paint against his or her will. They are always encouraged to join the group and participate in a particular ongoing activity but the child has the right to deny participation.

A team of 20 people work relentlessly for the programme. Except for the assistant programme co-ordinator Tonwi Chakraborty, the rest of the team work on a voluntary basis. Lavin Rahman, an honours student of Eden University College, has been working as a volunteer in Shikor since its inception. “I am a student of the regular singing class of Chhayanaut. Back in 2008, when Shikor was started, they came to our class asking for people interested to work with children. I have volunteered because I like being around kids. Besides, they never force you to be regular or have any other special skills. All we have to do is to be with kids, like kids,” says Lavin. Atiq, another volunteer who has been engaged with Shikor from the conceptualisation stage, works here not from mere liking. “The purpose of my participation with Shikor is much more far-sighted. Just imagine what will happen when these children who are learning to think independently grow up. They will bring a revolutionary change to our society. And I want to be a part of this revolution. I would even give up my regular job to be with Shikor,” states Atiq, who has adjusted his Saturday morning office hours at Radio Today. Volunteers usually communicate among themselves so that at least eight to 10 of them are present at each session. Although the timing for Shikor classes is from 9:00 am to 12:00 pm, volunteers are expected to arrive early and leave only after discussing the following Saturday's activities.

Children can just be themselves without any intervention from elders.

Although no fixed routine exists for the undertakings of a day, a monthly plan is made to include as many varied activities as possible during the four Saturday sessions. Some of the regular activities include singing, indoor games, painting and snacks. Activities that are more popular among the children include outdoor games, travel and bratachari. Parents demand that their children should be taken outside in parks and fields more often. However, due to security reasons and administrative red tape such activities are limited. In spite of these constraints, parents are happy with Shikor's achievements. Safia Sultana brings her daughter Samonti, aged eight and a half years, studying in Academia school. Sultana asserts, “There is no scope of healthy entertainment for our kids. They are growing up like farm animals. Shikor provides an opportunity for our children to learn our songs, dance, poems and culture all in one package at an affordable price. My daughter can now talk and adjust better. I find the food that they provide here very interesting. Sometimes they bring fruits from villages that even I never heard of.”

The children who come to Shikor equally love the congenial environment, a place where the word “punishment” is absent. Asifur Rahman Somoy, running around the square veranda of the third floor of the Chhayanaut building, along with five other kids of different ages, only stops to speak of his experience at Shikor. "My friends from school do not come here, but I have lots of bhaiyas (brothers) here," says the six-year-old with glee. Medha, a student of Class 7 at, Nalanda, is the only child at home and has no one else to spend her time with. “Every Saturday morning, I look forward to coming to Shikor for I can engage myself in lots of fun activities here,” she says while putting white paste on the mask they are preparing for the upcoming Chaitrya Shankranti programme.

Finding our roots is important in this fast changing and globally connected world. Otherwise our children will grow up being indifferent to the community they belong to. The intolerance and violence that we find among youth today are a result of cultural detachment and lack of healthy entertainment. Shikor offers a unique solution to this. It is working towards building free-minded individuals, who will have the capacity to accept the other and build a secular, peaceful and culturally enriched society.



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