Children listen to Art For Cause founder Irshal Ishu during one of the sessions
A year after a camp in Tawang at India’s remote north-eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh, organised by the New Delhi-based NGO Art for Cause, led to the discovery of 14-year-old shutterbug Lobsang Nima, fourteen volunteers, including from Australia, New Zealand and the United States, have returned in search of another prodigy.
The NGO is back in Tawang for the Tawang Autumn Camp which began on September 5 and will end on September 18. However, this time around it’s focusing on finding talented writers amongst its participants, who range from the ages of nine to 14 years.
Speaking from Tawang, Irshal Ishu, the founder of Art for Cause, informed that aside from staff from the NGO, six volunteers from Australia, New Zealand and the United States are part of the camp as mentors.
Ishu said that last year’s find, Lobsang, is also acting as a mentor for the children this time around.
“He is home and assisting in most of the practical sessions,” he said. Lobsang is a shy kid and doesn’t say much besides that he “feels good” to be involved with the workshop.
Aside from photography, the camp is also conducting workshops on performance art, arts and crafts, creative writing, art therapy, health care and filmmaking, which was introduced this year.
Volunteers at the camp
The workshops are being held across three schools in Tawang and the Mahabodhi Centre in Teli village, around 10 km from Tawang town. The centre provides shelter, food and clothing to senior citizens and children who are either orphans or come from poor financial background.
Ishu also informed that this year’s camp’s focus will be on creative writing, and he hopes to publish an anthology of the children’s writings soon.
One of the biggest obstacles children in the area face is the lack of creative outlets.
“The kids do not have access to extracurricular activities,” Ishu said. “All that the children do is watch the sun rise and set over the horizon.”
Most of the children attending the camp come from financially poor backgrounds. Ishu said many of them have to work as labourers during their vacations to help with the household expenses. Despite the lack of avenues, the children are talented and have managed to impress the mentors conducting the classes.
Sudhir Mishra from Moradabad in Uttar Pradesh, who is teaching the arts and craft lessons, said the children are “very creative” and that their awareness about their culture helps their creativity.
Emma Ryan from New Zealand, who is researching the NGO’s work in Tawang and is part of the volunteering team, feels that the camp will “make a huge difference in the lives of the children”.
The camp, she said, “not only teaches children skills but also teaches them to hold their heads high”.
Her New Zealand compatriot Katie Reardon, who volunteered for the camp after moving to India in April this year, said she wanted to do something “more meaningful with life”.
Katie Reardon from New Zealand with students at the camp
Tourism minister Pema Khandu, who is from the district, has been supportive of the initiative this year and reportedly told Ishu that he wants “ten more Lobsangs to be discovered this year”.
Khandu is also optimistic about the opportunities that the workshops could provide to the children.
“All of us have our own abilities and this workshop will help children acquire knowledge to hone their skills,” he later said, adding that the workshop “provides a necessary platform” for the children.
Apart from being taken in by the scenic beauty of the place, the volunteers all appear to be taking back something from this experience.
While Ryan said that “people appear a lot happier than where she will be heading” after the camp concludes, Mishra said he is learning from the children as well as teaching them.
For Reardon the constant smile on the faces of the children at the workshops “put things in perspective”. She hopes to return next year.
Children at the art and craft workshop