NalandaWay is a NGO that works with children from the poorest districts in India, helping them raise their voices and issues through theatre, visual arts, music, dance, radio, and films.
It was in 2002 when communal violence broke in Gujarat and with that many lives were lost. That's when Sriram Ayer, a writer, storyteller, and social entrepreneur founded the NGO, NalandaWay in Chennai, Tamil Nadu. The aim of the organization, to quote their website is, "to develop a sense of self-importance and individuality, encourage self-expression and stimulate imagination among disadvantaged children through our art programs. The objective is to help kids ‘achieve through arts’ (ATA)”. The founder and the team believe that through art children can explore, express, and communicate ideas and experiences effortlessly. Children also develop creative ideas and learn life lessons. The NGO works with children from the poorest districts in India, helping them raise their voices and issues through theatre, visual arts, music, dance, radio, and films. According to their website, close to 50,000 children have been benefited every year through their lessons.
NalandaWay has five structured methods that are currently running. Their Art In Education looks at developing an "art curriculum" with grade-specific activities. Though this is conducted on an independent basis at the NalandaWay facility, the art curriculum has also been introduced at more than 100 schools in Chennai. Children from marginalized sectors are engaged through art resulting in better results in their academics. It has also been noted that the dropout rates reduce drastically. Also, part of this curriculum is a special teacher's art workshop where they learn to expand their creativity and can engage students better. Interestingly, NalandaWay has art labs that, according to their website, provide "exposure level and specialized courses to children who show promise in fine arts, craft, music, dance, drama, and media. Art experiences offer children opportunities to think and feel as they explore, problem solve, express, and interpret the world around them. Currently, NalandaWay runs 10 art labs in the city of Chennai. NalandaWay also runs 2 art labs each in Delhi and Coimbatore respectively, impacting nearly 3000 children." Besides learning, art can also be a great way to heal. That is one of the programs developed by the NGO. Their workshop of dreams aka Kanavu Pattarai (in Tamil) is a three-day residential camp organized for children between the age group of 13-16. Students here get to learn theatre, storytelling, and other participatory training techniques. This workshop aims at creating a sense of belongingness amongst the kids especially because they belong to different socio-economic backgrounds.
One of their most cherished and popular initiative is the Chennai Children's Choir. Imagine a group of kids between the age group of seven and 17 singing classic songs at amazing venues - that's what this group is all about! Sometimes, the group also includes visually impaired and physically disabled singers. They started the choir in 2015 when they auditioned 600 children from Government and trust run schools. The group croons classical renditions, patriotic songs, and songs by eminent poets. They also sing numbers based on themes every year such as humanity, unity is happiness, nature, self-confidence, courage, and strength. As for language, the proud group has until now crooned in 12 languages including Sanskrit, Hindi, and Tamil. A similar initiative was introduced in 2018 in Delhi. The group's first performance was at SDMC Ghosi when it became a Ford Happy School in Delhi. The group also has a music video featuring 'Illahi Mere' from `Yeh Jawanni Hai Deewani' and `Paranne' from the Malayalam movie `Koode'.
The NGO is also spreading delightful happiness during these uncertain and challenging times. How you ask? Well, children from the NalandaWay Foundation’s Chennai Children Choir along with the Delhi Children’s Choir, rendered the song ‘Raghupathy Raghava Rajaram’ as part of the four-hour virtual fundraiser concert, I For India. According to a report in the Hindu, Sriram Aiyar said, "We got 28 children from the Chennai and Delhi Choirs to sing the song. It was a challenge for us initially since we couldn’t meet to record the song. We instead asked the children to record themselves singing the song from their homes, and then put together the individual videos,” said Sriram Ayer, founder, NalandaWay Foundation."
But how can the art programs work when schools are shut down? In fact, this is when students need it the most- with exams, anxiety, and stress. They have a solution for that too. The NGO has launched Take It Easy - a method by which students can destress and listen to motivational stories from the comfort of your home. All one needs to do is leave a missed call which will be returned with an automated call. A “Take it Easy” five minute-story of the day will be played. A new story is added every day for the next 30 days. There is a reason they say only art can save us. With art by your side, this NGO believes students can express their fears, emotions, insecurities, and at the same time build their confidence and morale.