Information Designer, California
SETTING UP THE LAB –
Now that a rough framework was in place, it served as a base to design activities with a learning objective that, in time, could evolve to solve the teaching and learning problems the school community was facing. Based on my observations and insights, I began documenting and detailing sets of activities. These could be used by instructors, teachers or workshop conductors.
While I documented the model and activities, as time passed, students started enjoying the creative indulgences and were opening up to the sessions. Somewhere it resonated with their natural acumen and steadily their interest grew.
Now, the next step was to start thinking of ways to support this increasing level of enthusiasm.
Carrying session materials from class to class started becoming increasingly difficult and counter productive. We were losing class time. The amount of materials and artifacts created by students also kept growing. We needed a dedicated space to store the materials and display the artifacts. Also, we had received huge volumes of materials donated by many kind donors as part of an Amazon Wish List Campaign that we ran to support our pilot sessions. I had run this campaign in the earlier months foreseeing a possible need for art materials. These materials were worth almost INR25K and needed an accessible storage space.
Gram Vikas School at Kankia is a residential school with hostel facilities for students and quarters for teachers. It is a well spaced out architecture with red brick buildings and getting a dedicated room for activities and maker space was a tough ask. After shortlisting a couple of possible spaces in the school premises and a series of discussions on why we needed a physical space, we were finally allotted an old classroom, a tin-roofed structure, almost like a back house, a bit away from the main buildings.
This was a leap forward for us. This classroom was perfect in many ways, except that it could use a little facelift magic. Ajay Baral Sir, an in-house artist with Gram Vikas in their Mohuda headquarters was always ready for some hands-on work. He along with Mr. Debendra Dash, a senior high school teacher then (now the principal of the school), a tiny transient army of school students and myself, together decided to do the revamp. From an old, tired, washed out room, we transformed the space into a fresh, energetic and welcoming space. After a weeks non-stop effort, we had finally created a makers pace for the school community – a Creativity Lab that we called Kalpanadham. Literally translating to “Abode of Imagination”
There was a magical kind of energy in every student while working towards creating this Lab space. They knew, it was for them, being created by them, for use by them. Everyone was so excited that we eventually ended up organizing an inaugural function for Kalpanadham and were lucky to have the Founder and Chairman of Gram Vikas, Mr. Joe Madiath himself inaugurate the space on 7th of May 2015. We held a small prize distribution ceremony for all our early adopters. And organized a Robotics demo session for the school gathering by inviting a local enthusiast.
Thus, began the official existence of Kalpanadham.
Soon after the Lab was inaugurated, it was already time for the 2 month summer break. All the students would be going back to their villages and communities. This was almost like a homecoming fair where parents travelled hundreds of kilometers from their villages to the school to fetch their children. It was a very humbling experience to witness the different kinds of emotions.
Once the students and teachers left, the school was empty barring Grade 10 students and a few teachers who stayed back for a month of extra classes. This gave me plenty of time to think and build on the infrastructure for the lab. The cartons of donated materials through the Amazon Wish List campaign were now housed neatly in a cupboard in the lab.
Another aspect that I was working on was connecting the lab and its activities with a local network of experts, volunteers, artists, educators and institutions. I was working towards a scenario when I would be no longer on the field and the community would be autonomously running the program. For this, we needed a seed fund, to sustain the program for the next year. After doing our calculations, we launched a 45 day crowdfunding campaign on Ketto.org targeting a amount of INR2.5L. We crossed the target amount INR20K. This was the first time I was fundraising and interestingly, it was successful. This is sometimes also called Beginner’s Luck. Crowdfunding, typically requires a lot of perseverance as its small amounts of money coming in from a large number of people. Requires a lot of networking, campaigning and energy. All of which I did.Here is a link for the curious ones.
All of this was done during the summer break, so we can kick start the lab with activities and workshop sessions once the students are back from their villages.
(To be continued…)
About the Author:
An Information Designer by profession, Shalini Krishnan, spent 7 years in the corporate world before choosing to apply her expertise to the social sector. She joined SBI’s ‘Youth for India’ one year fellowship program to engage with rural India at the grassroots level gaining strong hands-on experience and knowledge about the sector. She is currently based out of California where she practices Yoga and volunteers with different organisations.