CHENNAI : Ten-year-old Nishanthini takes a red bar of clay, cuts it into tiny pieces and rolls them into balls. Using a pin, she makes holes around the surface. The gaps are dotted with tiny white balls to make sumptuous-looking clay strawberries. The finished products are arranged on a tray of clay fruits and placed on one of the seven steps of golu set up inside Vasantham School and Home for People with Special Needs. The school with 133 special children in Mogappair was started 30 years back.
The school has been keeping golu since 2000. What started as a small arrangement inside one of the classrooms has developed into a full-fledged thematic decoration inside their community hall on the second floor. “Kids here don’t get invited to take part in other golus. So we decided to celebrate one inside the school. Earlier they used to get hyper, break toys and mess up the arrangement. Over time, they’ve learned to cherish and contribute to the preparation. We have regular rituals in the morning and evening. Sundal is prepared. People drop in with their kids and enjoy the 10 days of Navaratri,” said Alli Murugesan, founder of the school.
As we take a stroll around the hall, we’re greeted by a bunch of kids with warm smiles. We find a group of kids singing bhajans and drawing kolams. Some of them are engrossed in making colourful clay Ganesha and Krishna figurines. “We serve our guests multi-grain porridge that we give the kids. Return gifts are cloth bags made by the kids. Everything has a personal touch to it. The parent community is equally involved in all the activities. We’re happy to see the language development and social skills improving in children during these festivities,” said Alli.
The school uses art as a therapeutic tool for children. Their daily activities include stitching, weaving, painting, gardening and doll-making. “When we use art as an incentive, we see better progress and enthusiasm. The kids have been making clay dolls for the past three years. It helps them with hand-eye coordination, gross and fine motor skills, brings out their creativity and builds attention,” she said. The products made by the kids are sold at exhibitions and on the school’s website.
Golu is also used as a story-telling tool to educate and engage them. The toys are arranged thematically to cover various topics in simpler ways. “We have a park with wild and domestic animals and birds. One of the themes has educational reformers, saints and dolls representing different cultures in India. Another seven-step set focuses entirely on Mahabharata and Ramayana.
The kids sometimes explain these stories to the guests after learning them. Seeing and touching different types and shapes of dolls also helps with their auditory and visual skills,” said Alli. The school recently celebrated 30 years. They want to focus on extra-curricular activities for children and help them earn a livelihood out of different mediums of art. Vasantham is located at PP10-4, EB Office Road, Mogappair East, next to TNEB Office and Telephone Exchange. For details, visit: vasantham.org