KOCHI: About four years ago, Kevin Mathew, then barely 14 years, volunteered as a docent ( a voluntary guide at a museum) at Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah (DAI), a leading museum in Kuwait. Kevin, a native of Kothamangalam in Ernakulam district, interned there for more than two years.
The time spent at DAI opened his eyes and ears to the world of arts and culture, inspiring the youngster to float a similar programme at the Tareq Rajab Museum in Jabriyah, Kuwait. Founded in September 2016, the Tareq Rajab Docent Program is the first student-led docent programme in Kuwait and perhaps in West Asia.
Kevin, now 18, who lives with his parents in Kuwait - his father Solly Mathew works for the Gulf Bank there -- leads the student docent programme at two museums in Kuwait -- Tareq Rajab Museum and Tareq Rajab Museum of Islamic Calligraphy. “I was always into science and math. Arts was never my thing. But the time spent at DAI served as my gateway to explore my interest in arts and history,” Kevin, a final year student at New English School, Kuwait, says.
He says when he was selected for the internship at DAI, he was a bit unsure when he realised that he needed to learn many details about the museum and its objects. But slowly, it paved way for expanding his knowledge and understanding of the culture and history of the region.
With about 30 students under him at the TRDP, Kevin plans to expand the student docent programme to three-four museums soon. “The ultimate goal is to expand our programme to nearly all the museums and iconic buildings in Kuwait,” he says. In the short span, the student docents have become a sensation of sorts and they have led museum tours for distinguished guests including Ambassadors of Kenya, Mustralia, Malaysia and Turkey and Indian Ambassador to Kuwait Sunil Jain.
For his role in founding and promoting the student docent programme, Kevin was invited for a talk at TEDx, an internationally popular lecture series. The talk, on the topic ‘How Challenges Turn into Opportunities’, was put online last week, and has become an instant hit. “Though the talk was held some months ago, they put out the video only last week,” he says. Kevin may be the youngest person to be featured in a TEDx talk, at least from the Gulf region.
Work at Kothamangalam
Kevin, who is looking to pursue higher studies in the United States (MIT is his goal), is also involved in helping economically disadvantaged children in their education in his hometown Kothamangalam. He is a life volunteer at Vidya Foundation, an NGO based in Kochi, which specializes in the education and empowerment of less-privileged children, youth, and women through working with them at an individual level. “The NGO financially helps students in seven government schools. Whenever I come to India, I visit the students and interact with them. During the last visit, I also gave them counseling and motivated them to achieve higher goals,” he says. The programmes of the NGO include computer training, adult literacy, skills training, microfinance and social entrepreneurship. “During my last visit, I have decided to become a life member with the NGO,” he says.
Can student docent programmes work in India? “India has a rich art and cultural history. As we become a developed country, we will have such museums across the country,” he says, adding that the “history, arts and culture are gems of every city, and I believe these treasure should not sit idle. They should have the voice they deserve. Museums are keepers of our priceless legacy,” he signs off.