House that builds confidence in kids

Open House, an artistic community, experiments with art and theatre and conducts worshop every Sunday to teach art skills and tell stories to students of government schools
House that builds confidence in kids

CHENNAI: The students of a corporation school near Basin Bridge were trying to learn about Pandyas, Cheras and Cholas - the three crowned kings of Tamizhagam who ruled and fought over the southern region for centuries. Isai Prakash, realising that the historical significance of these dynasties was flying past their heads, tells them, “Why don’t we act out this lesson as a play?” The approach works magic as the kids understand the topic in less than an hour, which otherwise would have taken two days.

Isai Prakash is part of Open House - an artistic community where anyone can join to tell stories and experiment with art and theatre, including conducting plays and puppetry. The community tells stories to children every Sunday evening at their abode in Medavakkam. They also conduct workshops to teach children how to make puppets and write plays.

“Open House was where I first met Isai and other diverse minds who put up a beautiful shadow puppet show for us. It was fascinating in many ways. The child in me would respond to the questions asked by the puppeteer loudly, not shying away. The crowd of different ages used to actively participate and even tell stories after the show.” says Seetha, who is now part of Open House, which has eight members.

Open House members conduct a puppet show for students at a
government school in Chennai | EXPRESS

Other members are Deepak, Ayappan, Yuvi, Caxton, Abbas, Karthik and Yuva Sree. Workshops are frequently conducted by the group for story telling, puppet making, telling stories through art, mime, drama and other art forms.

“There would be 3-4 people at the back to handle the puppets behind the screen and one person would narrate the story, sometimes others would also participate when more characters start talking in the story. Other than that, there were people who would help in setting up the place,” said Seetha, adding that they would go to schools daily without any monetary benefit. “There were kind friends who would help us by sponsoring tea and commuting. Sometimes the headmasters paid something basic out of their own pockets.”

“It was purely the group’s drive to bring about certain positive changes in behaviour of children - from something as simple as listening to someone who is talking in front of the class and volunteering to help. We act as a bridge as teachers are focused on completing the syllabus and preparing the children to face exams and often neglect overall development of children,” she adds  

“When working with government schools and juvenile homes, one of the major things that was in focus was to foster life skills in children, cultivate the habit of asking questions confidently and build group cohesiveness by telling stories through comics or skit. It’s all up to the kids, all we have to do is facilitate it. It requires a lot of patience and empathy to understand the child’s mindset, feelings and building rapport with them,” says Seetha.

Their efforts have given kids the courage to open up effectively and communicate with others. “One day I was telling a story in a government school, and a child came to me and told me that a crocodile was biting his penis. I didn’t understand it at first. It was only when I called the child after school that I found out that his neighbour had been sexually harassing the child for several days. I realized at this point that school students were learning how to express their pain in different ways, through stories,” said Isai Prakash.

Since 2015, the group has gone to thousands of government school students to tell stories and arouse their minds to ask questions.They have also been interacting with kids at juvenile homes, communities, settlements and among the migrant population. Open House also works with children at the Tsunami Relief Quarters in Puducherry.

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