When Emily and I stepped off the plane from Hyderabad to Tamil Nadu, a giant stone warrior goddess watching over baggage claim immediately captured my attention. Our drive from the airport to Villupuram revealed several other huge deities, such as a two-story high Hanuman. The only other time I have seen gods this big was during Ganesh Chaturthi in Hyderabad, where icons are lifted by cranes to be submerged in the lake.
I didn’t know when I saw that airport goddess that her size and power would mimic the potential of the students we would meet through Communities Rising. Over the past two weeks, we have been conducting short TMS photography and video workshops at several schools. Our students faced a very condensed curriculum interrupted by a multitude of holidays, but still they managed to take to the concepts and cameras with amazing creativity. These students made our stay in Tamil Nadu unforgettable.
At Anilady School, we taught 7th and 8th standards. With Philip as our trusty translator and Siva as our go-to for drawing out the best in the kids, we found a new rhythm in our teaching. The students were clever, eager and kind. Each class had a “free-shoot” period in which we would break into small groups, venture outside and explore the beautiful school with our cameras.
What was striking about this experience was the fact that most of the students did not speak any English. We wanted to push them to incorporate other useful skills in their photographic pursuits (such as emotional expression, English practice and teamwork), but to do so made the support of our teaching team essential. We needed more than just translators; we needed teachers who truly understood the objectives of the program. The individuals we worked with far surpassed our hopes and stand as prime examples of how programs such as TMS can overcome immense cultural and language challenges with the right help.
These classes were very gratifying for us as teachers. In spite of having a large number of students, we were able to form special relationships. I also feel that we achieved our key goal of having each student contribute his or her ideas and have hands-on time with the equipment.
One student in particular comes to mind: Arul Prakash, a Vikravandi hostel boy whose friendliness and intelligence shone through even on our first day of class. Arul is a student that any teacher would dream of having; quick to learn, dependable and sweet with just a hint of mischievousness and humor to make working with him a joy. I taught Arul how to edit on iMovie using my laptop and spent some extra one-on-one sessions with him. By the end of the stay, he could easily put together a basic stop motion animation, add text and transitions and burn his work to a DVD.
These two weeks at Communities Rising have been some of the most memorable during our time in India. Just as that first image of the stone goddess stands out in my mind, the smiles, creativity and joy in these students will stay with me forever. I certainly plan to be back!