arifa's sewing machine in the rangshala

12.12.12 | activity in the rangshala

The past few weeks have seen a lot of activity in the craft shed – now officially named the ‘Chander Nagar Rangshala’. Rangshala is a hindi word combining two terms: ‘rang’ (colour) and ‘shala’ (school) and is generally used to describe a place of artistic activity. The Nanhi Dunya educational philosophy places as much emphasis on creativity and manual activities as on academic achievement, and is developing a new curriculum at the moment to ensure that art, craft, design and drama are properly integrated into the children’s timetables. We’re hoping that this new building will provide the perfect space for them to put this curriculum into practice!

The mothers we trained in wood-block printing have been busy transferring their skills to Reena and the class 8 girls, who can now practice independently, and will eventually start producing printed items that can be sold to raise funds for the school. The designs we dropped off with the block carver in Delhi eventually arrived here in Dehradun, courtesy of a very nice man who took him on the train with him and delivered them to Clem at the station! The girls and the mothers were really excited to open up the package and start using the new blocks, which came out very nicely. Two great new teachers recently joined the school, one of whom has started the first computer classes – thanks to Yanchee’s wonderful donated laptop! At the moment these classes are during school hours for Nanhi Dunya pupils, but the intention is to open them up to the rest of the community on a contribution basis. We’ve also (finally) started regular film screenings every Thursday evening  – which is something we’ve been meaning to do since we arrived but somehow never got round to… These are getting busier and busier each week, and it’s great to see the rangshala fill up with light and sound, and lots of eager little faces, as night falls.

Building work on the interior of the space is still going on – mainly constructing the raised platform at one end, and the sink / work-bench at the other. The original plan for the raised platform was to have beams spanning between the columns, and timber planks on top – but Kiran preferred the idea of having four movable boxes that could be rearranged, stacked or removed altogether. This will allow the space to have even more flexibility, which we’re all for! Two of the boxes will have drawers underneath, and the remaining two will have storage chambers accessed through hinged panels above. We’re working with a new carpenter, Nathi, on these – and have been learning a trick or two about how to work in fast and efficient ways. Sonu, the brilliant mistri, came back last week to do the remaining masonry work. We finally got the go-ahead from Kiran on constructing the back extension, which is great as it means the floorspace is significantly greater. We decided in the end to go with 1-2 inch round riverbed stone as the flooring for this area – despite earlier reservations that this might look a bit like a glamorous spa! Unlike bricks, which would retain water and become covered in slippery moss, these small stones drain water away very efficiently, and minimize splashing onto the interior concrete slab. Their grey/ white colour also looks super nice against the dark concrete, and they offered an easy solution to surrounding the trunk of the tree (which rises through the middle of the platform). We will also use these stones to fill the drainage trench that we’ve dug all the way around the building directly under the drip-edge of the roof eave, to avoid the structure being surrounded by saturated earth during the monsoon.

While all of this has been going really well, the development of the rest of the project (the re-building of a classroom) has been held up by further miscommunication and inaccurate information in regards to building permits. The full set of drawings that we prepared during our time away from site last month, were based on the existence of a  ‘renovation’ permit – which we had been advised would allow us to demolish the existing classroom, and rebuild on the same site (hence avoiding ‘set-back’ regulations). It in fact turned out that this was not possible after all, and that we would have to build in front of a 4-7m zone, which we had know about since September, and was precisely why the proposed site for our building moved from the top of the playground to the existing classrooms. Although we were very frustrated, we wanted to make the project work, so spent a week considering and drawing up various possibilities and solutions. Time, however, was not on our side – and it soon became apparent that the only way for the project to proceed at all was for us to provide drawings for a contractor to build after we had left in the New Year. The whole premise of the project had been to use the process of construction as a tool to engage, empower and train the local community – not simply to provide built infrastructure for the school. We knew that this would be impossible if we weren’t here in Dehradun working closely on the project, and other commitments such as our exhibition in Delhi (opening in February) and preparations for our next project (due to start in March) prevented us from staying here any longer. So with great sadness we won’t be continuing the project as planned – but will be coming back briefly after the Christmas break in January to run some classes in the Rangshala, collect material for the exhibition, and say our farewells. Until then, its all hands on deck to complete electrical, plumbing and tidying up…

In many ways the Rangshala structure fulfills our original ambition for the project: to develop prototype solutions to the some of the infrastructural challenges we had identified at the school  – namely inadequate roof structures, poor lighting and bad ventilation. One of the interesting and unanticipated things we have observed over the last month as the weather has cooled down, is the tendency for the teachers to move the classes outdoors. In the winter months, the outside air temperature is much warmer than the interior spaces, and the hot sun provides the perfect conditions for learning outside. Given this, a structure such as the Rangshala (providing a shaded, ventilated and waterproof space in the hot months, and a warm, sunny, open space during the cool season) is particularly appropriate as a classroom – and something the organisation now want to replicate in other Nanhi Dunya schools. The activities taking place in the new structure also align perfectly with the desires of the parents that we met during our early workshops here. The only thing we haven’t been able to address is the lack of adequate sanitation facilities, which is a whole project in itself and would require a lot of research before embarking on. To cover all of this in four months was a tall order, and perhaps the lesson we’ve learned is to focus on less, to do it really well, and with lots of fun and happiness!