By Naman Bansal:
Let me tell you a story about a very shy child named Satyam. A child who had been bullied by his classmates, many times. One day when I asked him to tell me a story, he painted a beautiful landscape with mountains, clouds, rivers and a home. But there was a twist in this tale. On top of the mountain, stood a group of people. But what were they doing out in the rain? I wondered. “They are the Gods of rain, who bring us water every year for the food we grow and eat,” said this quiet boy, whose creativity and thinking never ceases to amaze me.
Satyam is one of the many children I have met during my 13-month SBI Youth For India Fellowship in the villages of Bihar. These children have started expressing themselves through the stories they tell. But this was not always the case.
During my initial days in the villages, when I would try to talk to the children, their minds would wander. So, one day, I asked if they wanted to hear a story. Almost immediately, I had their attention, and by the end of the session, they were the ones telling me the stories.
So, here I am working at a government school in the Muzaffarpur district of Bihar working on my project ‘Palak‘, which kicked off with the idea of using storytelling in the classroom to bring about social change. I was also hoping to enhance their creative skills by introducing the children to a world where they could be themselves – the world of stories.
The beautiful thing about storytelling is that it transcends many barriers. For one, differences in the reading and writing abilities of the children, as well as boundaries like caste and creed.
Stories also prepare you for the future without you even realising it. As I read Munshi Premchand’s ‘Nasha‘ in school, I could not have imagined the long lasting impact its message would have on me, one which I would implement when making some of the most crucial decisions of my life. That is the power of great stories.
Yet, we do not use them as much in the classroom. Perhaps, because of their non-complex nature (we tend to think of simple things as worthless). However, I am a great believer in the power of storytelling. And so, over the next few months in the school, we told many stories, some with key messages on hygiene, empathy, and other life lessons.
This approach to learning has had many benefits. But unleashing the imagination has proved to be the greatest one. During our very first painting session, we did not have enough paintbrushes. But Sunny, a Class VII student devised a brilliant idea; he suggested we make paintbrushes using broomsticks and paper.
Was it a sustainable invention? It did not matter. What mattered was that within minutes every one of us had a paint brush in our hands, and we got lost in telling our own stories.
To make things more interesting, I asked storyteller and traveller Kumar Shaw to work with me, and we dabbled with the idea of bringing out a magazine. The children loved the idea and christened it ‘Palak’. They divided themselves into groups of those who could write, draw and paint stories; those who could make paper puppets and tell stories through them, and others who could collect general knowledge about the village and the country, and other interesting nuggets. Within two hours we had collected many great stories, even a joke column, and that was how ‘Palak’ was launched!
Six months into the project, my vision is to now build a model classroom, one that is equipped with computers, and where storytelling and creativity are at the centre of it all. Where children have access to a library with over 500 story books and a drawing board to display their creative work. To help turn this vision into a reality, I ran a pan-India crowdfunding campaign, and within 40 days we collected a sum of close to INR 250,000! Since then, I have also arranged four computers, and the children are now becoming computer-savvy.
Before I joined the fellowship, I had spent a few months in the corporate sector writing codes and when I decided to leave, I was told by many that I had made a big mistake. Since then I have asked myself a simple question, many times over, “Will I regret this decision?” The answer is a resounding “No,” every single time.
On a personal note, the fellowship gave me a chance to question the image of Bihar projected by the media and people, in general. Contrary to this, I have never been looted or held at a gunpoint. And the people here are caring, loving, intelligent. Yes, there are problems but then problems are everywhere.
On a professional note, I have had the opportunity to develop a multitude of skills. But most importantly, this fellowship has taught me how to lead from the front. This is the most valuable because though we are getting more and more job-ready as graduates, what we really need is to be able to choose a path that helps us solve genuine problems. This, I believe is a very serious issue. Hopefully, my story may inspire at least one person out there to take up a challenge and do something to help spearhead change in this great nation of ours.