Guns, heavily armed troops, and ever present danger are not the growing environment a child would bargain for. But this is the reality of the lives of children from Dornapal transit camp, 416 kms from Raipur, the capital of Chattisgarh. Caught in the midst of a long running Naxal conflict, these children have few opportunities to enjoy childhood, and the gloomy environment of the camp dampens even their natural exuberance.
But this November, they had a unique experience, when UNICEF organised the Child Rights week celebrations for them. A 12-member team from the Born Free Art School, Bangalore, conducted art and cultural workshops for 1,500 children from schools from Dornpal village and the ashram schools of the Salwa Judum camp set up for children displaced by the Naxal conflict.
The Born Free team, comprising teenagers who have themselves faced a tough childhood, introduced these children to sculpture, photography, music and dance. Both sides overcame linguistic barriers for 11 days to work and play together and strike a deep friendship.
“It has been a great and unforgettable experience,” says12-year-old Diwas, whose family migrated to Dornapal in search of work. “We were able to experience a few moments of laughter and fun with people we didn’t even know,” he adds.
On the final day of the celebrations, the children of Dornapal performed a musical play ‘Gondwanaland’ that narrated the history of the earth and the human struggle for survival. 36 schools in the camp gave students a day off so they could go see the play and enjoy other cultural activities.
Even though a recent violent incident in neighbouring Bijapur had created a gloomy environment, the celebrations lifted everyone’s spirits.. The singing and dancing attracted people of all ages. The participating children were ecstatic.
“This was the first time we were dancing to a rhythm and tune,” explains 15-year-old Rani. "I really hope we get such an opportunity again. I do not have words to express how happy I am to think these people (Born Free team) came from such far away places to give us this wonderful experience," she adds.
Fourteen-year-old Jyoti from the camp is thrilled while walking on stilts, a skill she acquired for her role of a demon terrorising the people of Gondwanaland.
“Photography, play-acting and sculpture were activities we could only dream about,” gushes 10-year-old Priyanka. “It has been such a pleasant change from our daily lives and we had an incredible time with these lovely people from Bangalore.”
The photography workshop was one of the most popular events.. Armed with cameras, around 60 children walked around Dornapal, capturing images that they thought best depicted life in the camp. Though almost all the children were using a camera for the first time, they exhibited startling photography acumen.
“While looking back at the pictures I can just imagine myself day dreaming and enjoying carefree moments like the children we clicked. I connected with my photographs and that is a great feeling,” says 15 year old Asha.
The days of incessant fun and learning raced by too quickly for the children of Dornapal and they bid a teary-eyed goodbye to the Born Free team. As they mentally relive those wonderful moments, the children are already looking forward to the next year’s celebrations.