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UNICEF initiates `healing through joy’

© UNICEF/India/Bagla/2005
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is helping these children overcome their grief and sorrow using the novel approach of healing with fun.

Place: Sonamkuppam village, Cuddalore district, Tamil Nadu, India

July 2005

By Pallava Bagla

A popular Tamil folk song is being actively used to woo children back into
fun and games in the tsunami affected villages. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is helping these children overcome their grief and sorrow using the novel approach of healing with fun. Live performances not only make them forget their sorrows, but also subtly pass on, through the use of performing arts, socially responsible messages on the merits of using clean drinking water and proper sanitation.
UNICEF gave the theatre groups a two-day orientation on how to incorporate appropriate social messages on personal hygiene and sanitation in the live performances. In addition they were advised to include the village children in the shows. On a hot humid July evening, there is general excitement as a makeshift stage is prepared on the golden sandy soil of Sonamkuppam, a large fishing village. The old fashioned tin loud-speakers are blaring popular songs and gradually the village folk start gathering around this live show organised by UNICEF. It starts off with a peacock dance and is followed by many entertaining performances both by the ten-member professional group and by the village children.

In the course of the evening as Anita (14) performs a lively dance number, it is hard to believe that just months ago she lost her mother in the dreadful tsunami which also claimed another 126 lives among her friends and neighbours in the village. Participating in the village theatre she got her smile back and also brought the much-needed smile on the faces of her clan.

Working in active collaboration with the Song and Drama Division of the
Indian government, UNICEF has hired three local theatre groups to give
75 performances in 25 of the worst affected villages of Cuddalore district in Tamil Nadu. The well-known theatre groups Stage Image; Kalamani and
Gananather Bommai Natak Sabha are giving a three-day live entertainment show in each of these villages. Every evening a temporary road-side stage is  set up where the artistes and children of the village gather for fun programmes that include songs, dramas, dance performances, mimicry and poetry - all lasting 3-4 hours.

© UNICEF/India/Bagla/2005
On seeing how well many of his students were performing, Mr. R. Murugan, the teacher at the local school, says this is the first time many of these children have ever taken to the stage and exclaims `how much fun they are having’.

According to Mr. Thomas George, Communications Officer, UNICEF, Chennai, UNICEF gave the theatre groups a two-day orientation on how to incorporate appropriate social messages on personal hygiene and sanitation in the live performances. In addition they were advised to include the village children in the shows. George calls it ‘healing through talent’ approach.
Working in active collaboration with the Song and Drama Division of the
Indian government, UNICEF has hired three local theatre groups to give
75 performances in 25 of the worst affected villages of Cuddalore district in Tamil Nadu.


These mobile theatre groups pitch their tents in every village they visit for three days at a stretch and more often than not it happens in the compounds of the village school. On the evening of the first day the troupe gives a 3-4 hour entertainment programme. On the second day, the professional artists with the help of the schoolteacher identify potentially talented children. These children are then taught dance movements, humorous poems, or allowed to sing songs of their choice. Once this impromptu training is over the children are allowed to conduct short performances that are inter-spaced with the troupes own repertoire. On seeing how well many of his students were performing, Mr. R. Murugan, the teacher at the local school, says this is the first time many of these children have ever taken to the stage and exclaims `how much fun they are having’. The applause from the 400 strong audience was thunderous and for a few moments all past sorrows were forgotten. The third evening is usually reserved for conducting some competitive programmes and awards are given to children who participated in the gala events.

For Mr. Manjai V. Somu, creative director of Stage Image who has been doing contract programming for almost two decades, this has been a novel experience. He says, in the beginning they took on this task as any other professional entertainment activity, but he says this unique approach of including village child artistes has made it the most rewarding experience in his entire career.

The smile one sees on the faces of the villagers especially the parents whose children are performing on stage is heartening.  All the singing and dancing brings peace and tranquillity in their lives that were so recently devastated. As one mother succinctly put it `I am happy my children are no longer idle in the evenings’.

 

 

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