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The Story Of Kalpanadham – Part 1

Blogger: Shalini Krishnan

Information Designer, California

Welcome to the blog series on Kalpanadham, a one-of-its-kind intervention in the space of education in Odisha. This is the first of a set of posts to introduce the concept and thoughts behind the intervention. Kalpanadham translates to – Abode of Imagination. It is a creativity lab that helps to foster and formalize the creative indulgences of students with the goal of building their creative confidence.

It is an attempt to encourage the adoption of alternative educational practices by school communities and was formally kick started in May 2015 in association with the NGO Gram Vikas, in a remote rural school run by the NGO for children hailing from tribal communities in eastern Odisha, India. As of today, we have successfully conducted more than thirty workshops across the four schools of Gram Vikas with the help of a few highly dedicated individuals.

To Backtrack a little, the concept of Kalpanadham has its own little story. It all started as part of my fellowship project, the Youth For India Fellowship program initiated by the State Bank of India, a one-year on-field rural fellowship program for individuals who are committed to create a positive impact. I was assigned to work with Gram Vikas in Odisha, a state I had never been to before. The fellowship required us to identify a possible problem and design an intervention in association with the partner NGO.

I still remember the night I reached the village (Mohuda), the darkness of the surroundings and brightness of the stars welcomed me in equal volumes, like never before. Initial days were hard and confusing. Gradually, I started familiarising myself with the surroundings, neighbouring villages, Gram Vikas’ interventions and domains of operations. Though an intervention in education was the last thing on my mind, I started making regular trips to a school seven kilometres from the NGO headquarters (Mohuda). Thirty five years ago, Gram Vikas started a residential school (Gram Vikas Residential School at Kankia village) and today it has about five hundred students and twenty-five teachers. My days were spent attending classes and observing the children, their classrooms, teachers and school infrastructure. I made icebreaker conversations with students and teachers. Being a designer by profession, I approached the fellowship project as a design thinker. The design process typically has these stages – Understand-Ideate-Implement. I spent good amount of time in understanding, observing and learning about the school community. As weeks passed, and on closer observations, I started mapping opportunities. There were many light bulb moments, and I kept parking all of them.

It wasn’t hard to notice the rather keen interest for the arts and the process of creation amongst students. As an outsider, it was probably easier for me to appreciate it as opposed to the school community who underplayed it. Little did they realise the possibilities and opportunities that can unfold. Also, sometimes, we as humans do not acknowledge our strengths, as we are so busy perfecting our weaknesses while pointing out others’ too. I saw nothing different here.

One extraordinary afternoon, there was a mysterious mobile phone doing the rounds in the school, specifically amongst the school students. I got asked if I had taken a look at it. Like a curious cat, I went looking for the mobile and found it in the hands of the creator himself. A coy, intelligent, sharp, smiley faced, 4th standard student – Jasman Gomango. This little curious tinkerer had handcrafted a mobile phone for himself using scrap cardboard. The entire school was celebrating this in-house designed/manufactured product with great pride and ownership. That moment was truly magical. We photographed and videographed little Jasman explaining his splendid creation.

On the face of it, if viewed in isolation, creating a dummy model of a mobile phone was not such a big deal. Alternatively, if viewed in its entirety, it was. A very young student, in a remote village of Odisha, where finding a mobile network range required acrobatic skills, felt so drawn towards a desirable technological product that he created one for his own self with all due detailing (sliding back, battery slot with battery, sim card, memory chip plus ear plugs with strings) and the school community accepting and appreciating it in spite of the fact that it was just a dummy model.

This was the moment, when something sparked and I literally envisioned a maker-space for the children of the school. Here was a school, packed with children, coming from tribal backgrounds, carrying rich knowledge systems, material know-how, un-parallelled hand skills, raw deep sense of aesthetics and a passion for creation. The seeds for Kalpanadham were sown and there was no looking back!

(To be continued…)

About the Author:

An Information Designer by profession, Shalini Krishnan, spent 7 years in the corporate world before choosing to apply her expertise to the social sector. She joined SBI’s ‘Youth for India’ one year fellowship program to engage with rural India at the grassroots level gaining strong hands-on experience and knowledge about the sector. She is currently based out of California where she practices Yoga and volunteers with different organisations.

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