DUNIYA EDUCATION, A PROJECT IN THE SLAM OF VARANASI

The following collaboration was obtained thanks to the contacts provided by Emily from Performers without Borders, an NGO that is responsible for touring theater workshops to people without recourse. A fantastic work. So they passed us the contact of Raj, the director of the foundation Duniya Educations, founded by a Dutch couple.

This association is dedicated to providing education to children of the slam of Varanasi, in one of the poorest neighborhoods, Nagwa. The river area is full of shacks, houses built with waste materials, cardboard, pieces of wood and plastic. The conditions in which these people live are depressing …

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With Raj we agreed to do two workshops and acting. So we went there! The school is very nice. It has three classrooms for students, and a room with sewing machines to teach women how to make clothes that they can sell later, and also a beauty salon school. A whole project to empower this community.

The workshops are held in the central common area, an open but covered space, of fair dimensions, as always there is no problem in adapting to the conditions, however difficult they may be. The first group was cute … children from 7 to 8 years old, with improvised uniforms, laughing faces, looking at us in amazement, with their mouths open …

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We started the warm up, all imitating each movement and word, super attentive to the instructions. As we progressed, they became more and more involved and engaged.

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At the time of the improvisations they all got up as volunteers, very motivated. They were very cute with their noses, with all their innocence, without even trying, they were the most sincere clowns we have ever seen, a gift for the heart.

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The next workshop was for children a little larger, with a gesture of responsibility, and showing their complete willingness to the workshop. Everything was like silk, they were attentive and playful, they made jokes, they went out of their way to be volunteers, a group of the most motivated, although the occasional student showed shades of shyness.

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The stories flowed, they commented on each other, they challenged each other healthily, and they laughed with their companions … It is a gift to share these moments with people so grateful and with so much desire to share different experiences … a real pleasure …

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And it was time to eat, from an immense pot, a lady began to serve in the trays of the children and in ours … How important it is for these children to have a plate of decent food … poor things …

And after eating, we did our performance !!!! We prepared in Raj’s office … and when everything was ready, the music rang and we started our show … The children were stunned, they had never seen anything like it … The caregivers and Raj laughed out loud, everything worked perfectly, sharing, the timid and funny volunteers … a joy …

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At the end we said goodbye, clasping hands, with the students, happy, hugging … without exaggeration, they are so grateful that it removes your soul …

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While we were changing the children went home, we said goodbye to Raj and the school and walked back to the guest house Brown Bread Bakery.

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Along the way we found children with whom we had shared the day. They were in the shacks on the side of the river, this time without the uniform of the school, with dirty clothes, pieces … our soul fell to the ground …

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They greeted us and clasped hands with their face of happiness and happiness outside our vision, in their normality … We wanted to hug them and kiss them all … because they are just pieces of innocent love that need very little … and not even that …

Pemachal Shakya Tibetan Monastery, dreaming between heaven and earth

In the afternoon we finished the workshops at the Mount Kailash school and from there we walked 1 kilometer to reach the Pemachal Shakya Tibetan Buddhist monastery. It is a monastery school that welcomes some 200 novice monks to instruct them to Buddhism. The building was quite spectacular, large and colorful.

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Our contact was Mr. Karan, a teacher at the monastery school who is not a monk. We had stayed with him to act at 3:00 pm, but we had a little delay. When arriving Karan invited us to have a tea and a pasta, seeing the comings and goings of the monks of the monastery.

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The place was particular, emitted a different energy, all dressed in burgundy, with shaved heads, monks and novices are of Tibetan origin, with the characteristic features of its people, a place that impressed us, reminding us that we were very far from home.

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After tea we went to prepare the space for the performance. On the way some young monk asked us what we were going to do, and after explaining it his face was of surprise and doubt. There were very young monks, and in some we could see an unusual maturity.

We did the performance outside, at the end of some stairs that made us of stands, that way we gained light and the brightness of the space. We were nervous, we did not know what we would find, if they would like what we offered … we were in a Buddhist monastery … we had to forget any fear and give everything in the number, so there would be no reason not to be satisfied.

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We changed into a huge room, full of books with Sanskrit sentences (we suppose, of course), it was very strange to undress us there in a space that invited prayer and meditation …

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We asked one of the monks to help us as a sound technician and another who recorded with the camera, they were willing to help us in anything! They were excited to see us perform, even if they had no idea what they were going to see …

When the time came, the music started to play. We appeared on the scene, there were about 100 monks, sitting on the steps of the stands. Everyone looked puzzled, impassive. It was not easy to build a relaxed atmosphere, we were nervous, but little by little we all got into the story, and the audience with us.

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Smiles and laughter began to appear, and they began to spread. Until a senior monk appeared, he started talking to the teachers who were also in the audience, all the attention went to the discussion, we even had to pause a few seconds until he left … he did not seem very happy, although of course we did not understand anything …

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The energy had dropped to freezing levels, the monks’ face denoted that the situation had not been comfortable … we had to go back, to give everything! Aaaaaarg !!!

Little by little we regain the reins of the moment and move the whole audience back to our world, thanks to their generosity and our energy. The complicity returned with all of us.

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When we took out volunteers they left laughing to see their classmates suffering on stage … The final part was smooth and emotional, and we were all living it, accompanied with laughter and games, together.

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Finally it was a public taste, as cultivated people were seen a higher critical level, although they had never seen anything like what we had offered … We asked them to take a picture with all together and the result was exceptional. An image that takes us to other worlds, to other times, to other dimensions of thought. An incredible experience, thank you for letting us share it with you.

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When we finished changing some monks came to talk with us, interested in our project and praising the piece they had seen. It is a pleasure to talk with people so hungry for knowledge, with curiosity, as if each new information were being completed. And we went where we had come, satisfied, it had been an unrepeatable experience that will remain inside us … See you soon!

Learn for life, happy to support such a complete project

And finally we are in India !!!! Oooooeeeeh !! We leave Nepal, and after 24 hours of travel on several local buses, some about to dismount and sometimes lacking glass in the windows, we arrive in Varanasi.

Varanasi is one of the most emblematic and sacred cities of India. That’s where every Hindu who can afford it takes his beloved ones to be cremated on the banks of the river Ganges in a sinking ceremony … a show of religion, mysticism and sadhus (people who abandon all earthly life to meditate and do yoga).

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In this city we contacted Learn for life, an NGO founded and directed by Nicole and Michael, a very nice couple. They have several projects underway. We collaborate with them doing two clown workshops and one performance at the school they manage. In addition, they have a bakery that produce organic products made by local people. They are also training women in tailoring techniques and they make clothes that they then sell in the store they opened while we were there.

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We went to the guesthouse they have, Bread Brown Bakery. It was not easy to find it since since it was opened at least three imitations with the same or very similar name have appeared. Even one of them claims that he also sponsors a school that they do not even have open … The management of these people is very good, so we were not surprised that imitators and envious detractors come out … Once there we talked with them and we agreed to do the workshops the next day, great!

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The school is a two-story building that houses the school, the bakery and the apartment of Nicole and Michael. It is an old building but it is correct and well taken care of. The youngest are in another farm across the street, with a large garden and a covered area where the youngest nursery play and learn with the teacher. In addition there is also the dressing room with sewing machines.

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The workshops were in this garden. The first group was about 25 children between 8 and 10 years old. We started as always warming up, giving game, and they responded accordingly, like children. We had a great time, playing, dancing, performing.

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They were super motivated and they were very awake, it was a joy. In addition, due to the claim of our music, there were many heads of curious neighbors leaning out of the gate. We closed the workshop with applause and shouts of emotion … there’s nothing like being a child and feeling like a child …

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The next workshop was 23 people between 10 and 12 years old. These were more naughty and rebellious, Nicole had already warned us. At first they revealed themselves by making jokes out of context, but by simply accepting them or even encouraging them to continue, they stopped making them out of context to put them in context and share them.

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The whole workshop was great, some were more shy than others, but we encouraged them and everyone participated.

The improvisations were very funny, with a red nose, they were to be eaten, super delivered, looking for the public’s eyes, enjoying it with emotion. When they finished, they stayed to discuss the play with us, motivated, with open and bright eyes …

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It was time to eat, all the children had a tray full of rice, like ours, rice biryani, very rich. Then, he played the show, so we set the stage in the same courtyard where we did the workshops.

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We commission one of the volunteers, Sophie, to help us with the sound, the usual routine. And we changed and put on makeup in the sewing room.

Everything was ready, we gave the signal to start and the music began to sound … what nerves !!!! We went out and everything began to work, the laughter began to sprout, the children accumulated in the first row overflowing.

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Everything was going smooth, everybody was so into the history, when suddenly deafening drums began to sound, were the political parties that made comparsas around the city as if it were a religious demonstration, with passionate shouts, hymns repeated by dozens of people … In short, a good roll cut that lasted 5 minutes until they disappeared down the street … We gave him all the game we could while it lasted, but to be honest, he cut the roll a lot.

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We needed to get them back !!! And so we did, with all our energy we shared the story again, together we went back and the laughter and love between the lady and the painter returned again … In the end, applause and clashes of palms, hugs and thanks .

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It was a great day, with fantastic people, and an NGO project full of good vibes.

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Upon returning to the main building Nicole and Michael offered to be free at their guest house, Brown Bread Bakery, possibly the cleanest and most pleasant of all Varanasi, and 50% discount on food !!! A great offer that we did not reject … They let us stay all the time we were in Varanasi, 4 more nights, even while collaborating with other NGOs, an unexpected gift.

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The room was super comfortable and clean, the food exceptional, and most importantly: clean !!!! Something that in India may not abound … I do not exaggerate, we have a gastroenteritis every 3 days … and that we are careful …

In summary, many thanks Learn for life for the collaboration and the facilities that you have given us, you are fantastic people doing a great job!