x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 17 August 2017

Camp puts children in touch with heritage

Indian children are developing their language skills while learning valuable lessons during fun and games at a month-long summer camp.

Rithu Rajesh, six, Archa Dhanesh, six, Hiba Iqbal, seven, and, in front, Akshaya Ajith, three, watch Najeem Sultan perform a magic trick.
Rithu Rajesh, six, Archa Dhanesh, six, Hiba Iqbal, seven, and, in front, Akshaya Ajith, three, watch Najeem Sultan perform a magic trick.

ABU DHABI // Indian children are developing their language skills while learning valuable lessons during fun and games at a month-long summer camp. The Summer Butterflies camp, organised by the Kerala Social Centre in Abu Dhabi, includes science and acting classes taught entirely in Malayalam to familiarise the children with their mother tongue.

The idea is to relieve summer boredom for the youngsters while giving them a taste of Kerala's heritage. "These students are not fluent in Malayalam," said MU Vasu, the director of the camp. "For some, we even have to teach the alphabet. This camp was partly established with the idea that they will be taught things that are not found in their academic books, such as folk songs and traditional storytelling."

Each of the four rooms at the centre has been named after a famous scientist - Galileo, Edison, Newton and Einstein - to commemorate the International Year of Astronomy. Each class has up to 35 pupils, aged six to 16. Classes rotate each day, between the different rooms and teachers, and run from 6pm to 9pm. When lessons finish, at 8.30pm, the classes come together to show what they have learned.

"We don't teach them anything, it is left up to their imagination," said Uday Shanker, the associate director of the camp. The camp is open five days a week and run by volunteers. The centre provides buses from around Abu Dhabi and Musaffah for parents who are unable to drop off their children. The four teachers have been hired from India. In Newton's room, children at first struggled to understand instructions in Malayalam as Rajashekar Nair organised games of cat and mouse.

Across the hall was Bhaskara Poduval, a retired teacher who has been recognised by the state government of Kerala for his work. He teaches the Malayalam alphabet as well as traditional folk songs that tell stories about village life. "The storytelling, the singing, they are better than just reciting the alphabet all the time," said Mr Shanker. "Our intention is to familiarise the children with the culture of Kerala through songs they have never heard and through experiences they would otherwise never have."

A big hit was Najeem Sultan, a scientist, who encouraged the children to learn the science behind his magic tricks. While some built telescopes with PVC pipes, tape and glass, others just watched in admiration as Mr Sultan showed off his skills. In demonstrating the physics behind friction, the teacher made it appear as if a bottle on a string was moving on its own. Archa Dhanesh, six, said: "If we wish it to move, only then will it move but when I yell stop, I can order it to stop.

"This is my favourite class because all my friends are here and Najeem does all kinds of magic tricks." Mr Sultan prefers using everyday objects to catch the children's attention. He demonstrates scientific principles using toys, milk bottles, plastic pipes and even Post-it notes. "When the children see it, they think it is magic, but it is all a science experiment," he said. Meanwhile, an improvisation session was being run by Udayan Kundangulam, a drama teacher, who was showing children various aspects of theatre including memory and concentration tricks, body movements, reflexes and rhythm.

The children were divided into groups and asked to mimic the sounds of drums, flutes and string instruments. Slowly, under Mr Kundangulam's direction, they composed a medley of loud but pleasant-sounding music. "I play more in this class than I play at home," said Hare Krishna, eight. "I like playing games in this class because I get to play all day - or, at least, all evening." Nivea Ramesh, an accounts manager, is one of 30 volunteers who supervise the children.

"In turn, I learn so much," she said, pointing to origami flowerpots created by a group of pupils that she was trying to copy. "They teach us things too, you see." @Email:sbhattacharya@thenational.ae