Seva 2017 Recap
For the inaugural Aanu Seva workshop in January 2017, I set-up a temporary studio in Najafgar, a village outside of Dehli, India. Partnering with NGO Apne Aap I developed a 2 week ceramic program, to bring the benefits of art-therapy and creative play for 12 women from the marginalized communities Apne Aap works with: the Perna, Singhi, and Sapera tribes. We concluded the workshop with a exhibition and sale of the ceramics at the India International Center as part of the Last Girl First: World Congress vs Sexual Exploitation of Women & Girls conference in Dehli.
To fund the workshop we raised $1250 in funds through crowdfunding with GoFundMe, $390 with the Seva Raffle and $600 sale of Aanu ceramics - reaching our $2000 goal for the project. These funds went towards my flight, logistical movement of materials and people, my 5hour daily commute to the village, tools and materials for the workshop, and exhibition logistics. Since I had relatives in the city my accommodation was already accounted for.
After a couple of months of remote planning, the adventures in Dehli began with first time face-to-face meetings with partners and figuring out logistics. Firstly, I meet the social workers of Apne Aap, the NGO who's amazing work on the ground connected me to the women of the Perna community. Next, I met Aparna and her team at the Delhi ceramic studio, @the_clay_company, who partnered with us on the project by donating their space and time to fire and glaze the finished pieces. And the rest of the week was spent running around town sourcing materials (sponges, fabrics, plastic bowls, dish rags, scissors, pottery tools, wood boards)- I totally underestimated the task of finding the most simple things in a foreign place - luckily I had my aunt Chaya helping me maneuver the city.
And in week two, the workshop commenced! Along with one Apne Aap social worker, Shashi, as my guardian, we set up a make-shift class room on top of a roof in an abandoned home in the village of Najafgar. Without tables or chairs we worked on individual pieces of wooden board on the floor. Starting the program with a pottery basic - the pinch pot - we made simple cups. Apne Aap’s relationship and work in the village of Najafgar over the last 8 years has established a hard-earned trust in the community. Without these in-roads I would never have been welcomed or had access to my students. For the Aanu Seva workshop I'm working primarily with the Perna tribe who are inter-generationally prostituted. Traditionally the men don't work, and the women are expected to go out at night and sell their bodies. Apne Aap also works with other tribes in the village whose women are at risk of forced prostitution due to their low income: the Sapera tribe who are traditionally snake charmers, they survive on performing snake shows, monkey shows and by playing drums at weddings (which is seasonal); the Singhi tribe who survive by working as cobblers, rag pickers, and ear cleaners. The later is the most poor due to minimal income they get from those very low paid jobs.
One huge unexpected challenge was working with local clay in a new country with different temperature patterns. Without incorporating time for r+d into the timeline I didn’t have time to test and work with the clay myself, so I was frustrated to find it wasn’t drying at a rate that I was used to, and was behaving unpredictably. So I modified my lesson plans - essentially a lot of what I had planned to teach had to be simplified due to this complication. Secondly, I found that my students weren’t engaged with the somewhat “boring” but necessary parts of the daily lesson - the setting up, the preparing of the clay (wedging) and the cleaning-up of materials at the end. This meant I was taking the brunt of that workload - luckily some local children (all under 8 years old) stepped in and found pleasure in cleaning tools and helped in carrying and setting up equipment for the older students. And The Clay Company offered some excellent advise with an alternate wedging technique “the Slicing Wedging method” that was much easier for my students to pick up than the Ram's Head + Sea-shell - helping to share that workload. Thirdly, with the language barrier I found that managing a group of 12-14 students was too challenging for me alone…so we ended up splitting up the class into two so that I could give better individual attention.
At the end of the workshop, we had a good collection of cups and containers ready for firing and glazing at the The Clay Company’s studio the following week. We chose to glaze in a deep indigo blue, an iconic color of Indian craft. Most of the pieces luckily survived the firing - I was definitely holding my breathe throughout this part of the process. The beautiful pieces of ceramic art made by the women and girls of Perna, Singhi, and Sapera tribes were exhibited along with photography from the workshop at as part of the Last. Girl First: World Congress vs Sexual Exploitation of Women & Girls conference in Dehli, Jan 29-Feb 1st 2017. The attendees included globally renowned movers and shakers in the field of human trafficking, including the very inspirational speaker Apne Aap board member Ashley Judd. The exhibition was very well received, over the month all of the ceramic pieces sold and the profits were distributed directly to the students.
After the success of the Aanu Seva workshop, Apne Aap expressed interest to pursuing a ceramics program for their women, which was super exciting to hear! However (and very sadly) after further discussion and business planning, it did not seem a feasible option for them to pursue at this time due to lack of resources and initial over-heads. Although all is not lost! I still have high hopes that the idea of developing a social entrepreneurship with Ceramic art will be the right fit for an organization in the future. In the meantime, I plan to continue bringing the healing aspects of ceramic art and creative abandon to marginalized communities.