Onam Camp at Sneha Bavan

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Classes on the pier… classes beneath the tree… classes on the lawn… and in conformity with the traditional norms of teaching, even classes in rooms.

Of all the centres that MAD deals with in Cochin 2, Snehabhavan is situated at an almost exotic locale. Right from the water-front to the uninhibited kids, the entire milieu possesses an untarnished charm about it. It is a Maddie’s paradise, a place where your imagination can sprout wings and soar… spirited and free… without the need to hold back…

Onam, the harvest festival of Kerala, is celebrated as an auspicious occasion all across the state. Tales have it that it is the annual return of the benevolent King Mahabali to shower blessings for the new year on his beloved subjects.

Several kids from Snehabhavan and Big Boys did not go home for Onam and were compelled to spend this festive time in their centres itself. So MAD (along with the centre authorities) decided to give them an Onam worth remembering – a two day MAD camp.

Day 1 kicked off with an icebreaker which served a two fold purpose… it enabled us to divide the kids into 4 groups in a mildly chaotic manner and, at the same time, allowed the volunteers (especially the new ones) to get acquainted with the kids.

The four resultant groups were Maveli, Encounter Massi, Silsila and Soldiers. Each group was given points at the end of every activity.

The ice breaking session used the “Alphabet game” to start off, ie… all 4 teams were given a common word to unscramble(LRCEHDNI). They then had to spell out the word by contorting their bodies to shape the letters of the word, CHILDREN!!

The Onam spirit began at Pallu with the “pookalam” (floral carpet) competition. Much to our surprise the kids had more fun than we anticipated, chalking out and filling in patterns in the gym shed, the corridor and the TV hall. Each team then described their individual “carpet” and once again amazed us with the power of their imagination.

At this juncture, one must give credit to a couple of our Maddies from Pallu, who went to the flower market at 4 a.m. to buy the flowers at a bargain. Go MAD guys.

Courtesy of another sporting Maddie, Maveli paid a visit to the boys at Pallu and further heightened the festive mood. He led the kids much like the pied-piper, dancing, chanting, judging the best pookalam and leading them to the sumptuous sadhya.

An Onam celebration is never complete without an Onam sadya(the traditional Onam feast). Hence kids, centre authorities and Maddies alike, lunched on this vegetarian banquet.

After a rather “fulfilling” lunch it was time to burn some calories. Next we had a sort of obstacle course/relay, giving the teams an arena to exercise both their minds and muscles while simultaneously increasing their points. The relay comprised of 4 parts; a sack race, lemon and spoon race, three legged race and a wheel barrow race.

Day 1 came to a close with a much revered game of football. The Centre boasts of a lush football field where the rules are kicked out of the field along with the ball. The street-smart agility of the boys put even our most skilled volunteers to shame.

The sport is a religion here, hence football at Pallu has always been an educational experience. Showers of rain only increased its raw and rugged tempo as everyone spent an additional half hour willing the rain to go away.

Day 2 began with the kids having a Yoga session held by two guest instructors. As the kids have had an earlier preview to yoga and its benefits, the session was much more enjoyable for them than expected. After a relatively tranquil 45 minutes, the instructor wound up with a rather catchy song that got both the kids and volunteers chanting along.

In an attempt to keep the scoreboard ticking (as well as kill a bit of time), next we conducted a “number game”. Each team was given chits with numbers from 0 to 9 written on them. They were then asked to form shapes of the random numbers that were called out. The first team to form the number was awarded a point. After a couple of rounds it was decided that the volunteers could only guide the kids and not enthusiastically put them into formation so as to avoid adding pandemonium to the already prevalent chaos.

Time to open up career vistas to the kids – the younger ones interacted with Mr. Sippy Pallipuram (a Malayalam author), while Mr. Rajgopal (a professor at St. Albert’s college) spoke to the older boys. While Mr. Pallipuram narrated stories and spoke of the importance of keeping the vernacular script alive, Mr. Rajgopal instructed his audience on how to get ahead in life. Many of the kids kept humming the songs Mr. Pallipuram taught for the rest of the day.

Once again lunch was the traditional Onam sadya, but this time it was the volunteers who served the kids.

After lunch the kids were once again divided into two groups; the younger ones were treated to a puppet show and the older ones had another career guidance mission, this time from a Commander in the Navy, Mr. Hari Govind. He introduced the big boys to the world of nautical careers, the others sat fascinated by the puppet master and his gimmicks. Many of them were seeing a puppet show for the first time in their lives.

The final event of the day was a talent show/competition (team-wise) which was presided over by Cuckoo Parameswaran; a famous theatre personality. She casually interacted with the children after which they exhibited various talents like singing, dancing etc. One team even put up a skit depicting Snehabhavan before and after MAD.

A very jubiliant team ‘Encounter Massi’ were the overall winners.

The camp ended with a prize distribution ceremony and tea.

FYI: the gifts comprised of stationery articles (namely pencils, erasers, rulers and pens); much treasured and needed trinkets at Pallu.

Every child and volunteer claimed that they had a blast. So did we.

Written by Lourdes d’Coutho, Edited by Susan.

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