Thursday, July 9, 2009

Q & A: Some Facts about what I was doing in India

1) Tell me about the Rising Star Outreach school...
There is a lot to say about The Rising Star Outreach School so I will only give a brief description and then if you would like more information you may visit the URL The Rising Star School is a school comprised of 150 students ages 5-16. These children come from various villages from Southern India who have either suffered from leprosy or have come from homes where their parents or family members suffer from leprosy. 130 of the kids live on campus year round and 20 of the kids live in the nearby village, Thottanaval. Although the parents are not at the school they come to visit These kids every month. The kids are taught both English and Tamil at the school and despite the fact that they have very little they all seem very happy.

2) How did you first come into contact with Shaun/Promethean Spark?
I heard about Promethean Spark through a good friend of mine, Julie Butler. Shaun and Julie both live in New York City and Julie is on the Promethean Spark board of directors. After helping raise money for Julie’s NGO, Rescue a Million, last Christmas by hosting a music and dance concert in Boston she told me about the amazing things Shaun had been doing with Promethean Spark. I was immediately interested in the work that he was doing and shot him an e-mail introducing myself. Several months after contacting him by e-mail I received a response that their was a need for a teacher over in India during the month of June. I was very excited about the opportunity and acted on it quickly.

3) What are you doing to continue the work of PS at the RSO school?
Shaun has come to RSO several times and has taught the kids basic dance movement. Although he has come several times and the kids remember him he has only been able to visit 1-2 times annually

While at the school I am teaching each grade twice a week. I have created a class based on movements that Shaun has developed. We start each class breathing together. Some of the kids think this is funny but it really helps to center everyone and brings the class together. After breathing together we then proceed to do some basic reaching exercise and then go into doing plie’s, tendus and stretching. Following the stretching, we will do pushups and sit-ups and then I will teach them some choreography. I have been working with them to try and get them to point their toes and have helped the older students with more advanced steps such as leaping and pirouettes.
Teaching in the Promethean Spark fashion is different from teaching in the states for several reasons.
The first and most important reason why this teaching methodology is different is because we are not simply teaching dance, we are teaching LIFE SKILLS through dance. As the kids are moving I am will be talking. I will ask them questions, and I will talk to them about using the energy we use in class in their own lives. I am constantly saying positive things to the kids and asking them rhetorical questions like:

“what are you studying today? Are you studying English, or Tamil (the state language)? What are you thinking about? Are you going to go far in life? If you work hard you can do anything you want in life, perhaps you can’t touch your toes now, but I promise if you continue reaching for your toes everyday soon you will be able to touch them. This is exactly how it is with figuring out how to do a difficult math problem or saying a particularly difficult English word, perhaps you can’t do it now but if you work on it everyday you will master it soon. You can do it, and I believe in each one of you.”

At the end of each class I have the students line up and shake my hand. They must all look my in the eye and tell me their names. If they don’t look me in the eye I will have them try again. This was something that Shaun started while in India and I have felt strongly about continuing the practice. At first it was a way to learn the students names but ultimately it helps give the students confidence.

Other differences include the lack of facilities, and proper clothing. I have never taught dance in a Mango grove before. We will stretch in the dirt and I need to be careful that fire ants don’t crawl up my leg while doing sit-ups in the hot sand. I show all of my movement reversed because we don’t have a mirror so I am the students mirror. Although we don’t have a mirror they copy everything I do. In the states kids will wear specific clothing for P.E. or dance, however, these children have two outfits, they have their red uniforms that they wear to school and then they have one pair of play clothes that they also sleep in.

While being here I have seen leaders step forward and I have watched the kids improve. The Promethean Spark ideology really does work, and the kids love to dance!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Epa Adalam! = Now Dance!

During the day I teach various grades at the school. After school I work with smaller groups in the Mango grove. Here are some pictures of us dancing among the mangos.

God is mindful of every people

Since my last entry a great deal has happened. I have become good friends with many of the kids at the school and have become concerned about their well-being and health. The more I talk with them the more I find out about their homes and their lives. The other night I was talking with one of the little boys, Syra, and he was telling me that he often had nightmares about the thieves coming to get him.

I asked him, “ what do the thieves do, do they steal?”

“No” he said, “They come and take small children and smash their heads into the wall until they bleed, I am scared of them.”

“Are you scared they will come here?” I asked.

“No” he said, “I feel safe here, I like it here.”

That night I could not sleep. The pain of these children is real, whether from leprosy or the streets of India they have experienced more suffering than I will ever know. In some small way I hope that what I am doing is helping, and you know what, I think it is. Since my teenage years I have been a firm believer of the healing power of the arts, especially dance. And since teaching here I have been able to witness first hand the healing power of this art. When I teach they are all very happy, I respect the kids and in turn expect their respect, it needs to be a safe environment where the kids feel safe and willing to try something new.

Since my talk with Syra we have become good friends and despite the difficult things he has experienced he has big dreams and high hopes. When you ask him where he wants to go to school one day he will quickly respond by telling you that he is going to go to Harvard University to study either English or Art. The other night he came and showed me his sketch book and I was very impressed with some of his drawings. Each night I meet with him to help him with his homework, when he is finished I ask him to teach me Tamil, he drills me with the words and will laugh when I say a word incorrectly, but he is patient and we are good friends. I am grateful for friendship in all shapes and sizes. “…God is mindful of every people, whatsoever land they may be in...” Alma 26:37

Thursday, June 11, 2009


Each day is different and full of new experiences. For example, yesterday I actually joined the medical group in hopes of doing some movement therapy with some of the leprosy afflicted. However, when we got going we found out that we needed to help take many of the patients from one of the colonies to the hospital, so we drove nearly two hours into Chennai to escort the leprosy patients. It was nice to see the city and how the public hospitals are run in a different country. When we arrived, they just dropped us off and said, good luck, which was defiantly an adventure. I spent the day helping a leprosy-affected man who was completely blind. I sat with him in the waiting room in the ophthalmology unit and then helped him get from doctor room to doctor room. When he first arrived, I helped him sit down and he mumbled something in broken Tamil. I leaned over and told him, my name is Katie. He smiled a big yellow-toothed smile and reached out to give me a big hug. He hugged me on both sides and then moved his hands across his chest in a cross like fashion. Than brought, his hands together in a prayer position and cocked his head up to the sky. With his frail hands, he took my hands and cupped them in his. He would look up to the heavens and then kiss my hands, he was blessing me, I just knew it and the spirit was strong. The first time he did this I started to tear up. Everyone in the clinic was watching us and I was glad that this man could not see the horrified and dirty looks that everyone was giving us because of his obvious case of leprosy. While waiting for the doctors I would take his stubby hands with the bones showing through the skin and rub them. Leprosy kills the nerves and so I don’t believe he could feel me doing this but somehow he knew because he would calm down and then proceed to bless me again. Although I was not “dancing” yesterday I was deeply moved by the simple power of human touch and how we ALL need to open our hearts and just LOVE.

Some pictures from my time in India

How are you today? I am SUPER!! = Apidi Erukeringa

As I rolled out of bed sticky and wet I grabbed my towel and bathroom caddy and went to go shower. While pouring the cool water down my back I watched a moth skitter across the ceiling. The music of India and children laughing filled my ears. I could not help but wonder where that moth had been and what it had seen. I began to wonder if I were a creature with wings what I would be able to see. I have felt a bit like a winged creature the past few weeks while I have literally flown across the world seeing the amazing sights of India, smelling the interesting smells and helping the amazing people or Thottanaval. I have already learned so much and I wish that I could fully express everything that has happened to me while here in this magical land, and honestly, India is magical. I have found a renewed faith in humanity, in life and the power of one person.

Today all of my classes went extremely well, each class I taught paid attention. I taught 2nd standard, UKG and 4th standard, tonight I will be working with the oldest group in an after school class. The children are all very receptive and love to dance!! I have never been around so many students who genuinely LOVE to move more than these children do. Today during 4th standard the P.T. teacher, Johnson, watched class in the Mango grove and even tried to do some of the steps I taught the kids. Yes, that’s right I teach 20-30 kids at a time in 100+ degree weather out in a mango grove and it is, as they would say, SUPER!! I come back from teaching and am covered with sweat but it is 100% worth it, especially on days like today because as we were coming back inside from the mango grove I was talking with Johnson. He first asked how long I had been dancing and was very impressed with my flexibility; he asked if I ate anything special in order to be flexible. After telling him that I simply eat healthy, he turned to me and said, you are giving these children a great gift, thank you, they love you. He then proceeded to ask how long I would be in town and when I told him I would be leaving at the end of the month he was very disappointed. I could not believe how complementary he was, it really made my day and also made me realize just how important it is that I find a way to make this program sustainable.
I have been so impressed with how quickly the children pick up, especially the boys. The boys in many ways are better than the girls because they are very disciplined and focused. As we stretch and move I always tell the kids that they are more than just themselves and that with hard work they can do whatever they want in life, when we flap our wings in class I tell them… the SKY IS THE LIMIT!! Dream big, you can do it!!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Sticky and Hot

In India I wake up sticky and hot to the sound of children laughing and Indian music ringing in the distance. The smell of spices and human waste, cows dogs and the hot sun baking it all together permeates the air.
India wakes up before the sun and sleeps during the day. My experience here at Rising Star has been wonderful and I feel blessed to sharing my talents in such a powerful way. Within the past few days I have already faced many challenges but the staff and the volunteers are wonderful, they help make everything better and everyone wants the dance program to succeed. The greatest struggle we face is sustainability, I am working right now on trying to train some of the house mothers here at the school. We’ll see how successful my attempts really are.


Yesterday was rewarding I tought 2, 3, 5, and 6th standard. The 5th and 6th standard were very receptive to what I was teaching them and we had a lot of fun. One of the most rewarding things about teaching them is having them run up during free time or before they go to bed saying, “Katie, Katie, Dance Master look look...” and they will show me what we did during class. The kids work hard they rise before the sun which comes up around 5:45 every day. They get ready and go to school and then have a 45 min. lunch break at noon. After lunch they go back to school until 4:00. When they return from school they have play time but if they are not good in school they are required to stay in their rooms and study. At 6:30 everyone eats. The children break up into their families with their house mothers for dinner. After dinner we go up and put the babies to bed and send the older students back to school where they are required to do their homework until 9:30 at this point they come back to the hostel and get ready for bed. Indians work so hard and in terrible conditions. Living here has made me feel so grateful for the many many blessing God has bestowed upon me. Despite their difficult schedule the kids are all very happy. They work hard and play hard, I have never heard any of them complain about their rigorous schedule. They do not know any better.
As much as I love the work that I am doing here I must admit that I am still a little bit frustrated. It would be much easier if I did not have work on creating this program and could go with the volunteers. Mangula only gave me 3 classes a day and then I teach centers in the evenings.

Last night I taught my first center to the second standard and it didn’t go very well. They were all very rambunctious and it was hard getting any of them to focus. Their were kids playing soccer and blowing bubbles near by and many of the kids wanted to go and play. Just about the time I was feeling frustrated one of the boys came and tossed a ball at me, they clearly did not want to play. When I caught the ball I held it high, all the children were watching and I told them we will play catch but were going to do something a little bit differently. When you catch the ball you either have to hit a pose or do some sort of move and so I demonstrated. I held the ball up high and then plied and touched the ground with the ball I stood back up and tossed the ball to one of the boys he caught the ball and copied the move I had just done!! Okay I thought, this just might work, we continued in this fashion for the next 10 min. and the kids were moving their bodies, dancing and working on their eye hand coordination all at the same time. After about 10 min. their attention had been lost and so we moved on. I started teaching them an Indian dance with some indigenous type of movement, the girls especially loved that hands and the similarities to the Baharatntam. In about a week there is going to be a traditional Indian dancer that is going to come and live at the school for the next year. I hope to work with her and learn from her. The fact that she is here will really help keep this program sustainable.
Despite my aching body and extreme heat I love India. The children are wonderful and their hearts are so big, they are ready to love and be loved.
Last night I went up and started to read a group of girls the book, “I’ll love you for always.” Half way through the book I started to get tears in my eyes thinking about how much I love these children have and how much their parents love them. I don’t think I could send my child to a boarding school and it is not easy for all of the children, but the curse of Leprosy has created such an awful prejudice and this is just one of the ways this mental curse may be broken.