MERASI SCHOOL OF LOK KALA SAGAR SANSTHAN ~ Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, India
From the Merasi School's website: "The Merasi School grew from the Merasi community's desire to live a life unbonded by discrimination and preserve their vanishing 37-generation-old musical legacy. Expanding on the successful educational initiatives of our parent nonprofit, Folk Arts Rajasthan, The Merasi School weaves together arts and literacy education into a community-empowerment curriculum that develops students of the pen and the drum.
The school's motto is "One Hand On The Pen. One Hand On The Drum."
Feedback was submitted by Karen Lukas, Executive Director Folk Arts Rajasthan:
In November 2011, Folk Arts Rajasthan (FAR) received copies of the 2011 Book Set which were Ithen hand delivered in February 2012 to the Merasi School, as all mailed material will likely be stolen from the untouchable community traditionally known as Manganiyar (meaning "beggar"). This community carries forward a unique intangible cultural heritage 38 generations intact, and chooses today to call itself Merasi, meaning "musician".
PaperTigers books were then introduced to the Merasi School students by volunteer Lynn Bayman. Lynn, who studied early childhood education and is a loyal supporter of FAR education and preservation projects, worked with individual children and small groups of students. Lynn's activities and assessments were followed by library hours and tutorial time with Karen. FAR intern and Merasi School volunteer Justine Epstein was on site through March 2012. Scholarship student Afreen Khan (13) joined in, displaying her true colors as a passionate teacher and Paper Tiger. All being well, with education we are looking at the rising tide of Merasi Youth leadership. Merasi School students are used to sharing, but our having new multiple copies added an intimacy to the storybook classroom experience, fostering enthusiasm and more PaperTigers peer teaching. I loved seeing the clusters of dark heads and the myriad of fingers sweeping Rain School or Biblioburro pages.
Merasi School operates twelve months of the year and has added the seventh day for library and art, spurred by the children's own request and the scholarship students' willingness to monitor Sunday's programs. (Picture here an image of FAR Director hand clapping on high while clickin' her heels with happiness!) Our students are drawn to books of a global nature with strong colors and illustrations. Rangeela style we call them in Rajasthan, meaning rainbow colors of the spirit. Rain School was an inspiring story of what children can do and has buildings and materials the children easily identify with. Books with animals, such as Biblioburro, are always favorites. We have watched Merasi School Library grow from one impossibly heavy metal box overflowing with books in 2008 to a blue Library room with shelves reserved for our growing collection in 2012. Before leaving Jaisalmer, I asked a group of students to select and lay out their favorite books. PaperTigers, yours are always among the beloved volumes.
Taking a book off the shelves always soliciates reading demonstrations at Merasi School. It is a humbling and thrilling experience to help this community move from their crippling state of illiteracy. We thank all who continue to help make our efforts ongoing ones.
Lynn Bayman created the following questions used for introducing each Paper Tigers book :
1. The children are very excited about going to school to learn. Were you excited when Merasi School started? Are you happy to come every day and learn new things?
2. How will education help you? How will it help the Merasi?
3. Being able to read is very important – why?
4. These children live in Africa. Where is that? What country do they live in?
5. Do the children in the story look different? (Clothing, hair, skin color…)
IMPORTANCE OF BUILDING SOMETHING TOGETHER, AND THE CONNECTION THAT IT CREATES WITH OTHERS WHO ARE INVOLVED was emphasized.
1. Luis is a very nice man! He's generous! He likes to share his books. When I finish reading a book I like to give it to a friend, so she can enjoy and learn from it too. You are lucky to have a library at Merasi School. You have many books you can read. Some are easy and some are hard to read. But you will always learn something if you try.
2. What is a Burro?
3. What animals, birds and insects do you see in the pictures?
4. Do you see any of these animals, birds, or insects in the desert?
5. The children wear pig masks when Luis reads the story to them. That was fun, because the story was about three little pigs.
6. Do any of you stay up late at night to read either homework or for fun like Luis?
IMPORTANCE OF EXPLORING WITH BOOKS BY READING. SHARING LITERACY MATERIALS AND HELPING EACH OTHER READ was emphasized
1. Adults fight over things children don't know about or understand.
2. Sometimes our life takes a turn for the worse. We are forced to live with much less… But we survive and make the most of what we have.
3. What is the significance of the small plant? It teaches the boy that one can live even in poor conditions. It takes extra doggedness and strength, but you can do it.
4. The little girl is on the other side of the fence, but she cares about the small plant also. When the plants intertwine, the two children are connected without even touching each other. They have the same goal of helping the plants survive.
5. When the vine grows large, it provides shade for the children on both sides of the fence. The little boy started this and he is proud of his accomplishment.
6. After all the boy's sadness, he still has hope that the fence will come down and he can be free to walk in the beautiful mountains again.
7. I think the children on both sides of the fence would like to be friends and play with each other. What do you think?
IMPORTANCE OF NATURE AND ITS POWER OVER PEOPLE. NATURE CANNOT BE BOUGHT AND SHOULD BE RESPECTED was emphasized. INSTEAD OF FENCES, JAISALMER HAS ROCK PILES AND STONE WALLS, LIKE AT ASHA ARTISTS RESIDENCE. OWNERSHIP OF NATURE IS NOT OKAY, SIMILAR TO PRIVATE PURCHASING OF SAM NATIONAL SAND DUNES LAND IN JAISALMER DISTRICT.
The children of Merasi School are considered untouchable. As such they are denied access to most education. To be given permission to hold such lovely books because they are special, is in itself a joyful experience. Watching the children explore a world beyond the harsh desert one they know is thrilling. Images of grass and green draw Merasi “kid clusters” or images or stories with animals are favorites. These reading times are happy periods where even children with lesser skills are willing to stand up and call out the letters one by one.
It is way too difficult to select just one book as a favorite if you ask 30 children. Everyone liked the beauty of the Rangeela (rainbow colors) in our new books.
My Little Round House: in Jaisalmer District, traditional desert thatched village huts are round. Identifying with something similar had significance.
First Come the Zebra: animals that looked like horses but had “very good design” held our animal lovers' attention for long periods of time."
Photographs: Justine Epstein, 2010
Karen Lukas continues:
Each year as Executive Director, I make the annual Folk Arts Rajasthan site visit to the Merasi School of Lok Kala Sagar Sansthan in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan. I always return home with a few unforgettable moments etched on my heart – my personal engravings that will stay with me the entire year.
~ A tight cluster of heads, reading, erupting with enthusiasm, as fingers trace paths on the pages.
~ Eyes quietly beseeching me, "Choose me to read," telling me, "I want to be heard, I want this chance."
~ S., whose strength is Hindi, informing me that she intended to read all the books in the Merasi School library many times to teach herself English.
~ The question, might we visit there some day?