Spotlight India: Raining elephants in the heat of summer

One of the happy children with his labels.Summertime in India means a two-month break from regular school, a time when children have a lot of free time that drives parents up the wall. Summertime for many kids also means a time to follow their heart, catch up with friends, learn new skills and what would be better than National Bal Bhavan in New Delhi that offers a barrier-free environment with expert instructors and immense possibilities of innovation.

Having approached the Director of this institution to introduce Animal Action Education to kids attending summer camp here, I was met with great enthusiasm from the other departments too, that prompted me to go a step further and pitch the idea of Art for Elephants that is a part of the government’s Haathi Mere Saathi (Elephant my Companion) campaign that will peak during the International Elephant Congress, E 50-50.

Permissions granted the same day, followed by hectic preparations to get our act together, we managed to get in the eminent Indian artist Bulbul Sharma to spearhead the Art for Elephants programme.

World Environment Day happened to be just three days away and there could be no better opportunity to launch this programme that cleverly integrates messaging on recycling waste and paper through art and craft, restoring forest cover for elephants and pride in projecting the elephant as the National Heritage Animal of India.

One of the children with his wood-craft elephant.The communications team that landed up at the amphitheatre was pleasantly shocked to see it jam packed with 2000 children and about 100 teachers. Never before had I seen such energy and I had my own apprehensions of keeping their attention. A few performances and talks on environment followed, after which I addressed the assembly with the opening question, “who has not seen an elephant?” 

When it was clear that all kids had seen an elephant in captivity or the wild or a picture, I asked them where elephants live. 2000 voices in unison shouted Jungle! Smooth sailing from there on, my talk went on to how jungles are destroyed or fragmented for various developmental activities, thus fragmenting elephant habitats, leading to man-elephant conflicts and death on both sides.

The charismatic side of elephants was brought forth by Bulbul Sharma who spoke about the elephant’s place in Indian Art and Culture, the need now to celebrate elephants in the country and thus, the announcement that the entire week would be dedicated to all classes producing elephants in their form of chosen craft.

An 'Art for Elephants' papier mache elephant.All of 2000 kids were gifted each with a set of 18 gummed book labels with Gaju, the Haathi Mere Saathi campaign mascot. A flurry of activity in the various classes ensued, when Bulbul shared her expertise in art with the instructors. Our team interacted with kids from all classes that included clay modeling, sewing, wood craft, paper craft, papier mache, creative writing, dance, painting, etc. where the elephant theme continued uniformly across all barriers.

The 50 best papier mache elephants ensuing out of these sessions would be decorated to be displayed and used at E 50-50. The AAE film on Elephants Never Forget will be screened at their auditorium for a week to ensure all the children attending the summer camp have seen it.

The National Bal Bhavan also runs 54 Bal Kendras, nodal centres for those children living in remote areas who are unable to attend the central workshops. Animal Action Education Activity packs in Hindi with the film duly dubbed in Hindi were also handed over to the coordinator of these centres who would ensure these children too are reached.

The images tell you the rest of the story of how we got our own childhood back.

I am sure these kids will never forget elephants!

-- RG

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Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
Director, France and Francophone Africa
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Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
Regional Director, Asia
James Isiche, Regional Director, East Africa
Regional Director, East Africa
Jason Bell, Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
Matt Collis, Director, International Policy
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