I remember how as kids we would look forward to summer vacations as the only time we got to watch TV for more than an hour a day; when books on the table became something to be dusted once a week and playing “house” in the hot summer sun with makeshift miniature plastic pots and pans in tent houses made with Mom’s saris was the end all and be all of life those days. Clichéd though it might sound, kids these days don’t know summer like we did. What with pressures of tuitions, art classes, dance classes and a multitude of other classes to make them masters in almost everything, they lose out on the real learning bit, which is through fun. And that’s where PROGRESS (PROgramme for Guidance and REmedial Support for Students) comes in with its summer camps for school children. One can make out the motivating spirit behind the summer camps, from its very motto “The best way to learn, is through lots of fun!”
Progress was founded by Mrs. Lipika Saharia who has a rich teaching experience of more than twenty-five years. After having served as the founder Principal and then as the Academic Advisor of an emerging school called Tezpur Gurukul, Mrs. Saharia wondered if she could do something to help students out with learning beyond what is taught in school. Hence came the idea of a summer camp, where children of ages six to sixteen could be given a thoroughly well-rounded training on almost everything starting from personality development to self and relationship management to the more common arts and crafts, singing and dancing among other things. What initially started as a one-woman project with fifteen children attending the first camp at Mrs. Saharia’s own drawing room, has now grown to become an organization with three other core team members and two other auxiliary members, almost all of them housewives, with 53 children from 7 different schools attending the last camp conducted from 5th July to 10th July 2010; the venue being the auditorium of Darrang College, Tezpur. This summer camp was the fifth summer camp to be conducted by Progress, with the first one being conducted in June 2008.
A typical day in the camp would begin with a prayer, to be followed by warming up exercises, and then to the great delight of the children (as well as to the great amusement of passers by) the huge hall would reverberate with the latest rage, Shakira’s “Waka Waka”, as the campers did their aerobic exercises to that song. They would then be divided into groups of seniors and juniors, as all the activities were designed keeping their age-group and hence their requirements in mind. Sessions for seniors were taken on time management and friendship, and they included interactive games, and role playing, with the emphasis always being on how much fun an activity could be made. The juniors were taught mask-making, clay modeling and poster making. Lunch would again be a lesson in discipline and responsibility as all the children were expected to maintain order and strictly follow the ground rules of the camp; that of not wasting food, and that of ensuring the place remains clean even after lunch. After lunch, the children would have either singing lessons or movie reviews. In the singing lessons, to keep up with the spirit of the young hearts, they were taught another popular song, K’Naan’s “Waving Flag”, while in the movie reviews, they were shown short animation movies, after which they were expected to give their views and opinions on the movies. The last activity before camp ended for the day would again be some sort of team games for all of the campers. Special mention has to be made of an innovative team building game called “Pass The Pencil” where a group has to complete a picture on a given topic by continuously passing the pencil to the next team member, maintaining total silence throughout the game. This game taught the children patience, an understanding of others feelings, and most of all team work. Looking at the pictures that came out of this game, no one would be able to make out that those were made by twelve different persons without any communication. The focus of the camp was on giving a different twist to what the children normally expect out of such games. Even the quiz that was held was based on interesting topics like lateral thinking and judgment calls.
The six day camp also included a day-long trip to an amusement park called Rockland, located in Samaguri, near Nagaon. A few parents were initially skeptical and hesitant about sending their children off without their presence, as for most of them it was to be a first time. However, it was a joy to watch even the younger children enjoy to the hilt without once complaining about anything, leave alone worrying about their parents back home. Although meant to be a fun trip, even the outing was a lesson in responsibility, and that is the very signature trait of Progress summer camp. That kids learn without even realizing that they are being taught something very vital.
The camp concluded with a humble closing ceremony, where in a few distinguished academicians of Tezpur were invited. The children showcased everything that they learned in the camp in front of the guests and parents who wished to witness the closing ceremony. The masks and posters that the children had made in the camp were put up for displays, while the children performed the songs they learned, danced the aerobic steps that they had been practicing for the last five days, and gave speeches on their experience in the camp. Parents later on admitted to being pleasantly surprised on seeing their normally shy child dance with equal enthusiasm and excitement as that of the other children. Indeed, a remarkable positive change was noticed in quite a few number of campers even during the camp days. Whether it be the six year old boy who was incapable of staying still and would run around all the time, much to the annoyance of the animators, or the fourteen year old girl who would sit at one place and not talk to anybody else, they all did get influenced by the camp in ways even their parents noticed.
Even though we never had camps like this in our days, I can understand the kind of impact it would have on the young minds. To spend almost a week in the company of other people they don’t know, and that too away from their comfort zones, and to learn to enjoy the time, is a skill that even many grown-ups take time to hone. Kudos to Progress for coming up with something like this in the small sleepy town of Tezpur. On being asked about the driving force behind the whole project, and the dreams and aspirations for the future, the founder Mrs. Lipika Saharia expressed her wish that more such organizations would come up with summer camps of this kind so that many more students could get benefitted. In addition to these camps, Progress also arranges for day-long personality development sessions in schools if approached by the school authorities. So far they have covered a few schools in Tezpur and the neighboring areas, although Mrs. Saharia wishes more schools would wake up to the knowledge that children need much more than rote learning of the textbooks for a complete education. We at Fried Eye salute this effort, and hope that the spirit of Progress is recognized by all academic institutions, and that Progress in itself progresses to be a larger and more widely spread organization in future.
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