SPACE held 3 day camp for children from from 6 May 2014 to 8 May 2014. 11 students attended the program. Girls outnumbered boys this time (7 girls)
For this years Software Freedom Day, I was having a rather unusual target. For the last few months, we (SPACE) were in discussion with Community Agrobiodiversity Centre of MSSRF to setup a free software based community computing centre at a tribal hamlet in Wayanad. It was decided that we would start the work after Onam. By chance it fell around this years Software Freedom Day hence we decided to make our celebration at Wayanad jointly with MSSRF. Myself and Nishi was entrusted with this mission.
Kolagappara is a small village around 25 km from Kalpatta, the nearest major town. A majority of inhabitants of the village were from Paniya community, one of the largest and backward communities in Kerala. We (Myself, Bineesh and Gopal) started from MSSRF on 19th Sept 2013 in the morning with two computers. I had installed these computers with free software(Debian squeeze) on the previous day. Question of how children will react to the computers was before us. Friends at MSSRF had told me that sometime they might run away fearing that we were there to teach them. They enjoy their freedom (‘from being taught’)! We din’t have any clear plans as we were not sure about how they would react. The mission before me was to befriend with local children in the coming 3 days , see how they would respond to the machines(Computers) and understand what they are more interested in.
On the way to the village we stopped, at a small wayside shop, for having tea and snacks. From there we contacted Bindu, one of the community facilitators who was assigned to support us for the initiative. She told us that only two children came. In the shop we met Mr Suresh, a local politician. He said, “They will come, the only thing is you should teach them interesting topics”. These words din’t give us much confidence. But we had no other choice but to try.
On the way to the place where we were going to set the computer, we stopped the car near a house. It was the first house in that tribal colony. Binesh and Gopal went inside to see whether some one was there. As expected there were none :)
We reached the place and saw that around 8 children had assembled there. Boys were busy playing football and girls were running around. They went on as if they didn’t notice us at all. I took out the computers from the car and started setting them up. Bineesh asked every one to gather in 10 minutes. In 10-15 minutes we started with Bineesh introducing me to children.
They were looking blank at me. As I talked, I switched into my Thalassery slang unknowingly. Soon I could see the glow in their eyes and they started responding. They wanted to know what was inside the computer. Together we opened the machine and I explained them about different parts.
What they liked most about the computer was inserting memory (RAM) into the slot. The ‘Tick’ sound that comes when you insert the memory fascinated them. This reminded me about my first experience with computer hardware. Finally we assembled the machine and started exploring Gnome desktop.
We had lunch together. I joined Bindu and Sujatha, two local facilitators to serve lunch to all children. After lunch we played football . Then we decided to try out some ‘Games’ in computer. I showed them various puzzles in free software and Chess. Teaching them how to play Chess was a good experience. It was time for us to leave and we decided to meet next day at the Agro Biodiversity Centre.
The next day, morning at 10 am when I reached the computer lab at Agro Biodiversity centre,every one was there. We decided to spend the day using camera and sound recorder. I gave them the equipments and showed them how to use it. Those equipments were totally new to them (some of them had used mobile phones).
Next day(21st) we were having a session on squishy circuit at the centre as part of another program. I thought it would be interesting if they can also join in. I asked them and they were interested. I could feel their sincerity when they said ‘We will try our best, teacher’. Later they said Squishy circuits were the most interesting program of all.
We had a cake to celebrate software freedom day together with other children at MSSRF.
We took lot to decide who will cut cake. The lot went to Gopi from Kolagappara village. The Cake had a terrible fate! Within seconds after the first piece was cut, fifty hands fell on it and the cake vanished from the face of earth.
Before leaving, they invited me to their ‘Chenda Arangettam’ – the first public performance in the coming month.
It is just a beginning. We are waiting to see how these children use and play with the computer in the coming days. We will be going again and working with them. The Software Freedom Day was truly special, trying to bring freedom in computing to a community that cherish their freedom. Though freedom in computing hardly mattered them today, still I am glad that I could get them start computing in free software.
Due to late night work, we could hardly wake up the next day. Still we managed to get up cursing the one who found the alarm clock. Early morning we started making a conductor and an insulator using Dough. All the kids thronged around us to see the process. They where really eager to know how a plain white dough can conduct electricity. As informed, the MSSRF training authorities arranged all the necessary requisites. The main difficult task was that we needed 18 tablespoons of lime juice. Though we had enough lemons there wasn’t a single knife to cut it. To our surprise the kids took initiative and squeezed 24 lemons within seconds with scissors.
All the kids were patiently waiting to know how this liquidly material would turn into a solid ball. Finally we started heating the dough. In sheer exasperation we realised that the pan was not induction based. Feeling disappointed we pleaded the maids in kitchen who were busy preparing food, to spare their stove for a few minutes.Eventually we came up with conducting and non conducting dough balls. The children tried out many shapes with the dough balls to light up LEDs and play buzzer. This was absolutely a novel experience for them. Through this simple Squishy Circuits they became familiar with the complex electronic concepts like short-circuiting, circuit completion, conduction and insulation.
They finished the cake within a split of seconds. Apart from that the children also demonstrated their four day works, before the invited guests. This was a wholesome and memorable experience for all of us.
With very much expectation, we entered the 3rd day of the program. Each of the kids out there had the eagerness of exploring computer knowledge & they were looking on it.We first introduced some popcorn works to them.
They were really excited to know how popcorn works. Before going for the 3rd popcorn example, we found some loading problem owing to weak internet connectivity. At first we were upset, thinking how to handle the situation. Then we managed to continue the class in the next building where internet connectivity was somewhat better. And we continued the demo.
With the datas collected from the previous day (visiting ecosystem: ponds and paddyfield), we started accompanying the kids in choosing the most suitable pictures and sounds for their story. Bringing consensus among the kids was really a tough task. It reminded us of our popcorn maker days. By the time we were done with sorting process, it was already evening. Since kids were planning to camp at MSSRF itself we continued overnight.
The kids were very active, even though hunger took command on them. This reminded us of our late night studies on our exam days.
The next day we illustrated Popcorn Webmaker, and they started working on it. By the middle of the day, they had documented all their experience of visiting the ecosystem- the paddyfield and pond using popcorn-mozilla webmaker tool.
On the second day, as per the schedule we were all set with our 2 DSLR cameras, 1 sony cybershot and the recorders for the field visit- a visit to Manga Vayal and Streams. We together with concern staffs of MSSRF began to move towards our destination with the 35 kids, along a narrow muddy untarred road.
It took nearly 10 min for us to reach the main road.
Some of the children who were familiar with the place led us to the destination- Manga Vayal, a beautiful paddy field of Wayanad.
The kids smoothly ran along the narrow slippery ridges of the field. But we really struggled hard to move ahead. Many times we got panic as our foot sank in the mud. We had a tough time in pulling our legs out and moving forward.
All these time we could see the children wandering there capturing images and recording sounds. Most of the pictures came out really well that it was too tough for us to believe that they were using the camera for the first time. The pure and clean water of the stream flowing along the sides of the stream, the lambs and the goat, village women carrying grass bundle over the head- all those became subject for the kids.
After spending half day there, we finally decided to go back to MSSRF. Finding the right way to get out of the field along the criss-cross ridges was not as easy as expected. Manty times we had to walk back as there were no way ahead
Eventually we could see the main road and we sighed in relief. Cleaning the legs was the next goal and we saw a crowd at the bank of a stream fighting to get the legs washed. So we chose a deserted stream next to it for our convinience. While we were on the busy with washing our legs somebody from the crowd shouted ,”Hey, move back from there, that stream is full of snakes”.Within seconds we took our place in the crowd.
When I was a kid I used to eagerly wait for sundays, mainly for two universally accepted reasons. One – a perfect bail from school. Second, a day taken for granted to get glued to our favourite cartoon shows like Tom and Jerry, Mickey and Minny, Donald duck etc. Even though decades have passed, cartoons continue to top the children’s list of favourites.
Relying on this unbeatable kid’s trend, “Clamation – Making an Animation clip on their own” was set as the mission of the first day. Accordingly we started the class with “Tom and Jerry”. As anticipated kids took the control of the show, that Tom and Jerry in every kid took life and we really had to strive hard to keep them calm.
There is a child in every one
Time for us to give them a demo of what they had been waiting for.
Using clays of various colours we created different phases of blooming of a flower and each of which was neatly captured by camera.
We fed these pictures as inputs to LUCEOL, our animation tool, and showed them the output – a short animation movie of blooming of flower. This made them thrilled. Something is always good about the kids, they express what they really feel – Let it be anger, happiness, or impatience.
The mission starts
We divided the children into five groups and asked them to come up with their ideas. Surprisingly, each team came up with brilliant concepts within a short span of time and began to make shapes and models of their story using the clay given to them.
Very Soon the old Barter system started to rule the entire scenario as the kids exchanged red clay for green, orange for blue and so on.
By the time we moved for lunch, most of the teams were all set for their much awaited animation movie.
After the program when we came back to collect the clays we saw kids throwing a multicoloured ball at each other. We took a minute to realise that it was what we had been searching for. Further to our exasperation they did not spare even a single box of the clay!
It was the day after Onam, me and my friend was standing in platform No. 1 of Trivandum Central Railway Station looking for “8, 9, 10” – the only information we had, to catch a train to Calicut.
This was our first journey without anyone to guide.We were on our way to conduct a 4 day training programme for the rural and tribal students of Wayanad in MS Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) as part of Webmakers Camp and Software Freedom Day.
After taking the ticket, we enquired at the counter ,”Where should we stand to boared the sleeper coach?”. The staff in the enquiry counter said, “Look at the board”. But we couldn’t make out anything from it and had to ask again. The annoyed staff replied through the loud speaker , “Go to 8, 9, 10”. To avoid further embarrassment we entered the platform in search of the meaning of “8, 9, 10”. We looked at the left and found “8, 9, 10”. With some relief we looked right, there comes another “8, 9, 10” .We made a random move to the left , unpacked our luggage and sat their with confusion. Finally we decided to ask another passenger the direction to Calicut and we realised that we were on the wrong side.In a hurry we headed to the right position.We learned how much information one need to process, for the singe act of finding and boarding a train in a busy railway station.Our experience exposed us to the challenges, faced by a first time traveller in a busy Indian Railway Station, considering the fuzziness in the information being communicated ( including the tickets, sinages, Display boards).
Since it was the middle of Onam season, we couldn’t get reservations. Finding a vacant seat in the fully crowded train was a real hassle. At last! An empty seat. We unloaded our bags and stretched our legs in relief.
But our freedom didn’t last long. Two people with reserved tickets arrived to claim their seats. Fortunately for us, they spared some seat and we sat their totally congested.
By the time we reached Kozhikode, it was raining cats and dogs. As we stepped out of the railway station, we saw a long queue waiting in the rain at the prepaid auto stand. So we decided to try our luck at the main road. After twenty minutes in the rain, trying not to get our expensive luggage wet, we realized there were no autos. So we trudged back to the queue at the auto stand, which was now twice as long. Finally, we reached the front of the queue. Just then, an old man and a teenage boy cut in front of us. We let the old man go, but decided to say a few words to the boy. “Can’t you see this is a queue? Why do you think all these people are standing here in the rain? Go to the back of the line!” We got an auto at last, and reached Kozhikode bus stand, from where we boarded a bus for Kalpetta. Nine hairpin bends and a lot of thick fog later, we were there. A car from MSSRF came to pick us up and take us to their guest house at their campus at Puthoorvayal, our final destination.