Time runs differently in India

By Valentin Sagvosdkin, August 2013

Germans and Indians built playgrounds together In the “Swing for Life” project and had surprising experiences.

© Nikolas Schaefer

Places in which children can race about, climb, laugh, balance, swing and simply be children are important no matter where they are in the world. The “Swing for Life” initiative concerned itself for a year with the question: what play spaces do children in northern India need and how can an idea become reality? Our ideas only began to assume a more concrete form in an inconspicuous Stuttgart attic. A pile of pictures on the walls, sketches, papers and pencils, wire, clay, polystyrene: the first ideas began to take shape. Alok Ulfat from India was present and explained the wishes and needs, but also the strengths of Nanhi Dunya, those Waldorf-inspired schools in northern India in which the project was to become reality. Our plan: ten former volunteers from the Friends of Waldorf Education were to design and organise the playground project in order then to realise it locally with the teachers, pupils and neighbours. The KuKuk Kultur Association supported the process with the necessary know-how and specialists. 

Do Indian children play differently?

Drawings were made, models were built, ideas proposed and discarded, the imagination ran wild. With unrealistic utopias out of the way, elements crystallised out for two play spaces – one in the country, one in the city, each at the biggest and best-known Nanhi Dunya school. That would reach street children, children mainly from poor families, with and without disabilities, deaf children, from kindergarten to class 9. Do children in India need a playground? Don’t they face more serious problems? Everyone involved kept asking themselves that question. No one was better placed to provide an answer than Bern­hard Hanel, founder of KuKuk Kultur. For more than ten years his association has built playgrounds all over the world. He sees free play as an existential basis, a prerequisite for life: “Children need the space for experience, their play space, in which they can convert their fundamental trust in the world. The more they have such experiences, the better they are able later to deal with the world in a healthy and responsible way.”

A lot – everything – had to be thought about: budget, project description, public relations – after all, money for such a project does not grow on trees.

“You can’t plan here. Things just happen!”

A year later the necessary money for the materials had been scraped together and we could start. Everyone paid for their own flight and was full of anticipation. For most people it was their first encounter with Indian culture.

In Nanhi Dunya preparations were in full swing – sleeping quarters, food, everything had to be well prepared. The Indian hosts could not have done more to look after their German guests. Yet cultures did collide: “Why do you want to buy the materials two days before building starts?” The project group had to learn what KuKuk Kultur has known for a long time: that time in India runs differently, and that it is possible to prepare everything just one day in advance.

“The Swing for Life project showed me that you simply have to do things, even if you think they are impossible,” the project participant Agnès Stadelmann recalled. And Nanhi Duyna learned that it is possible to build two playgrounds in just two weeks.

Two cultures – one reality

Before building started, however, the right framework had to be created: a fire was lit in accordance with Indian tradition, there were prayers and songs. Only once that had been done could building begin. No sooner had the site had been inspected than the first holes appeared, new paths, clay was mixed, bamboo and wood were cut. Some things were planned in advance, but many ideas arose on the spur of the moment. “The project showed me that the courage to undertake new things is positive, that things only fall into place when we are ready to act,” said Wendla Pahnke from the project group. Only a short time later the teachers and first children enthusiastically joined in, splashing about in the clay, forming a chain to remove stones, playing in the half-finished tree house. An old women was swinging back and forth with a smile while five children together pulled a wheelbarrow away. Suddenly young people from the village arrived and joined in – everyone learned: building a playground is a joint process, a joint creation. Sometimes we lost track of time, friendships were formed, we learned from one another, although frequently we could only communicate with hands, feet and sign language. It was a project in which a common reality was created across different cultures. Nishant, a committed Indian helper, put it in a nutshell: “Swing for Life was a splendid marriage of goodness, love, peace, art, culture and friendship.”

See also Erziehungskunst, February 2012 on Nanhi Dunya (German edition)

Links: www.swing-for-life.com | www.kukuk-kultur.de | http://nanhidunya.jimdo.com


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