Every project comes with its challenges, and the project that I am currently working on is no different. Along with these challenges, there have been some big wins and many instances that have strongly impacted me.

The Tamil Nadu Musical Theatre project has one of the largest groups of beneficiaries and teacher counts that NalandaWay Foundation has worked with. Through this project, we are working to improve the well-being of students in Government Higher Secondary Schools across Tamil Nadu. As a part of this project, the NalandaWay team trained teachers across Tamil Nadu to use musical theatre to inculcate life skills in adolescents.

In a modified version of this project, the NalandaWay team is implementing this in four Higher Secondary Schools run by the Greater Chennai Corporation. In these four schools, we work with the children directly instead of training the teachers. Working on this has given me a deeper understanding of the project and has also impacted how I interact with students. 

The students were restless and non-cooperative at the beginning which resulted in lessons being conducted with no results in return. To turn this around, we decided to get to know the students and their interests better and to use those interests to make them more involved and cooperative during the musical theatre sessions.

While talking with them, I learnt that they were very interested in football and that they were practising the sport regularly in school. So we decided to conduct a football tournament for the students. Upon hearing this, the students got so happy and participated enthusiastically during our musical theatre sessions.

One of the sessions was on substance use and addiction and the students had to create a storyboard on the topic. This activity led to a lot of them opening up about their personal lives. They spoke about how it made them feel and some of them even broke into tears as they shared their experiences with me and their classmates. 

I was surprised by one student’s interpretation of drug addiction that he expressed through a drawing. Here’s the explanation that he gave – “The man in the drawing is chained to the liquor bottle which he has locked by himself. The keys to the lock are in his shirt pocket. If he decides to, he can take the key and free himself from the bottle. But because he feels like a slave to alcohol, it ends up pushing him to addiction!”. I was in awe of his creativity and level of understanding.

In another session, a student told his classmates how he feels about getting beaten up and bad-mouthed by them. When he finished speaking, they all formed a circle around him and apologised to him one by one. He broke into tears and they hugged him. 

When I spoke about these incidents with the headmistress of one of the schools, she was surprised. This was very new to her. The school staff have made some efforts to get the students to talk about their problems but they were not able to get them to open up. It felt good, knowing that they were comfortable enough to open up to us. I was also happy that our project not only taught them life skills but also led to many interesting conversations and realisations for them.

Written by Milton Samsunder. At NalandaWay Foundation, Milton manages projects related to Adolescent Well-being in Tamil Nadu. He is a man of many talents and interests; some of them include stand-up comedy, theatre, counselling and crowdfunding.