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Take a bow, young lady!

By Abhishek Mande Bhot/
Last updated on: November 18, 2014 00:09 IST
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In the coming months, Vanita Kariappa, 20, may well have shut down Rangmanch, the NGO she co-founded and take up a teaching position to support herself and her mother.

She is really hoping she doesn't have to do that. Because even as she is empowering children from low-income communities in Mumbai, they are enriching her life too.

This is her story:

Vanita Kariappa is learning to be patient.

Her class was to have started a little over 40 minutes ago but the kids are yet to settle down.

In fact all of them -- Vanita included -- are just about done clearing up the mess that someone left behind.

For the 'class' is a stage located at the entrance of a chawl and a slum in south Mumbai.

It serves as a platform for a theatre or a dance or music performance.

There is a huge cricket scoreboard resting against one of the walls, a table tennis table on one side and assorted objects of all shapes and sizes lining the three walls.

Vanita visits this community space twice every week -- on Saturday and Sunday -- to teach the kids from the surrounding chawls and slums about theatre and the performing arts under the aegis of Rangmanch, an NGO she has co-founded.

The classes start at 4 pm and last two hours.

Today there has been a 40-minute delay because someone who used this space before didn't bother cleaning up.

Things like this, Vanita says, have taught her to be patient.

"If I plan something, I like to see it accomplished," she says. "But when it comes to dealing with kids, plans always go haywire!"

But Vanita, 20, cannot imagine herself doing anything other than working with children.

She would rather spend her weekends organising classes for kids and then attend a meeting to discuss her learnings with the other co-founders rather than go partying like most kids her age would.

Vanita Kariappa is the co-founder of the NGO, Rangmanch

20-year-old Vanita Kariappa runs Rangmanch, an NGO that uses performing arts as a method of building skills and values in children from low-income communities in the six to 16 year age group. Photograph courtesy: Rangmanch

Vanita had her first tryst with teaching when she was 17.

"I have been part of various NGOs. While I was working with Akanksha Foundation I was assigned to take a class in mathematics for kids from the seventh grade.

"I remember being apprehensive as I walked into the class because I was only a few years older than them.

"I ended up teaching them for over a year and a half. And the bonds remain strong. Several of the kids are still in touch."

"I suppose it went beyond mathematics," she says, adding that it motivated her. "Not motivated," she corrects herself, "I think there was a connection there."

She goes on: "I don't get along with adults or other people my age as much as I get along with kids. So I guess that is one of the reasons for doing this."

Vanita Kariappa is the co-founder of the NGO, Rangmanch

Work in progress: A Rangmanch workshop in session. Photograph courtesy: Rangmanch

Vanita was working with another NGO, Down to Earth that works with underprivileged children in Mumbai, when the idea of Rangmanch first struck her

She and a few others had trained the kids and put up two shows for the organisation.

"We suggested we could incorporate performing arts as part of the NGO's curriculum.

"At the time we weren't thinking of larger causes such as performing arts enabling them to learn life skills etc. We were just hoping to do it so the kids could have some fun."

Down to Earth was already running several programmes and suggested that she work with kids outside their NGO.

Apart from her, Rangmanch is run by Ram Dhangar and Parvati Singh, who also serve as finance assistants at Teach for India, and Abhishek Shinde, an employee at the Swiss consulate in Mumbai.

On the first day, 73 kids turned up.

"The initial idea was to just make it a fun activity that would take their minds off their day's routine. But we soon learnt that they lacked basic life skills," recalls Vanita.

The children had difficulty communicating and lacked confidence.

The performing arts, she says, helps develop life skills.

"Kids learn to express themselves; they learn to speak out in an open forum; they gain the confidence to make themselves heard amongst unfamiliar people. These are crucial skills in today's world."

The year-long curriculum tackles four criteria: self awareness, social competency, citizenship and problem solving.

Exercises teach kids in the 6 to 16 age group how to interact with their peers, about the environment, history and current affairs and decision-making.

The year-long programme is funded by UnLtd India, an incubator for social entrepreneurs in India that has granted Rangmanch Rs 1.25 lakh.

It was a learning process for Vanita and her team too. The detailed one-year plan they had drawn up went out of the window on the very first day.

"You never know what comes your way," she says. "You just have to learn and innovate and be adaptable."

She also learnt other skills -- like accounting.

"When you're applying for a fellowship you have to give detailed budgets, submit accounts, make presentations etc.

"I am not a student of commerce and accounts so I had to learn some of these things on the job."

Vanita Kariappa is the co-founder of the NGO, Rangmanch

Not just kids: Rangmanch also takes under its wings young adults; some are as old as 16. Photograph courtesy: Rangmanch

Vanita stays with her mother, a housewife; her father passed away a little over a year ago.

What she does currently doesn't make her money. When she needs something for the kids, her mother often helps out.

But the 20-year-old is aware that she will soon have to start making money. Their savings can only take her mother and her that far.

"I really love to teach," she says. "So if I cannot run Rangmanch, I will have to get a B Ed (Bachelor of Education) to do that."

She is hoping that an Echoing Green fellowship programme agrees to fund Rangmanch. But she is also bracing herself to complete the course she started and close down the NGO.

She will then take up the fellowship from Teach for India, which will provide a stipend to keep her afloat and help her pursue a post-graduate degree.

Her mother has been very supportive, Vanita says. But she didn't know much about Rangmanch until it was featured in a local newspaper.

"She was surprised and she asked me, 'What have you been up to!?'" Vanita laughs.

As we walk back to the shuttered stage, a small crowd has gathered around the communal water tap that has begun running at its stipulated time.

Metal pots clank, women squat, rubber pipes are out and there is a sense of urgency to stock up the day's supply before the routine starts all over again the next morning.

We go past the tap and open the door to the stage and see that more kids have gathered since the time we stepped out.

They are all sitting in a circle, laughing, squealing in delight at something someone said.

It is the sweetest sound on earth.

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Abhishek Mande Bhot/