Daily Archives: June 2, 2017

No School, No Skateboarding- Meet The #LittleHumans Of Janwaar Castle

What distinguishes this tiny village of Janwaar in Madhya Pradesh from other remote villages dotting the country? There are the ever prevalent issues – poverty & scarcity, patriarchy & gender disparity, barren lands & derelict homes, casteism & discrimination; what tells it apart is a SKATEPARK.

Founded by Ulrike Reinhard, an impassioned non-conformist, whose ability to co-create innovative ideas that drive long-term change in faraway lands, brought her to Bundelkhand. Using her innate skill to network, she brought to life, Janwaar Castle, the first skatepark in rural India, with help from 12 skateboarders from 7 nations and local enthusiasts.

Instantly, children drew to the skatepark. It allowed creative expression, play and exploration, exposure and ambition, and most importantly, an identity, unknown to the children of Janwaar. With the ‘No school, no skateboarding!’ rule, it meant that the children needed to attend school more regularly in order to be able to take part in their favourite activity. This resulted in huge increases of attendance percentages within months, crucial in a country where illiteracy and dropouts are a major hindrance to the growth of the society.

Today, Janwaar Castle stands for much more than a skatepark for children. It equals a castle of dreams where there are no untouchables and no hierarchy – the young teach the old; the girls teach the boys; the Adivasis teach the Yadavs.

Many people, find their way to Janwaar Castle, intrigued by its innovativeness and newness, its energetic and passionate children, its earnestness and trueness to uplifting the lives of its villagers …. And we did too, only to get to know the children of Janwaar better!

This week we meet the barefoot skateboarders: Ajay, Dipen, Jayanti, Ramesh, Sepi and Suman… the #littlehumans who are integral to the skatepark today and will build the future of Janwaar tomorrow!

#LittleHumans Of Janwaar Castle- Little Dipen

 

Usually Dipen stands alone somewhere. He hardly speaks, he almost seems autistic, living in his own little world and looking once in a while to the outside. To me, when I look at his face, I feel that I see so many questions which do not come out. He started to come to the skatepark after the monsoons last year. Silently he was finding his way around and he certainly developed his very one style. What was in the beginning a staccato kind of movement quickly turned into a smooth ride. It looked like he had fun – once in a while I even discovered a smile. He started to give me high-five when I arrived at the skatepark and whenever he couldn’t get a skateboard he would come and ask me for a board. “Ulrika, board!

Dipen loves skateboarding so much that he even started to go to school more regularly. He became just another “victim” of our simple “No school, no skateboarding!” rule.

Our first skateboarding challenge in November last year brought forth a new Dipen – the youngest experienced skateboarder (7 years old) at the event. He was literally riding on a huge wave of enthusiasm and he was deeply enjoying it. One could see it in his entire expressions and in the way he was moving around. At the skatepark, especially during the finals in grinding, the 300 people cheered him on like no one else. When he succeeded with a perfect grind the spectators would jump off their chairs and a huge round of applause and endless encouraging “Yeah! Wow! Boah!” shouts were all reserved for him. He didn’t know what was happening – he only enjoyed.

During the event I was sitting with the Member of Parliament (MP) of our constituency at the rear side of our Bamboo House when suddenly Dipen showed up, trying to climb up the terrace surrounding the house. He was so full of energy and it felt that he has come up for a very specific purpose. I stood up, he gave me his skateboard and I reached out with my hand and pulled him up. Dipen smiled, gave me a high-five, offered a high-five to our MP who was at first hesitant, slightly surprised and then joined in with a smile. Dipen said some words in Bundeli, his local language, to him and off he went. Unfortunately the MP hasn’t understood what he was saying. For me this was the first time ever I’ve seen Dipen approaching someone on his own and talking to him. And he did it with joy. And he was so confident and proud. Happy.

When he was gone the MP looked at me, I looked at the MP and somehow – without saying anything – we felt this was something big for little Dipen.


#LittleHumans Of Janwaar Castle – From Chewing Tobacco To Writing Diaries

 

In Hindi we have a saying, “Khali dimag shaitan ka ghar hota hai” meaning that a brain that has no work, is a demon’s abode. This – at least I believe – holds true for Ajay. Ajay is a thirteen-year-old Yadav boy in Janwaar. He is pretty good at school, although he doesn’t show up regularly. He is one of our best skateboarders. He is good in other sports, too. And he has a lot of time. What to do? Having no choices and options inside the village it’s very tempting for him to explore what he doesn’t know. And this he very often does with the wrong people, mostly a few years older than him. It’s then when he gambles, chews tobacco, fights, teases and what not. He’s always wearing a slightly naughty smile. And he is certainly always ready to jump!

In one line – it would be a pity to see him fall to the wrong side. So we try as much as we can and include him in our activities, especially those off the skatepark. Lucky us he loves to travel – so we take him along with others as often as we can. But this is sometimes quite a challenge. During our last train journey, he was teasing Saraswati so much that she started crying. And it seemed the more she was crying the more he was teasing her. After a few discussions, Ajay decided not to talk to Saraswati at all – but even this didn’t last long. It was a tough ride. 

Just recently we gave him another chance. He is currently with six other children on a 2-week journey from Janwaar via Varanasi to Assam. And … surprisingly enough, Ajay is not teasing anyone more than usual. Instead, he is involving everyone in having much more fun. Since he is not shy to speak up and doesn’t care if he is making fool of himself, others follow his lead. The result: all of them are having fun to the fullest. 

Ajay learns from everyone he meets. Here in Assam at Parijat Academy, he has shown a completely new side of his. He is funny, sharing and caring. He is talking with everyone, let it be a 10-year old going to school, a 20-year-old pursuing Bachelors in Commerce, or the elders at Parijat Academy. He is learning from everyone and teaching his skills to everyone else.

Being inspired from the new learning environment at Parijat Academy Ajay has now started to write. Unexpectedly he came to me and showed me a page he had written about Janwaar. I gave him a notebook. He said he would write more of his stories and experiences. Below is an excerpt of what he has written. Rest, he said, he’ll show only when he has written a lot more. Fair enough. And honestly I can’t wait to read more …

Here’s the translation of the first page:

“A madam came from Germany and built a skatepark in our village. But no one came to skate initially. Then Roshan uncle (remark: a villager in Janwaar) told us not to worry, nothing will happen. One day Ulrike asked if the kids wanted to visit Khajuraho and the kids said yes. The next day we went to Khajuraho. We traveled to Khajuraho, ate in a restaurant and stayed at Mamaji’s place. We also saw an airplane for the very first time. Then we came back to Janwaar. My parents asked me if there was any trouble and I said no trouble at all.

Next, when I went to the skatepark, a summer camp was going on. I went there and practiced dance, skateboarding, and singing. I chose to go to the dance classes. The Sir asked my name and I told him that my name is Ajay Singh Yadav. And then I started dancing. I started studying. I started to skate.”