In a small village in rural Odisha, far from modern civilization, the sound of children’s laughter echoes through the halls of a village school as they dance in delight to the news of Project Udaan. A young boy skillfully copies Shahrukh Khan’s dance moves from Chennai Express while a little girl proudly shows off her drawing of the sun rising over her village. The man behind these brightly lit faces is Siddharth Vashisht, a 24 year old Production Engineering graduate from NIT Trichy with a passion for social work and performing arts.
After graduating from NIT Trichy, Siddharth landed a well paying job at Tata Motors. While the life was comfortable, it was not fulfilling his urge to explore, discover and experience working with rural communities. This led him to quit his job and join hands with an NGO to experience working in a remote corner of India with a largely tribal population. Siddharth found his calling in Kalahandi, one of the poorest districts in Odisha. The Thuamulrampur block of Kalahandi district presents an antithetical combination of surplus natural resources and epidemic poverty with majority of people living below the poverty line. This is a region of India that is completely devoid of all basic facilities we have come to expect in the 21st century.
While working on a mushroom cultivation project with the tribal population, Siddharth visited Shiksha Niketan, a school in Thuamulrampur run by the NGO he works with. In this tiny village school with 90% tribal students, he witnessed enthralling performances by the children on their cultural night. He was nothing short of stunned by the raw talent these children displayed even though they were not at all exposed to developed world. The Kalahandi region of Odisha has a rich history and tradition of dance, art and handicrafts and while these children showed immense potential, they had no way to taking their talents to greater heights.
Located in the midst of dense jungle, Thuamulrampur is completely cut off from the rest of the country and lacks even basic infrastructure like roads, electricity and mobile connectivity. “There is no mobile phone network and we once had only a couple of hours of electricity for 45 days.”, Siddharth tells us. To have a word with our team, he had to travel 13 km to access a mobile phone network. Internet is another 70 km away. In this secluded corner of the world, a young generation is brimming with creativity but lacking in opportunity.
Armed with just his Moto-G phone and JBL micro speakers, Siddharth set out on a mission to give flight to these children’s dreams. Being passionate about dance and music, he began training these children to the best of his ability. He regularly makes the long commute of 70 km to the nearest town to download songs and music videos using which he teaches the children and helps them practice. It wasn’t just dance that they excelled at but even art and handicrafts. Siddharth believes that in order to nurture these talents and empower the children to reach the next level, a proper infrastructure is required. This would help them to finally break the shackles of poverty and explore the world. Thus, Project Udaan was born.
“My vision is to build and create a performing art space with basic infrastructure for these highly talented but economically disadvantaged tribal children. The space will not only help these children to hone and train on these skills but also give them other critical life skills such as confidence, self-esteem etc. I believe such a space has the power to shape the future of these children.”, Siddharth says enthusiastically.
Project Udaan is focused on setting up a fully functional cultural center at the Shiksha Niketan school in Thuamulrampur. The objective is to help these children realise that they can actually achieve their dreams and eventually turn their talents into careers. Helping these children think beyond the traditional education system is another important aspect of the project. Every child holds unique potential and Project Udaan aims to give flight to little dreams and turn them into reality.
The first steps to establishing such a cultural center are setting up a performing arts studio and arranging for basic equipment. This includes an audio system, projector, screen, mirrors, etc. The project has already received a lot of musical instruments in the form of donations. Once the facilities are in place, Siddharth aims to have distinguished artists, dancers and theater personalities and musicians train the students either in residence or through regular workshops. “The children are fascinated by DJs and I would love to arrange for a DJ workshop in the future, if possible.”, Siddharth says. “It’s fascinating how much I have learned by interacting with the children over the past few months”, he adds.
Project Udaan is transitioning from a vision into reality through the power of the community. By crowdfunding, ordinary citizens have stepped up to help make this project come true in any way they can, whether it is by contributing instruments, donating to the cause or volunteering to conduct workshops. The walls of the school are soon going to be covered in wonderful murals by international artists.
Paintcollar has always believed that art is one of the most fundamental forms of expression and is a powerful tool to bring awareness to important social issues and stories. That’s why when we heard about Project Udaan, we were eager to help!
After exhaustive research, Paintcollar’s creative head McMutton created exclusive artworks for Project Udaan that reflect the essence of Odisha’s tribal art and culture. True to Paintcollar’s motto of Connecting Art With Lifestyle, we would like to invite you to support project Udaan while owning these artworks on products that fit seamlessly into your life. All proceeds go towards building the cultural center in Thuamulrampur and giving the children a chance to spread their wings and soar. The entire Project Udaan collection including T-shirts, prints and laptop skins, is available on Paintcollar at paintcollar.com/projectudaan