When Indian photojournalist Bhaskar Krishnamurthy co-founded CLIC (Children Learning International Cultures) Abroad in 2009, one of his primary goals was to document India's traditional cultures through photography before they succumbed to the forces of modernization. What's followed from Krishnamurthy's original vision has been a unique cross-cultural learning experience for American high school students and local children in remote parts of eastern, northern and southern India.
CLIC gives Indian village children an opportunity to learn photography by partnering them with American mentors — high school students from University Lake School (ULS) in Hartland, Wisconsin. Each workshop unfolds over 10 days in which local children are taught basic photography techniques and then divided into small groups who are assigned a topic to photograph — usually some aspect of their daily lives like school, home and family, religion, or their village bazaar. Each day, Krishnamurthy, the American students and other CLIC representatives review the Indian students' images and offer constructive criticism and encouragment. The workshops culminate in a public ceremony and viewing of each student's best work.
Krishnamurthy recently shared with Asia Blog some of the takeaways his American and Indian students gained from the CLIC Abroad photography workshops, which have been held in villages in Assam, Odishsa, Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka.
In terms of breaking any "communication barriers," what were some of the biggest surprises that the American students discovered upon arriving in rural India?
Amar Sra, American student
We all felt on many occasions that with what little English the Indian students knew they felt they had no language barrier. Through smiles, touches and laughter we all felt the love and compassion from the children of the village. They took us under their wings and were eager to show us their homes, families and way of life. Throughout the time we spent with the children we never seemed to be aware of a language barrier and felt safe and at home.
Claire Denny, American student
No one treated us as outsiders or strangers — we were part of the village community. I felt like part of a family while in India.
Can you describe how the village students felt after learning how to take photos of themselves, their families and their villages?
Guddo Devi, Indian student
I had never seen a camera in my life. Through this, I saw a new world and a new surrounding. I would like to study well, get a good job and bring people to my village to share our surroundings. My family is thrilled that someone came such a long distance to see our life.
Bhutto Khan, Indian student
Anybody can till the field or look after the buffaloes. But I want to study and work hard and accomplish. Through this workshop, I learned that we should aim high and I have confidence in my dreams. I want to see the world and visit them some day in their country.
Can you share some examples of any bonds that were created between the American students and the village students after the CLIC workshops were completed?
One example is of a village student, Bhutto Khan, who made a phone call to two of his new American friends to make sure that they had reached home safely. This was a surprise to many since Khan lives 10,000 feet above sea level and has no easy access to a phone. Another example is of two Orissa village students, Swagatika Panigrahi and Monalisa Das, who traveled 30 minutes out of town just to send postcards describing the new impressions and bonds that have been created in meeting the American students and expressing an interest in one day coming to the U.S. to visit their families.
John Denny, American student
Life has a way of imprinting precious moments in your heart that will stay with you for life. Even though we were there a short time, that created a special bond with the children of the village. It was evident when we drove off on the bus and the children of the workshop ran after us, waving and smiling with such gratitude towards us. Little did they know we were the ones to be so grateful.