Freedom in Brush Strokes

“We know that equality of individual ability has never existed and never will, but we do insist that equality of opportunity still must be sought.”
Franklin D. Roosevelt

That was the underlying message of the Art Competition for autistic and underprivileged children held on the 24th of March in remembrance of our Independence Day at the Mastermind school premises.

It was not the brightest of days, perhaps; a warm, slightly cloudy day with the occasional refreshing breeze. But the open courtyard, with the rare view of the blue-grey sky provided the perfect mood for one who was willing to paint. The busy organizers (Mastermind Community Service Club) rushed around, arranging tables and chairs and registering a mass of children. Many were dressed in school uniforms, some were in plain clothes. Though their uniforms were ragged, their excitement and enthusiasm was infectious.

They were split into three sections. “Ko” section consisted of Autistic children, who were asked to draw whatever they felt like drawing. “Kho” section consisted of underprivileged children studying in various NGO-run schools. It was for kids from Nursery to class III. They were drawing under the title “Amar chokhe Bangladesh”. “Gho” section was for the ones in Class IV and above. Their topic was “Shadhinota Andolon”.

And boy, these kids can draw! This poor, artistically challenged reporter walked through their ranks cowed by their imagination and talent. For example, a girl was painting an image of five suns. Two were yellow, one was green, one brown and one blue. Isaac Asimov wrote in Nightfall about a world with six suns. Who says autistic children are mentally challenged?! Aadit from SWAC drew a better tree than I ever would have managed. He is a student of class III and as he proudly declared, his classroom is on “tin tala”.

In fact, most of the children seemed so busy, it felt sacrilegious to stop their work and talk to them. Once some of them were finished, talking seemed like an option. Parvez, a student of class four, who had an uncanny similarity with Nolok Babu, said his favourite subjects were English and Bangla. He is a student of Pollobi Model School.

English was a common subject, as Sanjida Sony, a student of class II from Ekmatra, graciously said she liked it best as well. She was on her way to get her blood group tested. ‘Don’t get scared now,’ I winked, and she gave me a toothy grin.

That was about the time the clowns made an appearance. Students wearing pointy hats, clown noses and mantles came out and put on quite a show. “Some people are saying we are lame clowns,” one of them said in an undertone to the other. That’s not true. The kids loved you guys and in the end, that’s what matters: you made them smile.

Speaking of shows, we must not forget the mini concert that took place during the competition. Many of the children had absolutely no fear when it came to singing in front of a crowd. Cheered on by the mass of students, parents and their peers, they performed numbers such as Jodi tor dak shune keu na ashe and Krishno with great enthusiasm. I personally liked the cover of Dakatia Bashi. How many of us would have had that much guts?

After the Art competition, while the judges were…well, judging, the kids also got their faces painted by the students. The hip thing was to get one’s name painted along with the flag or butterflies or flowers and leaves. ‘Nice name,’ I said to Ridoy, a student of class II. He looked a little confused and then understood and smiled. He said he is enjoying himself. And it seemed everybody was. Cheeks and foreheads a-blaze with colours, sipping their cokes or eating their chocolates, they walked around talking, checking out the card sale, looking at the art exhibition by Mastermind students of class VI and VII and taking group pictures with their teachers. Occasionally a few of them jumped when a balloon popped nearby.

My hat’s off to the organizers for such a wonderful event. For a group students, you guys have done a great job. The participating organizations, AWF, Caring Glory, SEID, SWAC, Ekmatra, Afzalunnesa Foundation and Uttoron played a vital role in the event. The administration, specially, the principal, Syed Fakhruddin Ahmed, and the Vice-principal and ECA-in-charge, Nina Huq must also be mentioned, for encouraging their students to organize events such as these.

There was a prize giving ceremony at the end. But as I clapped with the rest as the names were announced and the gifts given, I felt the real prize were those smiles and the infectious joy that filled the air.

By: Kazim Ibn Sadique

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