Community centers of Isai Ragam make a difference for children in India

Loud chatter and laughter can be heard in a simple stone house near Auroville

It’s six o’clock Tuesday evening. Loud chatter and laughter can be heard in a simple stone house on the edge of a village near Auroville. Twenty girls, ages ten to sixteen, sit in a circle on the floor. They are together in one of the community centers of Isai Ragam at the people’s homes.

Children can go for music and dance lessons, computer lessons, homework assistance and English conversation lessons. Because there is little money, the locations are in people’s homes in an empty room or on an extra floor on the roof.

The community centers of Isai Ragam are the initiative of the Dutch Ivar Jenten and Brigitte Vink, who have been living in India for years and run various projects for village children. Ivar and Brigitte are affiliated with Auroville, an experimental international city in Tamil Nadu. About two thousand people from more than sixty different countries live and work together here since 1968.

Children dancing in their dance practice clothes (uniform) Kottakarai location Isai Ragam
Children dancing in their dance practice clothes (uniform) Kottakarai location Isai Ragam

The idea for Isai Ragam arose during corona but the children keep coming

Brigitte: ‘There was nothing for the children to do for two years, so it was extra important to offer something. And even now that the corona crisis is over, the children keep coming to the community centers of Isai Ragam.’ There are now seven locations. Some offer music lessons, others computer lessons and homework assistance, the next dance lessons. Because the foundation has little money, Ivar pays for almost everything himself, with his pension money.’

Brigitte: ‘To keep costs down, we asked villagers to make a room or space available as a community center. In a number of villages we built a floor on top of an existing house to create space.’ One of the knitters from Ivar’s first project donated a room for music lessons and in the home of the Indian Ruban, the ground floor has been converted into a homework institute. There are educational posters on the wall and low tables for the children.

Music is an important part of Isai Ragam’s projects, literally meaning ‘Melody of Music’ in Tamil

The children can choose from, among other things, guitar, melodica and (electric) piano. Brigitte: ‘We think it is important to introduce the children to music and instruments that they would otherwise not get to know. With our music lessons they can push their limits. Music is good for their development. For example, it has been proven that children who make music are more capable to study.

Thirteen-year-old Monica has been coming to Ruban’s community center for a year now. She sums up the sentiment of the children nicely. “I am very happy with the community center. I come every day! The English conversation class is my favorite. At school, the teacher explains everything very quickly. Often I can’t follow it well. Here they take their time, I can do everything at my own pace. I can practice out loud and ask questions. I learn more here than at school!’

For those who can understand Dutch, you can read the complete article on the Reporters Online website; independent journalism, written by Anne Bakker on March 19, 2023

‘Buurthuizen maken het verschil voor kinderen in India’ (‘Community centers make a difference for children in India’)

De artikelen van Anne Bakker verschenen eerder in tijdschriften en kranten waaronder Fabulous Mama, Viva, Margriet, Linda en NRC Next. Anne is cultureel antropoloog en eigenaar van Uitgeverij 11 

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Foto van Isai Ragam: muziekles bij Shanti