My first experience with Aagaaz was at Khuli Khirkee, a studio where I attended a session with the Facilitators Collective, or Fac-Col. Fac-Col, I had heard, was a space for theatre practitioners, artists, musicians, educators, and anyone who practises as a facilitator, to come together and play with different art forms and mediums through a collaborative process. When I attended my first Fac-Col session, I was going through a phase of burnout, and since I wasn’t a professional creative, was unsure what to expect from the space. However, despite being full of reasons why Fac-Col wouldn’t be right for me, I walked into the space with a sense of curiosity because I longed for a feeling of connection and community.
This was back in November 2022, and since then I have participated in many more Fac-Col sessions, and my experience has been overwhelmingly positive. What I discovered, session after session every week, was that there is a different way to approach work and creative practice. All the group members would take turns facilitating sessions, guided by Subhadra and Alia who would hold the space together. While every session dealt with different themes and art forms, what remained constant is that the space is one where :
- Not knowing is valued and reframed as a starting point for exploration;
- Arts-based exercises are not seen through a rigid lens of mastery being the only goal;
- The themes we play with are connected to the lived realities of the members of the group, and don’t require us to put aside our social and political identities and experiences and pretend to be objective clean slates; and
- Honesty, solidarity, listening, acceptance, and building things through playfulness are intentionally at the core of the collective’s experiences.
On the first day I went for a Fac-Col session I remember participating in different theatre games. While a part of me was surprised by the kindness of everyone I met, another part felt uncomfortable with activities that involved expressing ourselves through our bodies. The interesting thing for me is that 6 months later, what makes me want to return every week for a session is the opportunity to connect with the warm energy of the space and its people. While I still feel uncomfortable and hesitant with theatre-based activities, I feel understood and at ease because those who keep the space of Fac-Col alive encourage me to show up with my discomfort, and allow the process of opening up emotionally or physically to be as slow as I need it to be.
The second part of my journey with Aagaaz started in April when my experiences with Fac-Col in the previous months encouraged me to explore the work Aagaaz does with children. I started showing up twice a week for the sessions with children under the Tana Bana program. The intention with which I started was to observe sessions and understand the approach to working with children (from a distance). But in the three months since then, I have felt a massive shift in what I previously believed work needed to look like, and I have been deeply moved by witnessing educators engage with children with unconditional softness and care.
A part of why Aagaaz’s work with children affected me so much is that in my last 6 years as an arts-based facilitator, while my journey led me to find the work I love — using music as a medium to participate in social justice — I simultaneously put aside learnings from my personal experiences and beliefs in an attempt to fit the mould of a ‘professional’. As a neurodivergent person, it became harder over the years to mask the impairments that led to struggles with functioning in life and work, while expressing my needs felt like a threat to my security in the workplace. I was convinced that putting aside my values when under pressure was the only way to survive and ‘fit in’ in the world. It took me a few years to understand that wanting to succeed at work in neurotypical ways is massively detrimental to my mental health.
The contradiction of wanting to work towards greater equity and sensitivity in the world while actively being part of systems that were harmful to me and others around me created a feeling of suffocation that led to disconnection and eventually burnout. Since then, the process of getting to know myself again, acknowledging my mistakes, owning both the challenges and strengths of the way my brain works, and healing from the shame of being different have all been things that I thought I needed to do in isolation before I am ready to work. I was also convinced that I must be ‘fixed’ enough before I open up to a new space again. That is when Aagaaz became a part of my life and completely altered my perspective.
I have now realised that it is impossible to authentically connect with children from a space of love and understanding if we don’t extend the ease that comes with that to ourselves and others around us. This doesn’t mean we need to have a perfect relationship with ourselves, but that we trust ourselves and others to show up as we are in our wholeness. Aagaaz works consistently through diverse programs, such as the community library, early childhood sessions, and arts-based sessions with children and adolescents. What I have noticed while observing these sessions is that each facilitator has a deep personal connection with the experience they are attempting to create for children through their sessions.
While facilitators are slowly and steadily working on building skills and concepts that contribute to a child’s overall development, it has been transformative to see that the children are equal participants in their learning journey. The themes that are the focus of their sessions, such as understanding our emotions, questioning what freedom means to us, building relationships with each other, reimagining a more just world, etc., are all interconnected with the children’s current age and phase. The learning that takes place at the centre is not between the educator and the child, but between a child and the world around them, making room for children to bring different parts of their lives into the centre.
This is what makes the work of Aagaaz sensitive, dynamic, and responsive to the needs of the space it belongs to. In a more practical way, I have seen the way in which the well-being of those who are working with children is as important as the work with children itself. Whether it be through normalising difficult conversations with empathy, setting boundaries that encourage self-care, or valuing accountability while allowing people to show up in imperfect ways, it has been a tremendous experience to see a work culture that allows adults to embody the humanity of a world that they are continuously reimagining for (and with) children. Just being around this community teaches me every day that personal healing is a lifelong process and that it is okay to allow vulnerability in our professional lives. And finally, working with children in child-centric, creative, joyful, and sustainable ways requires an ongoing exploration of ourselves, and a tenderness towards ourselves and others.
Ritika is a music and arts-based facilitator with a passion for working with children and adolescents. She began her journey as a comprehensive sexuality educator for adolescent girls, before transitioning into the role of a music-based facilitator for a non-profit engaged with government primary schools. Since then she has worked on building her understanding of early childhood care and education to enhance her practice with young children.
She is currently focused on surrendering to the imperfect process of engaging with children in more sensitive, mindful, and equitable ways. She firmly believes that learning (when made responsive to the needs in a given context) can be joyful and empowering, and actively seeks ways to foster nourishing and inclusive spaces for children. With a strong belief in the potential of music, she aspires to use it as a medium to participate in intersectional social justice and create greater belongingness and ease in the world.
She is also passionate about the politics of fatness and wants to explore the ways in which people in marginalised bodies can create avenues for their own healing and liberation. In her free time, she loves to play with her dogs, listen to old Hindi music, and go sightseeing in Delhi, despite the weather.