A large number of children participated in the field trip to Gwinnett Environmental & Heritage Center.
Balvihar Hindi School of VHPA – Atlanta Chapter conducted its fourth annual Startalk Hindi Camp from July 15 to 25 at Berkmar High School in Lilburn. The ten-day Hindi language camp was attended by 100 students, grades 6-12, who got a chance to improve their proficiency in the Hindi language through a variety of engaging activities. The objective of the Federal Govt.-funded STARTALK foreign language program is, literally, to get kids to “start talking” in the target language in 10 days. This goal was realized by immersing the students in an atmosphere that was totally and unmistakably Indian: the language, the food, the games, the music, and most of all, the rich traditions. Embedded in the language lessons was a wealth of knowledge about both ancient and modern India.
Poster saying “Do not pollute.”
The theme this year was “Know Bharat and its Science,” with special focus on eco-friendly traditions and festivals of India and Ayurvedic practices for a healthy mind and body. The camp was jointly inaugurated by a former Director General of Police (MP), Mahendra Shukla, and his wife Asha Shukla, recipient of a national award for best social worker, working for the education of tribal children in India. The camp took off with lessons on conversational Hindi, formal and informal greetings, and everyday topics such as weather. This was followed by festivals of India and their significance, environmental issues such as conserving natural resources, use of renewable energy, and ways to reduce land, air, water, and sound pollution. This is the second year that the camp successfully incorporated STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) in the theme, to help students learn a practical and relevant vocabulary.
Children doing morning Yoga.
A typical day at the camp started with Yoga, taught by certified instructor Anamika Dwivedi, who took the time to explain the significance of each asana she taught. After a healthy breakfast came project-based language lessons. Festivals of India were related to elements of nature, from Sankranti and Chhat festivals celebrating the Sun to Pola, Bihu, and Onam related to farming and harvest. Earth-friendly traditions were discussed: Bhoomi-poojan, usage of pattal and don (plates and bowls made of dried leaves), and natural bio fuels like cow dung. Ayurvedic concepts included healthy eating habits and medicinal plants. YouTube videos gave information on topics from solar energy in remote villages, to efforts to conserve rain water and increase ground water level, to Ayurvedic powder for good health. Later in the day, art and craft activities were related to the festivals, such as decorating paper bulls for Pola, making snake boats for Onam,dhol for Baisakhi, pepa (a musical instrument) for Bihu, and science projects such as making sun dials and solar cookers, testing soil samples for nutrients and pH. Students made paintings with plant-based colors from spinach and beetroot, and even got to bake cookies in the pizza box solar cooker they made!
Model Eco-friendly Home made of used and recycled material.
An activity that most kids really enjoyed was building the eco-friendly model home. Over the ten-day period the students designed and built their “dream” home with eco-friendly features like rain water harvesting, solar panels, windmills, and a garden with a composter! They got to decorate their homes with the artifacts they made, related to various festivals. The garden featured various plants and Ayurvedic herbs, complete with plant information. The model home project gave a creative outlet while reinforcing the importance of environmentally friendly products and practices that they learnt during the day.
Flying kites during sports time.
In the afternoon, popular Indian sports like kabbadi andkho-kho kept kids active, not to mention kite flying and Hindi film dance for those interested. The day ended with a recap activity where students got a chance to share what they had learned.
Ajay Loiwal, an entrepreneur and business owner in the solar panel industry.
A highlight was the field trip to Gwinnett Environmental and Heritage Center and Atlanta Botanical Gardens. The field trip very effectively complimented the theme of the camp. A new feature included this year was a presentation by Ajay Loiwal, an entrepreneur and business owner in the solar panel industry. He spoke about the merits of using renewable energy and the use of solar panels, followed by a Q&A session with the inquisitive kids.
Science fair Eco-friendly Home exhibition.
The camp ended with a science fair where kids got a chance to show off all their crafts, science projects, and the model homes that they built, in front of family and friends, and describe their projects in Hindi. The collection of about 25 model homes displayed at the end of the camp was an amazing sight! The finale was a cultural show put together solely by the kids, again showcasing their language skills. The objective of Startalk, to get students to speak, read, and write Hindi at a level higher than they started, was met to a large extent.
Mahendra Shukla, Asha Shukla, Kusum Khurana, Manju Tiwari.
Feedback was positive, with most students enthusiastic about returning next summer. The camp was evaluated by a team of professionals from Startalk and given a superior rating in planning and execution. Of course, an activity like this needs extensive ground work! The camp director, Mrs. Manju Tiwari and a team of dedicated teachers from Balvihar Hindi School of World Hindu Council of America (VHPA), spent the last few months planning each and every hour of the camp. During the camp, the teachers were assisted in class by a team of Teaching Assistants, most being Balvihar graduates, now in college. The TAs proved to be good role models for the aspiring Hindi language learners! Administration was overseen by Nihit Tiwari, a junior at GaTech, assisted by a team of student volunteers. And last but definitely not least, the kitchen was managed by Sneha Mehtaji, a VHPA member, assisted by a team of lady volunteers, who kept everyone well fed and well hydrated, four times a day, on time each day!!