Bright and early on a Sunday morning, eighteen students of Delhi Public School were bustling about their multipurpose hall, unpacking trunks, fishing out dismantled structures and carefully unrolling panels all over the floor. In a matter of hours, these students, from classes X and XI and XII, inspected, prepared and set up an entire exhibition and undergone peer guide training for the same.
When the young adults arrived that morning, they played a round of ‘zip zap boing’ as an icebreaker before they engaged in an exercise of ‘Walking in Space’ to realise in practice the utilisation of space – an essential concept that they would have to apply later in the day. There was a discussion on the life and social circumstances of Anne Frank – most of the students were already well versed in the story of Anne. They were then introduced to the idea of the travelling exhibition and their initial task for the day, which was to set up the exhibition in its entirety.
Post a brief demonstration of how to put together the dismantled structures they had recovered from the trunks, the students enthusiastically set out to assemble the frames on which to put up the panels. Then followed an intensive planning session wherein they decided how to set up the exhibition, considering the flow of the narrative, the route the prospective visitor would take, the available light sources, the available frame to panel ratio etc, which resulted in a diagrammatic representation of the floor plan of the exhibition on a whiteboard. Organising themselves into units, they then proceeded to set up the panels according to the plan exhibiting an excellent sense of problem solving, teamwork and collaboration.
After a break, it was time for the peer guide training workshop, where the students underwent training to act as guides to the exhibition that they had just set up. While discussing discrimination as part of the workshop, they raised issues of body shaming, differentiating individuals on the basis of skin colour, bullying, classism, discrimination faced by students with intellectual disabilities, gender disparity, communalism and discrimination faced by the LGBTQ community. The discussion addressed these issues as they unfold within classrooms, and within the homes of these young adults who shared personal stories of discrimination that they face and witness around them. They went on to share how they addressed these issues personally and how they think these issues can be addressed in a larger scale. They recognised the prevalence of discrimination around them, within their communities, refusing to other the act, and chose to at least attempt to address the source of the problem rather than merely holding others responsible. As the discussion incorporated genocide, the students heatedly discussed the issues of intolerance and violence, promoting the idea of a more tolerant society accepting of diversity within it, and why the story of Anne Frank was relevant in the present. When we reassembled after they had some time to acquaint themselves better with the exhibition, narratives of the past were linked to that of the present, questioning the repetition of acts of hate mongering and violence which are widespread in the present socio-political make up. Going back to the exhibition, they shared responsibility of the panels and the screening of the film between themselves, creating rotas as per their class schedules, and claiming certain panels as their own, exhibiting a strong sense of ownership towards the exhibition and the story of Anne. The day ended with a mock run through of how the peer guides would take their visitors around the presentation.
The exhibition was inaugurated on Monday, 26 June by Ms Leela Gour Broome, author and environment conservationist, who emphasised the relevance of the story of Anne Frank in the current political scenario and the need for tolerance and an acknowledgement of diversity in the country. The opening was attended by 140 teachers of Delhi Public School, students from both the secondary and primary sections of the school, along with their parents. The day of the inauguration, the students turned up with colourful chart papers to create a comments section for the exhibition and put up a ‘Hear it from the Peer Guides’ section. They made speech bubbles quoting Anne which they put up on the way to the exhibition and multiple signs pointing the way to the exhibition hall. Minutes before the opening, they were seen intently going through their panels, and history books, so as to be prepared for any question that they could possibly be asked. Over the course of the day the peer guides took their teachers, fellow students and guardians through the exhibit, conveying the story of Anne Frank and seamlessly discussing the harsh reality of hate crimes through time, interspersing the narrative with stories of the refugee crisis seen in the world at present, the events at Aleppo, the communalism and divides we are witnessing at present, in our country as well as the world. Channelling literature, they referred to the concept of purebloods and mudbloods found in the Harry Potter universe to explain the ideology of the NSDAP to a younger audience.
At the end of the day, school faculty were discussing the benefits of this alternative pedagogy and planning when to bring in their respective classes to the exhibition in order to use it as a learning aid. In an effort to bring the exhibition to a wider audience, Principal Chakrabarty suggested keeping the exhibition open for an additional week. The existing peer guides would each be responsible for training a batch of their peers to be guides, sharing the knowledge and skills they had acquired and practiced over the last few days. Tours in Hindi and Marathi were planned to be conducted over the course of the next few days to bring the exhibition to the non-teaching staff of the school and neighbourhood communities speaking languages other than English.
The travelling exhibition is currently up at the Delhi Public School, Pune.
‘Anne Frank—A History for Today’ is an international traveling exhibition consisting of thirty-three panels detailing Anne’s life, her diary and the Holocaust.
The peer guide training at Delhi Public School, Pune was held on 25 June 2017. The exhibition will stay at DPS Pune for two weeks.