Did you know...

Shanti Bhavan means "haven of peace," and is located in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, southeast of Bangalore.

The school was founded in 1997 by Abraham George, an Indian-American professor, entrepreneur, philanthropist and author. It's a project of The George Foundation.

Shanti Bhavan's mission is to "adequately develop the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children of India’s 'lowest caste' by providing them world class education and instilling globally shared values to enable them to aspire to careers and professions of their choice."

A residential school, Shanti Bhavan serves about 210 students, free of charge.

Abraham George believes that “If one child is successful, he or she will carry a thousand more forward.”

Source: www.shantibhavanonline.org

Ambassador for the Arts

This summer, Albright College rising senior Alexis Jenofsky ’17 spent several weeks in India helping to introduce the arts to some of that country’s poorest children. The trip was an extension of work Jenofsky has undertaken locally for the last few years.

By Hilary Bentman

The students in Alexis Jenofsky’s costume design class didn’t have much to work with – just some scraps of paper and a bit of glue.

But what they lacked in supplies they made up for in imagination. And in short order, the students created costumed paper dolls with names and stories to match.

Jenofsky was overwhelmed by their creativity and ingenuity.

“These kids make anything seem possible,” says the rising Albright College senior of her students, who come from some of the poorest areas of India, many born into the country’s so-called lowest caste.

Each year, volunteers like Jenofsky travel to their school, Shanti Bhavan, to run art programs and an art camp. Through classes and performances, volunteers expose the kids to theatre, dance, music, improv, poetry, painting, fashion design and other forms of artistic expression.


Alexis Jenofsky '17 (center), with students at Shanti Bhavan

The camp is run by Artists Striving to End Poverty (ASTEP), a New York-based organization that seeks to connect artists with underserved children “to awaken their imaginations, foster critical thinking, and help them break the cycle of poverty.”

Jenofsky has been part of ASTEP for several years, and is the immediate past president of Albright’s chapter, the first in the region. Through ASTEP, she and her fellow Albright students help to spread resources, information and knowledge of the arts to Reading-area children who may not have an abundance of artistic outlets available to them.

A theatre/arts administration major, Jenofsky has experienced firsthand the transformative power of the arts in her own life, and in the lives of the Reading children she works with. Inspired by those experiences, she applied for ASTEP’s program in India.

“I knew ASTEP had opportunities in other countries and I talked about going after graduation. But I thought, ‘Why am I waiting?’”

Jenofsky spent three weeks volunteering at Shanti Bhavan this summer. The free, nonprofit residential school southeast of Bangalore works to help disdvantaged children break the intergenerational poverty that plagues their communities.

Children are selected at the age of four – 12 boys and 12 girls per year – to attend the pre-school through 12th grade institution. Students are financially supported throughout their time at Shanti Bhavan and during college, returning to their families only a few times a year.

“We in America take education for granted. These kids love being in school but they don’t have the opportunities,” says Jenofsky. “If they were not at the school, they would be married and working on farms.”


Through Albright's ASTEP chapter, Jenofsky works with Berks County children

Besides teaching a costume design class, Jenofsky also worked with students on the technical elements of the school’s four-day graduation celebration, acting as the assistant to the program facilitator. And she took part in a performance, dancing the difficult Bhangra, a traditional folk dance from India’s Punjab region.

While the Philadelphia native soaked up the culture and environment of India – her visit coincided with monsoon season – Jenofsky also brought a taste of home with her, teaching her students some of the famous Albright Peer Orientation Persons (POPs) warm-up activities. Jenofsky is part of the enthusiastic team of Albrightians who welcome new students to campus each year.

“During camp, the students stepped outside of their comfort zone to have fun, and to develop their confidence, critical thinking, creative problem solving, communication and collaboration skills,” she says. 

Though she spent only a few weeks at Shanti Bhavan, Jenofsky developed close bonds with the kids. And while she may have gone to India to teach art to them, they ended up teaching her some invaluable life lessons.

“You have to keep moving forward and appreciate what you have,” says Jenofsky. “What you’re given is more than enough.”

That lesson hits her most profoundly when she’s taking a shower. In America, Jenofsky has the luxury of modern bathing amenities. At Shanti Bhavan, she had only a bucket to wash with.

Jenofsky is eager to return to India. In the meantime, this ambassador for the arts continues to work locally with ASTEP. For more than a year, Albright’s ASTEP chapter has been partnering with Olivet Boys and Girls Club, providing workshops, camps and other educational outlets for Berks County children.

Despite mounting evidence of its role in student achievement, arts education continues to disappear from public schools, a victim of budgetary constraints. The partnership between ASTEP and Olivet is helping to ensure that access to the arts, and a positive environment in which to explore, create, learn and grow, are available to all children.

This summer, Albright ASTEP members are helping to run six Olivet arts camps around the region. For her part, Jenofsky is directing children in a production of “James and the Giant Peach.”

“The arts keep academics alive,” says Jenofsky. “The arts teach you to think differently and it makes you more open minded.”

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