The small hallway of the Wangsel Institute,Paro is quiet. The only noise is from footsteps of teachers climbing the wooden stairs. For people who love art, this is the perfect place.
Paper art, painting and paper crafts greet visitors to the institute. Hiroko Masuda, a Japanese volunteer is a teacher here. She teaches art to deaf children. Two young students greet her at the top of the stairs. They hand over their work. Masuda hugs them and signals them for a photograph.
“They love drawing,” says Masuda as she commends the students’ artwork- made as gifts for their parents when they break for winter vacation. If teaching art is difficult, teaching it to the hearing impaired children are more challenging. But Masuda is enjoying her work. “Most of the students are interested in art,” she says.
Masuda knows sign language, but the problem is that the Japanese sign language is different from the Bhutanese sign language, which Wangsel students are familiar with. “When communication is bad, students lose concentration,” she says. But the volunteer got a solution. She asks teachers to help her communicate in sign language.
Masuda’s colleague, Nidup, helps her communicate with the students and the two teachers conduct joint teaching sessions. Nidup says the sign language they use at the institute was developed by researchers at the institute with the help of a Thai linguist. The institute has an art club, but no dedicated art teacher except for an instructor for traditional painting. “Masuda had been very helpful. She is experienced and come with a lot of ideas to engage students,” she says. “Students look forward to her classes.”
The volunteer is proud of her students. They are becoming creative. She got an idea to draw the attention of those not interested. She makes art fun by engaging them in artwork that involves action. “The boys now love the paper football and Sumo wrestling,” she says with pride.
The works of the students are displayed on the notice board. They have paper Sumo wrestlers, characters from children’s storybook, magical doors, and pop-up card, to name a few. There is a sense of competition among the students, says Masuda.
The volunteer believes art improves the imagination of children and their creative skills. When asked to draw on their own, Masuda says most students drew villages, mountains, prayer flags and chortens. “This shows they miss their village,” she says. All students stay at the institute’s hostels.
Masuda who will return to Japan next year said she fell in love with Bhutan. “It is a very colourful country, well suited for the artist,” she says. “The traditional art on buildings, the lhakhangs and dzongs are very beautiful.”
On the importance of art, the volunteer says that it could come handy for hearing impaired children. “Other students could excel in subjects like science and maths, but for the hearing impaired, they need skills together with these subjects. Art is one.”