Continuing last year’s trend, Diwali celebrations at The Owl House this year were based on themes of Creative Expression and Connection through Community Engagement, as artists and small business owners from all across Goa came together to display their handiwork alongside handcrafted goodies made by our students. During the week before the Diwali Mela the centre was abuzz with activities, our owlets hard at work, being creative, and planning and executing the event centered around practicing and displaying skills they learn on a day-to-day basis. Our sessions were focussed on having our students showcase the training they receive in different vocations, be it culinary skills or art and handicrafts.
For us at The Owl House our focus for the Mela was training our students in various skills that go into organizing and hosting an event. We spent a week in production making gift wrapping paper using block prints and stamps, sanding and painting artefacts made in our pottery sessions, mise en place-ing away in the kitchen. The morning of the mela was spent in cleaning our space and setting up stalls, and each of our students was given responsibilities of their own. At the Mela each student was assigned one stall to attend to where they could practice various buying and selling, packaging and customer interaction skills.
Of course we had Srutesh man the stall that sold quintessential Owl House products like handcrafted lanterns and lights to light up homes, handmade decorative wrapping paper, and functional clay creations like stationery stands and coasters, and true to his nature as a skilled manager and salesman, he sold out of most of what was there. And it was not by coincidence that this was right next Shane’s stall, who was there to exhibit his prints of the season, digitized and transformed in various products like cushion covers and canvas art - Abstract art at its best, with his dear friend Srutesh, by his side. Those of you who know Shane would be well aware of how naughty he can be. This time around he gave his mother quite a scare when she discovered his cash collection box to be empty. While everyone was scurrying around and wondering what happened, Shane sat calmly on his chair, a mischievous smile on his face, slowing drawing the notes from his pocket, rightfully staking claim to his earnings.
Another definite crowd puller was our food stall which was serving up scrumptious poie pockets - homemade hummus and pickled vegetables for vegetarians and vegans, with a chicken and homemade mayonnaise option as well. Delicious freshly baked cookies made with love flew out of jars and into the mouths of our friends and guests, with many requests being made for take away orders. The stall with many jars of fresh squeezed lemonade was like an oasis in the dreary desert. Our students outdid themselves with all the prep and baking that was required to pull this off. Special mention to Eusebio who stood at the kitchen counter and shredded a kilo of chicken by hand. A perfect example of a classic foodie, his love for food is second to none, always ready with a recipe suggestion for culinary class. Eusebio was paired up with Ruchi to help with her chaat stall, and we’ve been told that he was a wonderful assistant to her, serving guests yummy chaat while being his happy, chatty self.
Another star of the evening was our very own tech geek Luke at the Karaoke station, melting the weather blues with his choice of songs, belting away popular numbers like What’s up, Country Roads, Black Velvet, and 1000 years into the microphone. Those stationed at the stalls around him couldn’t stay put, and joined him in duet every so often, reluctantly giving up possession of the mic for our (very talented) guests.
Finally our Keynote Film was playing on loop in a dedicated space for people interested in learning more about us - where we began, and our plans for the future, with an optional tour of The Owl House, a peek into our space and what we do.
As always our students stole the show. Despite all of us being jittery because of the weather they all stayed excited and enthusiastic working tirelessly in the days and hours before the event. Their dedication and resilience serves as a constant reminder of how so many people with special needs are underestimated in their potential and ignites the fire in us to support them as they achieve their own.
Our student’s learnings over the last year were even apparent to a few regular visitors who were thoroughly impressed with the communication and professional skills they displayed. Visitors told us of students coming up and initiating conversation to try and ‘sell’ items from their stall, exchanging money, offering to help with setting up and saying completely dedicated to their assigned roles right upto the end.
The highlight of the evening was definitely how excited our students were to interact with people from the community, readily buddying up with outside vendors to help them out for the evening by learning about their products and assisting them at their stalls. From recycled lamps to snazzy resort wear, epoxy craft to delectable snacks and desserts, we had it all. But most importantly, this was an excellent opportunity for us to see our students interact and socialise with not so familiar people and navigate very real world situations. And props to these people for taking the time, coming in early so we could sensitise them about working with individuals on the spectrum and any unique challenges they may encounter. I remember chatting with the husband of one stall owner who was absolutely thrilled to learn that spaces like The Owl House exist, and immediately wanted to know in what way him and his wife could participate more actively.