Sabita Kumari-Dass, Protége
Protége is an ‘aspirational and cross genre’ charity working with 35-45 ‘divergent’ young people aged 12-24 with exceptional needs. Founding Director, Sabita set up the charity and directs a team of freelance artists who teach accredited skills to divergent young people.
Protege were recipients of a British Science Week (BSW) Community Grant last year which the team used to run a series of activities about explorers and plant migration.
They were inspired by the botanist Joseph Hooker who travelled with Darwin to the Antarctic, transported many plants to the UK and was the Director of Kew Gardens for 20 years.
The projects extended well beyond British Science Week as it can take weeks for ‘hard to reach’ participants to begin engaging with science, or any other content. Protége’s uniqueness lies in tailoring activities that respond to and respect when participants are able and ready to do the work, rather than to force a timeframe as schools do.
What events did they run?
Firstly, the team worked with young women, long-term hospitalised with illnesses around neglect, abuse and trauma that were triggered in the transition to secondary school. They worked on a project which explored what happens to species when they’re taken outside of their natural environment.
This was a way for participants to look at their own health and well-being and think: “It’s not that I’m an unhealthy person. It’s just certain environments that make me less well. I can be more well.”
Second, they worked with children with severe ADHD asking them to put themselves in the role of an explorer and gather knowledge about how to succeed in different professions. Attendance was good, and all participants got an Arts Award, their first and only qualification for some. As a result, three students did work experience at Protege’s gallery.
Their communication skills improved, shifting from “calling each other names” to “watching each other present work and just lapping it up and applauding each other.”
Sabita said: “Because of the science element, it felt important to the students. They really got into the idea of this is a hard project, we’ve got to support each other, and you know explorers couldn’t have done what they did if their teams had criticised them and called them names or laughed at them.”
How did British Science Week funding help?
“The opportunity has been really fantastic because it means that we can legitimately say [that] projects have been funded with science funding by a national, very credible, high profile organisation that really has proven excellence in the field.”
The £500 grant was ‘instrumental’ and is a motivator to do more science. Sabita said: “It’s been a way of getting a little bit more money for stuff we really want to do” particularly on mental health.
The grant has also filtered into other work, and Protege are now “crossing that line between science and art more comfortably all the time” according to Sabita.
Before British Science Week, the charity’s work has been inspired in scientific terms by the polymath Leonardo da Vinci. They have been looking at issues of relevance in their participants’ lives such as Huntingdon’s, chronic regional pain syndrome, eating disorders and their impact on mental and physical health. But their projects had heritage or arts angles due to the funding.
According to Sabita, the grant enabled them to think “we could be credible [and] confident about our ability to do a science project.”
Download Sabita Kumari’s case study