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Children’s capacity for unbridled courage and empathy make them great role models for us. A personal account of how kids are a hope for our nation.
A couple of months ago, at one of the sessions on Peace Education for Conflict Resolution that we conducted at a school in Chennai, we had a session dedicated address bullying.
After a round of activities and interactive gamification, we sat down to discuss the impacts of bullying. One of the participants, a girl in Class 6, broke down. Through tears and sobs, she talked about how someone in that room attending the session (we had a mixed group of students from classes 6 to 8) had been emailing her, abusing her through emails, and hurting her.
She told us that she had no idea how to tackle it, and through the session, had found her voice and decided to speak up before everyone. She said, to no one and to everyone in particular, that she had lost sleep, lost her appetite, and was walking every step with fear. She asked the person to stop. She owned her story, shared her story, allowed herself the time, space, and effort it took to be vulnerable in front of the class.
By the end of the session, we had a ten-minute note-writing endeavor, in pursuit of a few moments of reflection. The child who had sent out the emails to the girl who spoke up had an apology to offer. I share this with the child’s consent.
“Sorry,” it said, “that I reduced you to a pile of tears. That I hurt you. That I did this to you. I want an eraser so I can erase all the wrong things I said to you. But I don’t have an eraser. Will you forgive me? I don’t know why I did that to you, but I know why I did it. Someone in my family was hurting me, and I got so angry that I had to show it out to someone. I feel safe now because it has stopped and my parents help me, but I didn’t see that I made you feel unsafe. I am sorry.”
They made peace, and like in many classrooms I’ve seen, they begin to work together to counter bullying.
It unfailingly gives me hope to see children take on problems for size, seeing solutions, rather than helplessness.
Yesterday, I sat in a classroom of 16 beautiful children, working together on needs, wants, resources and rights. We talked about Child Rights in India, Syria and Uganda – and how war affects children, how child rights are enforced / not enforced across peaceful countries.
We talked about Child Labour and how it continues unchecked – and it struck me tremendously to see the depth of empathy, compassion and mindfulness these children exhibited. They were persistent about change. They were convinced that they were not “little people who can’t do much” but people with the power to make change happen. It moved me to see them push the boundaries with persistent questions of “why?” when they were confronted with the fact that child labour continues though a law against it exists.
Completely devoid of any semblance of cynicism, they hold hope in their little fists and unabashed courage in their bright eyes. They decided that they would, as a class, write a letter to Maneka Gandhi and ask, as sixteen little children from Grade 4, why child labour continues and what measures the government will take to bring it down to zero.
When I left the campus, I let go of every last dreg of cynicism I could find within me. I let go of the negative emotions that every confrontation with power-hungry and glamour-hungry people have left behind in me.
I walked out feeling hopeful, hopeful of a bright future.
It may take a village to raise a child. Today, I learned that a village of children can raise a nation.
Image source: Kirthi Jayakumar