Mallika Writes: Just Speaking

The Power of the Child

A few years ago Darpana was running a project in schools to get children involved in actively helping in waste segregation. Part of the project involved asking the children to pick up three bits of garbage each morning when they came to school and then putting it in the right bin or the correct composting heap. A few weeks through the project I received a phone call from the defence establishment at Vadsar. The General’s wife wished to speak with me. Her daughter, she said, was part of our school project and had been hassling her mother at the unsatisfactory disposal of garbage and the missed opportunities of segregation. Would I, or someone from our team, please go and run a workshop for all the wives at the campus, and guide them?

Three years ago while we went around the country performing Unsuni or Unheard Voices, our performance for high schools and colleges aimed at sensitizing high income children to Bharat that is not India, we ere at the Valley School in Bangalore. The after show discussion went on for a long while with many children pledging to “be the difference.” The next day I received a phone call from one of the parents. His son hadn’t stopped talking of the performance and chiding his parents, newly returned NRIs in IT, for concentrating only on personal wealth building and success. What could the parents do, he wanted to know. I met with him and what followed was his time and his company’s year long involvement with setting up the web site for Unsuni to encourage volunteering for change and personal involvement.

Very often over the years as I have tried to reach adults through performances or TV programmes aimed to change attitudes or as a call for personal involvement,  I find I hit a wall. This is not the case when I talk to or perform for young people. Although the age at which we become cynics falls alarmingly, there is still, in most young people a window of idealism, of the possibility of a cleaner, better and more caring world. The challenge becomes to harness it, to give children a meaning, a direction and icons to look up to.

I recently received a letter from St.Stephen’s School in Ajmer where we had performed Unsuni three years ago. Inspired by it the school – teachers, parents and students – have started an extensive reading and library programme in the poorer areas of the city, and are offering three scholarships to slum children in this very elite school. And the children are raising the funds for the project and driving it.

Over the last five years we have been running a TV school quiz for 8th and 9th graders across Gujarat’s schools on environmental awareness. Co-produced with the Ministry of Environment and Forests, in its first innings Srishti: The Environment Quiz had 200 schools participating. The second time around there were 350 schools and last year 800. The first round of written tests are held in ten cities and the children are shown environment films while they wait for results. Parents and teachers too get involved. And the 32 teams that get selected for the actual TV quiz get really involved with the bigger issues of the environment. Consistently over these years the teachers have approached us to give them the questions so that they can make practical work books for all their students. And children again have gone back to influence school authorities and parents with information they have learned. Over the years the programmes have been the most viewed children’s programmes in the State.


 With so much in need for change in society and in our behaviour, letting our children influence us is probably the best solution. But the children need to be informed correctly first. Let’s start now.

November 28th, 2010, DNA


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