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Design For Change

Last week, Mary and me introduced a project called Design for Change (DFC) in our class.

DFC is a global project across 25 countries that aims at giving young children the opportunity to express their own ideas of change, as they wish to see it the communities that they live in.

The children typically identify a problem in the community, discuss it in class and then design a project to help solve the problem. They then go out and implement the project as designed in the community, and bring about the change they wish to see.

Mary and me were slightly apprehensive about how the kids would react to the project and how we were going to take this forward. This was because as much as I was in love with the idea of the project, I didn’t know what problems the kids would identify, and whether they would find practical ways of solving the problems that they pointed out.

It also really intrigued me to see how my children would react to the whole idea. I wanted to know whether my kids cared enough to identify problems that they would want to change in the community and whether this opportunity of bringing about change would get them excited.

At the end of the forty five minute discussion, I went back home with more questions that I had imagined could come out of a discussion. My head was bursting with thoughts and questions about the different things that the children had pointed out, and how they had perceived these problems that they spoke about.  And all of this eventually led to an extremely telling conclusion about children, and their perception of the world, that makes me now look at the world now in slightly different light.

Problems and Problems

Mary and me introduced the project to the class on Friday and gave examples of change that we ourselves wished to see in the community, before throwing it open to the class. At the outset, I had divided the board into 2,  and while the left side had ‘problems’ written on it, the right side had ‘solutions’ written on it.

Ten minutes into class, the left side was filled with problems, while the right side was left completely blank. As the class began to participate more and more, and as I began to get the drift of the problems and solutions that were being discussed, I rubbed off the ‘solutions’ on the board, and continued with writing the problems down instead.

It wasn’t that the children were not giving us solutions to the problems they were throwing up.  It was just that their solutions were too impractical, too innocent and too utopian to implement.

Of innocence and ignorance, again

For instance, one of the problems that the children kept bringing up was about how they felt strongly about the beggars on the street outside the community, and about how we should do something to help them. While talking about how we could help the beggars, Samina stood up and said, ‘ Bhaiyya, I have a good idea. We should call all the newspapers and tell them that there are beggars outside our community who don’t have any food and clothes. They will write an article, and so many people in Mumbai will come to know about these people, and so they will all come and help us.’

Soheil who throughout class was extremely bothered about the fact that the beggars didn’t have houses to live in and sleep on the footpath everyday, offered, ‘Bhaiyya my idea is that we all get money for Eid. We should tell everybody in Mumbai that you give us Eid money and we will build houses for beggars. We can also take some beggars home and keep them in our house and give them work’

I was standing in class through all of this, realizing that this was exactly my biggest fear after the first week in school. On the post that I wrote that Sunday, I had spoken about how I was concerned about the fact that the innocence that I saw in my children was directly and unfortunately related to their ignorance of the world, and how it functions and that how I was scared that would come down to me, to introduce them to the ugly realities of the world.

The bitter truth

The next day, I tried to explain to Samina, that as endearing an idea as her was, we would have to cut it down because the Times of India was not going to report on beggars outside Malwani, because the harsh truth is that had more important things to report about. She obviously didn’t get it because failed to understand how reporting on sports and celebrities was more important than people dying on the streets.

And I had to tell her that right or wrong, that was the unfortunate truth about how the world works, that people would rather read about page 3 than about beggars and homeless people. And that even if Times of India did carry the report, no one was going to do anything about it, because really you don’t need a newspaper article to tell you about beggars in Bombay.

And this is exactly what I had to do in class with Soheil, Famida, Twinkle, Zaidaan and everybody else who came up with solutions for these problems. And they didn’t get it. And I realized that their only mistake was that they took for granted that everyone else in the world cared as much about the beggars, sick people and injured stray dogs as much as they did.

Becoming lesser human

It’s a horrible feeling to break their bubble and tell them, and make them understand that no one really cares about the beggars on the streets. That people actually lead lives that are self centered, and immune to beggars and injured stray dogs, and that newspaper articles are not making the world a better place. How do you say all this, and then expect to not destroy their faith in humanity? Or the way in which a newspaper, or simply the world works?

In fact more than that, what really really bothers me now, as I look back at my childhood and is that I was myself more sensitive to people in pain and suffering as a kid that I am now. I felt way more strongly about helping people, and maybe so did you in Grade 4. It was harder to ignore people in pain and suffering when you were young. and somewhere we’ve all just grow up to become less caring, more self centered and really just lesser human beings.

How do I as a teacher, make sure that 10 years later, Soheil feels as strongly about helping beggars who have no money and food, and Famida feels as strongly about treating street dogs? That Samina doesn’t become shallow enough herself to one day pick up the newspaper and read about someone’s new boyfriend while driving to work dismissing the very beggars that she wants to do so much for?

Where did we all go simultaneously wrong really to end up where we are, from where we were?

The class at the end of it, had very strongly reminded me on how we were as kids, and how we all just lost our humanity somewhere along the line.

Its hardly been a month with these kids, and I have 2 more years with them; I don’t know how much more uncomfortable they are going to make me feel about who I am, and how much more perspective they are going to give me about things and how they should be.

The silver lining is that at least we kicked Design for Change of in our class. Next week we should decide on a particular issue that we all feel strongly about as a class, and maybe something good will come out of all of this.

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