My mind runs back to a conversation I had with my adorable 7 year old nephew Aditya Aram over Christmas 2017. We had just returned from a field visit. As we got off the car, he asked ‘Bua – who is the boss at Shanti Ashram?’ The word ‘Boss’ bothered me. Within a fraction of a second it made me reflect as to what leadership example I was presenting to him. Even as I managed to answer this question, his second question quickly followed, ‘When you die – who will lead?’ To this, I said very honestly, that I had not started thinking about it, but I was sure that someone good and able would be ready to lead. Throughout the conversation, he was engaged, curious and patient and it seemed that just having the space to ask questions and to be in conversation were important first steps for him. In the week preceding this particular conversation, we had often walked to my office and participated in programmes together. He got to see my work first hand at the International Center for Child & Public Health. For me too, just sharing my daily work & life with him was enriching….and I have come to look forward to my conversations with Aditya. My work with children over the past 20 years has given me the rare privilege of meeting children from diverse backgrounds and lived experiences. Interactions with them have often been purposeful, open and constant and it has surely helped me evolve into who I have become.
Unicef reports, ‘Most children today have lived most or all of their lives in the 21st century, their progress and access to resources, influenced significantly by the global compacts the world has forged and through which we have sought a better world for children’ . While the impact of our work for children are represented on-ground and in the child development indicators we present, what seems wanting in these global and local efforts are our direct interactions with children themselves in matters concerning them.
Given the magnitude of problems such as violence, poverty, disease and inequities that continue to confront our children, it is vital that there must be something out of the ordinary that we must do to deal with them. Interacting with children and listening to their concerns and aspirations may help us find new approaches and models. At the ethics education programme at Arigatou International, the proactive and sustained engagement of children is given great importance. The network of young facilitators spread across the world are a testimony to this commitment. The failure in investing in relationships and creating engagement interfaces with children comes with a considerable social cost which may be hard to undo.
Only if we invest in building relationships with children, the ‘TALKING’ can happen….the wisdom our children house is for us to learn and gain from!
‘Dialogue’ is defined in many different ways; one of the ways it is defined is to take part in a conversation to resolve a problem. Limited in purpose as this definition seems, it sets the stage for a shared goal- a common problem to resolve, a simple step in trust building.
I recall a recent interaction with Revathi, a bright young Indian, interning at ICPH who besides other things is undertaking a literature review in adolescent mental health. One of the papers she read aloud to me looked at adolescent resilience. The paper looked at the interplay between the child’s internal assets (positive factors that reside within the individual such as competence, coping skills and self efficacy) and external resources (parental support, adult mentoring, or community organisations that promote positive youth development) and the way it shapes the building of resilience amongst children. Resilience has been defined in the paper as “the process of overcoming the negative effects of risk exposure, coping successfully with traumatic experiences, and avoiding the negative trajectories associated with risks.
This evidence and the accompanying theoretical input compels us to think a little deeply as to where these ‘talks with children can happen’. It can happen at home, in formal and in informal settings, the complementary role of volunteer youth groups, faith communities and community service organizations cannot be over emphasized.
The ‘Learning to live together’ resource and its use in educational frameworks & approaches incorporate both traditional and modern methodologies. These approaches lead to methodologies that provide space for exchange, interaction, encounter, discovery, critical thinking, reflection and action. The methodology of learning to live together places the individual in a self-driven learning process, conducted in relation to others. It also helps develop skills, enhance participant’s knowledge and to nurture attitudes that empower them to learn to live and act in a plural society . This is an extremely critical step, helping children prepare themselves for ‘Talks’ and meaningful ‘Dialogue with adults’ about issues that concern them. In the absence of such careful preparation, our efforts may just be reduced to tokenism or symbolism.
Through a wealth of concrete examples, documented and lived, it is clear that sustainable progress in society is only possible, when people meet, ideas flow, actions follow, and impact is studied. It draws on recent research, global compacts & the collective experience that the world has accrued as common resource. If we are to achieve progress in ways we have not done before, we have to seek partnerships with the most vulnerable, the poorest, and the hardest to reach . In all the three categories CHILDREN make up disproportionate numbers.
So my call to action is ‘let’s scale up our conversations with children & young people, engage them and work alongside so that we can begin to create the future we want’. As Stephen Hawking, the inspiring cosmologist says, ‘ideas flow and achievement abound when people talk!’
President, Shanti Ashram
Photo credits: Aarooran V, Young Volunteer, Shanti Ashram