Children’s day celebration at Vonisha Foundation- let’s walk the talk!!

November, 2017

Exactly a week ago, I celebrated Children’s Day after a very, very, very long time. Brought back all my school memories of march past, drill, dances, chocolates, sweets-namkeen, a long lecture in the hot sun by our school Principal and finally ½ day off for ourselves. And, if the day was to be in the middle of the week, even better. Some thrill. Some incentive. Some joy that we are breaking the routine. Going to school but not attending classes. Simple, enjoyable moments that will never, ever come back.

Well, this 14th November I celebrated in a different way. With school children of course but very special ones. Because they came from extremely harsh living conditions. Children of slum-dwellers, mostly rag pickers whom we abhor for their filthy clothes, smelly bodies, unkempt hair, foul mouths and supposedly thieving-traits ! We either shoo them away or avoid them. What irony, they help us to keep our surroundings clean and we distrust them, despise them thinking they are out to steal something. Honestly, things have changed. One of my clients has actively involved them as stakeholders in the garbage collection activity and turned them into entrepreneurs. Yet another one, a not-for-profit company (Vonisha Foundation) is running a Bridge School for these children of lesser gods.

I was invited to say a few words on the occasion of Children’s Day by the selfless lady running this school. I was pleasantly surprised to see about 70 children of all age groups ranging from 3 yrs to 15 years, both boys and girls, well-dressed in track pants and T-shirts sitting on the ground and waiting for me (as if I were some celebrity chief guest ). Yelling at the top of their voices. Screaming. Giggling. Laughing. Chatting. Nudging and finally rising to wish me a ‘Good morning ma’am’ in their own sing-song way. I was taken aback when my client Revathi explained that all of them are from the nearby slums who have never, ever stepped into a school in their lives. Even the older ones. Hence she is running a Bridge School to prepare them to enrol in a Govt. school. Their parents leave home as early as 5 am and return late with no one to guide, supervise or care for them throughout the day. Getting kids from such neglected families and training them to say a Good-morning, recite a few rhymes in English, sing Saare jahaan se accha in Hindi, a few other songs and closing with a national anthem as a group was incredible ! Transformational I would say for the children and for me too !!

What I liked best is the sunny happiness, enthusiasm, energy and child-like curiosity in them. Children are children. It was impossible to control their excitement and activity. I had to struggle to make myself heard in the din. After all, it was their day. Their moment. Surprisingly, I didn’t find the usual demureness or inhibhition in these kids that we normally find in our so-called ‘cultured, well-bred’ children. They were bold. They were candid. They were open. But what shocked me the most was when a majority of the class wanted to become a ‘Policeman’. I asked why. One boy boldly got up and said “Woh roz, sou rupya kamaatha hai. Policewalla basti mein aake, hafta mangta hai” (He earns Rs. 100 every day. Policeman comes to our slum and demands money). The teachers were shocked too since they had been teaching good values, good things and explaining what is right and what is wrong. I tried in my own way to explain that they should become a Policeman not for this but to protect law and always be upright. Not sure if it made sense because all their lives they had been seeing their parents being exploited in some way or the other and the cop was the only image they had in mind. One thing was clear to me. It does not matter what you say. It matters only what you do. Children will pick up things they see around them. Not what we elders say. It is so very important that we walk the talk and live a life that we want them to live.

I left the school with happy memories and lot of hope and positivity that these rag-picker kids will become something, someday, thanks to noble souls like Revathi and her team of teachers. The cards in the banner were specially made for me by these kids. What better tribute to their love than sharing it with all of you ?

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