By Yashaswini KS
Sucheta Kriplani Siksha Niketan (SKSN Institute) is just not another school in Jodhpur, nay, in all of India. One walk through its premises, and a brief interaction with its students, can give one an insight into the movement of change that originates from the school. Started as a school for Children With Disability (CWD) in 1991, today it educates both CWD and other non-disabled children from nearby areas. The CWD come from various parts of Rajasthan and range from years 6 to 18.
So what makes this school stand out from others catering to the needs of CWD? The sheer initiative of IMAGE sessions, a collaboration with Indiability Foundation. Indian Mixed Ability Group Events (IMAGE) is the coming together of children facilitators from classes 6th to 12th, and raising awareness amongst nearby villages on socio-political issues like health, education, gender, disability, etc. The walls of SKSN constantly urge the onlooker to cultivate friendship with the students, treat them as equals and recognize their ability. Through IMAGE, one just doesn’t befriend a student, but also learns an admirable amount from a child leader.
The selected facilitators go through weeks of training, discussion, role play and organisation to conduct one session for the village kids. Sitting in the hall during the training session, words of encouragement slowly nudge, one speaker after another, to delve into the depths of the particular issue for that session. During my visit, it was disability – a topic that one can consider to be highly sensitive and personal to the children. Yet, a Mug Singh, who is all of 14 years, confidently delivers, point after point, why parents must educate their children to be inclusive, and sensitive human beings, in their society. Janak Singh, national level para-athlete and SKSN’s physical educator and alumni, urges the reticent participants to derive from their personal experience what lessons their activities impart to other children. As the discussion winds on, I struggle to keep up with the strong points being made, mildly overwhelmed by the confidence and capability of such young minds.
The very next day, all the facilitators are broken into groups and made in-charge of different logistics for the weekend’s session in Anwana village. Groups of 3 or 4 facilitators, are made responsible for setting up the venue, arranging refreshments for 200-odd participants, getting the materials for the activities, crowd management, etc. The same evening, they set out on a promotional campaign in Anwana, to call out to the children and their parents to attend the IMAGE programme the next morning – a Sunday. They were a picture of charm, wit and courage.
Sunday dawned with the excitement of putting many days rehearsals and preparation to the test. Slowly, Anwana’s young ones’ trickled in, in their Sunday best, neatly dressed, bathed and hair combed. IMAGE facilitators were dressed in their red tees, smart and ready to take charge. Once the village groups were made and assembled, the facilitators were on a roll. Activity after activity, questions and answers, discussions, group exercises, the tasks carried on from morning eight to two in the afternoon. Nobody was tired, nobody was distracted, nobody was excluded. Oh, what an engaging session! The village children (who had already attended sessions of health and education) knew that SKSN’s students were their friends and mentors. They hung on to every word spoken by the facilitators, and took part with equal gusto.
So, why does it matter if 147 CWD, and their non-disabled peers, went out to 5 villages every month, and speak to 1463 village children (and/or their parents) on varied socio-political issues? It is still a miniscule part of the population. It is in some remote corner of a deserted Rajasthan. How does it help? Why are they the leaders that they are? Why are they deserving of any attention?
It cannot be simply reduced to the fact that these are children, who are disabled and hence, heroic in their attempt to bring about a change. It deserves a mention, because they are young agents of change, who have imbibed the message of good health, universal education, inclusive society, gender equality, etc while imparting the same awareness to their peers. It deserves a mention, because when most children around the country might be lazing their Sundays away in idle play or watching television, these young students are creating a ripple effect in the mindsets of villagers, who are still plagued by many social ills. It deserves a mention, because when capable governments are turning a blind eye to social development, these students are organising and spearheading a movement of change, to build a society that is founded on community participation and well-being.
IMAGE heralds a kind of future where we can see the empowerment of the marginalised without antagonising the majority. IMAGE is the true reflection of the chance that all of us can walk hand-in-hand, a brown palm in white, a wholly developed leg to a crutch, a stump of an elbow to the strength of a supportive shoulder – yes, we all can. IMAGE highlights how voluntary work can contribute to questioning attitudes, changing mindsets and building stronger societies. IMAGE reminds us that children are the epitome of innocence, hope and promise. It is a great place to start with, to grow alongside and reflect, when done with. When are you starting to work on your image then?
The IMAGE change-makers have been nominated for the iVolunteer Awards. If after reading this article, you feel compelled to vote for them, please go to this link: http://bit.ly/1FjUMk7
Yashaswini is a LAMP Fellow with PRS Legislative Research. She is a graduate in Economics (Honours) from University of Delhi. She has nearly two years of experience working on governance issues in Haryana and Odisha. They specifically dealt with women empowerment and rights of tribal groups, respectively. She is passionate about public policy and good governance while seeking a career in active politics in the future.