We see, we understand, but the quest to bring the change remains questionable and absent. A simple Facebook post can change lives, the mere gist and the ability to question stereotypes and changing them for good is what counts. Siddhi Pal, a Second Year student from Ashoka University, is breaking chains and mind-sets by launching an international e-magazine on Gender and Sexuality ‘The Thrive+’.
There is this boy. Alone. He seems lost. Playing with a trash bag. Kicking it back and forth. Concentrated. Distracted. Entertained? No one knows what exactly is going on in his mind. Only a few of us can imagine. Only a few of us can think about the burden he carries on his shoulders. The memories he has, the instances of his life he carries deeply inside him are hidden to the outer world. And I am sure that I, at least, can only imagine little of what he has been through. He’s about 12 years old and lives in a refugee camp. He only has once wish: he wants to go back, back to the streets he was raised, back to the country and place he belongs to. But he can’t and that’s why he tries to make the best out of the situation he is in. Kicking his trash bag back and forth.
Look inside yourself. What do you see? An empty black void that consumes your consciousness and slowly you get pushed into the deepest recesses of your entity. Your mind then shows you the truest reflections of what you are. The images seem disturbing yet one feels so intricately connected to them. Of all the things I see within myself, the endless search for something to quench the thirst of emptiness is the most rampant. This somehow manages to reflect in my attitude towards life. Whatever I do, I involuntarily search for my own interest. This unending abyss swallowed my ability to empathize with another fellow human being. Somehow the experience of visiting the refugee camp in Shaheen Bagh lighted up a feeling of empathy which was lacking in me. Hundreds of family live in such miserable cramped quarters has led me to see the harsher reality of life. Although, I am gladdened to see that the miserable conditions have not dampened the spirit of the people living there. Strolling through the camp, I saw women gossiping and laughing quietly to themselves, men romancing the sunny afternoon and children running around screaming brimming with never ending joy. Seeing them made me realize how fulfilling and how joyful life can be in a settlement discarded from the rest of “us”. They are so content and so happy with the way they live that it makes us forget everything. It broadened my eclipsed sense of humanity which still could not see the downtrodden. Often I do still think about the life which I have lived until now and which I aspire to live. Reminiscing over the events and the failures I dealt with and comparing them to the plight of these people was an eye-opener for me. I realized how the lives we lead are so artificial and so shallow. Once we get acquainted with the reality we realize how stupid have we been. The stories of the Rohingya refugees are heart-wrenching. It makes us question our innate nature of always asking for more. Watching these people having nothing yet having everything had been a very enriching and enlightening.
Srishti Chauhan, Trustee YFPI , shares a very personal experience of hers in the camp and how she is looking at life through this.
On 25th November I visited the camps with the YFPI team and Deloitte had joined us that day. After we had distributed the food packets to the kids, we conducted a Play for Peace session which was being facilitated by fellow team members Saumya and Niharika. The kids were very happy after having their scrumptious meals and were also enjoying the activities. I was just standing there and looking after the kids. Suddenly, I saw a kid who was disturbing everyone.
Demonetisation in India did not only render Indians helpless it affected the refugees more so, lives altered evermore by trauma had to cope with no money for food, no bank accounts to deposit money in and no way to exchange old currency for new.
One of YFPI’s main concerns has always been to educate the refugees’ kids about how to best take care of themselves and maintain good hygiene so that what illnesses can be avoided should be avoided. Our team visited the Shaheenbagh camp on 21st of November with the intention of teaching the children about basic hygiene through games and interactive videos we were accompanied by a team from Delloite who also actively engaged with the children and distributed food and goodies.
The day began at 9:00 AM at the Rohingya refugee camp, the children assembled at the make shift school in the camp eager to experience what we had in store for them, after an initial ice breaker session where we played games such as follow the leader, make it rain, poshampa and danced to popular Hindi kids music our team began the sanitation workshop with an introduction to body parts and what they are called in both Hindi and English, we followed up the introduction with a group game called “germ invasion” in which the children were divided into two groups, one group was the human group and the other group was the germ group, the human group was asked basic hygiene questions like “how many times do you brush in a day?” or “should you wash your hands after blowing your nose?” for every wrong answer one person from the germ group would invade the human group at the end of the exercise the children were asked to reflect upon their bad habits and how they could cause them to fall ill after which communicative diseases were discussed in a simple manner, to help them understand the concepts better an animated health and hygiene video in Hindi was shown to them which they thoroughly enjoyed.
Upon the arrival of the team from Deloitte, food boxes were distributed to the children, for which they were very grateful as food has been a constant problem since the demonetisation and even two meals a day are hard to come by, once the children were done eating and had gotten accustomed to the new people in black and were happily socializing with them we returned to the sessions, the next activity was the “glitter germs” game which was also played by the Deloitte team, a pinch of glitter was given to each child and adult sitting in the circle without telling them the motive behind the activity, they were asked to shake hands with each other, as expected by the end of this most people were covered in glitter or “chamkila” as the kids like to call it, we then went on to discuss what the “chamkila” represented i.e. Germs and how important hand washing is, to teach the kids how to properly wash hands a catchy hand washing song was taught to them.
“Top and bottom, Top and bottom
In between, In between
Crush, Crush, rub, rub
Crush, crush, rub, rub
Now we’re clean! Now we’re clean!”
The children were quick to memorize it and sang it together multiple times.Since the day had been tiring the team and the kids did an energising exercise called “reaching for the stars” involving stretches to improve circulation and create a few laughs! As the adults looked on from the outside of the school we went on to do a few “play for peace” games such as “fruit salad” and “elephant baby” which are age appropriate and sing song activities that children thoroughly enjoyed.
The children danced to a few songs again and sat down for a drawing session with the Deloitte team, who distributed papers, colours and drew and coloured with them.
This brought us to the end of our session with the children, the day ended on a high for the kids as they received more food boxes, stationery kits, chips, notebooks and colours from the gracious Deloitte team.
YFPI members and the visiting team gathered at the school with the camp leaders to better understand certain issues faced by them such as, problems with IDs, money exchange, jobs, clean drinking water, hygiene in the camps, lack of proper education for the children, death of close friends and relatives back in Myanmar due to mass “ethnic cleansing” leading to deaths in staggering numbers as far as the Muslim minority is concerned. We hope the session with the leaders helped the Deloitte team better understanding the lives of refugees in camps such as these.
The day ended at 5 PM with an internal meeting of the YFPI team upon the departure of the team from Deloitte, where the pros and cons of the day were assessed and the day was declared a success, the YFPI team left the Rohingya camp with their resolve to help the Rohingya community strengthened.
On 29th October 2016, Youth for Peace International, with the help of Ms. Abha Jeurkar hosted a ‘Play for Peace’ session for the kids at the Shaheenbagh (New Delhi) refugee camp, She an ex-engineer now a Certified Trainer for Play for Peace firmly believe in using the joy of cooperative play to create an atmosphere of laughter, compassion and peace with communities in conflict. As an added bonus Youth Alliance International’s Co-Founder Shah Imtiaz Hossain joined for the session. YFPI got acquainted with Ms. Abha and Mr. Imtiaz during the 5 day Training of Trainers session on Youth and Peacebuilding in Chandigarh from 18-22nd of October.
By 11:00 PM the team had already reached the camp and was having a quick meet and greet with the leaders of the camp. With the help of Mr. Osman ji (one of the leaders of the camp), we gathered as many children as we could to begin the workshop inside the little school in the camp. It’s interesting to note that some of the kids were reluctant to get involved because they were not Muslim and were afraid of getting cornered by the rest. The same situation was noticed during the Humor for Peace workshop as well.
The first step was to break the ice. Ms. Abha started with a simple exercise where she asked the kids to form a circle and mock her actions. It was a good way of determining the level of understanding of the kids so that she could decide on the next few games. It was evident that not everyone there understood her, but that’s where Mr. Imtiaz and Mr. Ali Johar played a crucial role.
Daardi wale baba, Hathi ka bacha, Watermelon, Aa rum sum sum, and Haryali were among the few games that were played. You could see the power word of mouth as after almost every game, 5-10 new kids joined in, and the circle that they initially formed kept getting bigger and bigger to the point where the room became too small.
One of the challenges for us while working with the refugees here was communication. Having Mr. Imtiaz and Mr. Ali Johar with us this time around was a totally different experience. We got more respect from the leaders because we brought people who spoke their language, so they must have felt homely. What was even more exciting to see was the reaction of the kids when they realized the same
A good 10% of the kids were too young to understand and play the games fully, but it was evident of the faces of the rest that they were having fun like they had not in a long time. That day we not only build rapport with the kids, but even the adults there saw the power of Play for Peace on the kids. Hence it must be noted that it was overall a great day for YFPI as peacebuilders for it was another stepping stone towards our end goal for the camps.
Here is a little side story from the same day:
Richa Gupta (Associate at YFPI) had an interesting conversation with a Rohingya individual (unfortunately I do not recall his name) living there that will make you realize that even though they were thrown out of their own nation and are living in squalor, they still are capable of self-sufficiency because they have the desire in them to rebuild their life. This individual works throughout the week to support his family, but on the weekends he takes carpentry lessons. He says he wants to learn English, because the carpentry course is in English and without English he is only able to understand in bits and pieces.
We at Youth for Peace International would like to thank Ms. Abha Jeurkar spending time with the kids at the Shaheenbagh camp. We have learned so much from you, and we hope to continue conducting such sessions regularly with the kids in all the camps.
Pictures: Kunal Raj
My domestic help, Rajkumari, 34, has been working at our home for the past 10 years. She lives in an urban slum with minimum facilities provided by the government. She is a widower with two sons, one being her step son has abandoned her after using her resources. She lives with her 17 year old boy, Monu. Now Monu is a young chap, who quit school after 10th grade because he “didn’t want to study anymore.” He has become a victim of drug addiction. He often threatens Rajkumari to commit suicide if she doesn’t give him money to meet his addictions. With whatever income she gets, she runs monthly expenses and meets her bills. She has no savings. The added stress of her son makes her depressed. She says “even though I have enough to sustain my single life, I don’t have peace to sleep at night after a tiring day.”
The background to Rajkumari and her son’s life is important to see how lack of resources and opportunities can make life strenuous.
Is Monu responsible for the pain that Rajkumari goes through? Should he be given full responsibility for it? This situation opens our eyes to various grave problems existing in the society.
If we look at Rajkumari, after her husband’s death who she was financially dependent on, put pressure on her daily life. She became the woman with no voice, who was not respected by her own sons. She chose not to live alone because she was afraid what would happen if a single young woman lived unaccompanied in her locality. This is a classic case of the helpless situation of uneducated, illiterate women.
Now, if we look at Monu, the 17 year old kid, ignorant as he may be, chose not to educate himself. But if you look deeper, he says “nothing ever happened in his school.” Is he to be blamed for this lack of education? Is it his fault that he was not given quality primary education which could have made him pursue further studies and not waste his life?
Poverty, lack of quality education and lack to basic resources has ruined many such lives in India and countries around the world. Hence it is important to achieve the Sustainable Developmental Goals (SDGs) which aim to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity becomes important. It is vital to improve individual’s quality of life.
We can find many such Rajkumari’s and Monu’s spread over areas, not able to live a good life due to lack of resources and opportunities. It is important to create an atmosphere where individuals are living quality life rather than just passing each day for the same hardships to be faced the next day.
Picture Credits: Kunal Raj
When you read the book in your hand or an article on the internet, maybe much like this one, do you ever think, “Wow I can understand what this possibly random streak of alphabets on paper mean to convey to me”. No? Neither do I. However, when I started my Arabic language classes, I saw how hard reading can really be.
Literacy is something that most of us take for granted. I can recall when I was only a tiny child, perhaps the middle of the first decade of my life on planet earth, my mother talking to me in a mix of a multitude of languages. But talking and understanding a language is a completely different beast than reading and writing a language. If you came up to me today, I would be multilingual and fluent, as most Indians are, however if you asked me to write sentences in the same languages, you will find me puzzled, as most Indians are.
When I decided to take up Arabic, I discovered the difficulty of learning a language from scratch when you’re no longer a child and believe me, it is not the most pleasant feeling. The letters don’t seem to go together, the pronunciation is impossible, and the sentences look a child’s construction with Lego.
Now imagine the lives of the millions of people, not only across India, but across the globe who are completely illiterate. People who can’t read a newspaper or browse through the internet. 287 million adults in India and 785 million across the globe are illiterate. These are the people that are being left behind in this era of rapid information gathering and dissemination.
We often think of issues in watertight compartments; this issue has education, this one with poverty, this one with food insecurity, and so on. However, if a person just thinks about it, they will realize that all of this is connected. The issue of illiteracy does not just have to deal with education, it has to deal with poverty, food insecurity, political instability, and a plethora of other reasons.
The UNFAO once estimated that 57 million children worldwide, would not be able to attend primary school, 80% of which were living in rural areas, and that is how this cycle of poverty and hunger continues victimizing the families those who are already victims of its viciousness.
The UN has launched multiple efforts and agendas to combat these issues but with mild success. Currently, the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal number 1,2 and 4 deal with the issues of poverty, food insecurity, and education for all, however even this will result in mild success unless it is boosted by everyone who can and that includes us.
Every drop contributes to the ocean is one of the most meaningful phrases I have heard of in my life so far and I will definitely do all that I can to combat the issues of inequalities of all form. There are so many things a young person can do: volunteer at your local primary school, give the children in your neighborhood tuition classes or even give weekend classes to the impoverished children around your residential society. Help those worse off than you to break the cycle of illiteracy and poverty and help them to achieve and attain their fullest potential. Education truly is the stepping stone to all success.
“Opportunities to do great and wonderful things are usually
small and always there for those looking”
Picture Credits: Kunal Raj
Shoot shoot shoot.
From your home.
For your life.
Run. Run. Run.
For as fast and as you can.
Because we live in a world that doesn’t recognize peace.
Knows only war.
Because you can’t not.
With all you can possibly gather.
Books. Degrees. Chargers. Laptops. Blood. Clothing. Flesh.
From a world that preaches hate.
From your own identity.
Live. Like a refugee has to.
Never like a human.
For there’s only so many breaths you still need to take.
Breaths that don’t count.
Because we still make war.
No love left.
To a world anew.
Or don’t run.
And start a new world with you.
Our history books are filled with dates related to wars, raids, massacre and change in dynasties. In history, peace has a small space only in religious teachings, and that too was not followed religiously. Also, we considered the periods between wars related destructions peaceful. The more the developed cities and architecture during a dynasty reign, the more the region was considered peaceful.
But for our surprise, we never had a single definition of peace in past. Even many famous intellectuals of the past wrote about peace in negative terms. They didn’t value peace, glorified wars and argued that only war can lead to growth. Wars were considered as goal achievements and thus heroic. The seeming consensus around the idea of peace is a relatively recent phenomenon.
In recent few centuries only, historians gave values to lives of common people and started collecting related knowledge. And so the meaning and value of peace were assessed in the better ways over these few years. Though we do not know the proper meaning of peace, talking about peace is a new popular trend. Every constitution, treaty, textbook, journal, social academician, journalist, change-maker, politician, and industrialist etc. relates something or other with Peace.
The desirability of pursuing peace is rarely questioned. The destructive face of fascism, Nazism, terrorism, world wars, and partition riots in history has taught us the meaning of peace. Such tragic conflicts and absence of peace haunt us. Still, wars, terrorism, and riots related news are very common in our daily news. So if we consider ourselves liberal or peaceful than our past, then we might be wrong. We carry more anger and mass destruction means than ever in the history. Not only national security, oppression, the demand of rights but road rage, parking space, land matters, even movie screening may lead to disagreements between people and in a society which may express themselves through open conflict, violence, and killings.
It may be argued that tyranny can be prevented only by being forcibly removed or the liberation struggles of oppressed people can be justified even though they may use some violence. But history has several examples which show that use of violence can never lead to long term peaceful future. Once deployed, it tends to spin out of control, leaving behind a trail of death and destruction. So the idea of fighting the oppressors by using indiscriminate violence is both unethical and extremely risky.
The pacifists, who consider peace to be a supreme value, take a moral stand against the use of violence even for attaining just ends. They too recognise the need to fight oppression. However, they advocate the mobilisation of love and truth to win the hearts and minds of the oppressors. History also has champions of peace, both in the spiritual and secular domains i.e. Mahatma Gandhi and Goutam Buddha. Several age-old spiritual principles (e.g., compassion) and practices (e.g., meditation) are considered to achieve peace of mind.
So as per our understanding of peace in history, peace would be defined as the absence of violent conflict of all kinds including war, riot, massacre, assassination, or simply physical attack and structural violence, such violence arising from caste hierarchy, class disparity, patriarchy, colonialism, and racism/communalism. Peace is the harmonious coexistence of contented people. It can never be achieved once and for all. Peace is not an end-state, but a process involving an active pursuit of the moral and material resources needed to establish human welfare in the broadest sense of the term.
Reference: National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT)
Photograph Credit: Mridul Upadhyay
This article was originally published at YourCommonwealth.Org