PUCL Bulletin, June 2004

PUCL teching peace in schools

-- By Meena Radhakrishnan,
[Search for peace, The Hindu, 8 May 2004]

[If you like working with children, and are interested in the work that PUCL is doing in schools, please contact the PUCL office: 044-25392459 or 044-25392464. Or E-Mail to: puclpeaceed@yahoo.com ]

With the rising levels of violence and inhumanity, PUCL felt that there was a need for a long-term initiative. And that's why they started working with kids...

Two years ago, after the first wave of killings in Gujarat, a group of concerned citizens met in Chennai under the aegis of the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL). They were concerned with the rising levels of violence and inhumanity around them and felt that there was a need for a long-term initiative that would not just be a reaction to the post-Godhra violence. Thus was born the Schools' Programme, which aims to promote tolerance, democracy, and respect for human dignity.

PUCL chose to work in schools because they feel the future of the nation lies with the young. They do not carry emotional and political baggage, as adults do, and are thus open to new ideas and ways of thinking. It is in youth that the seeds of future beliefs — political, religious, and communal — are sown. PUCL also decided to use experiential methods and activity-based workshops in order to make the students think and reason for themselves. For, that is the main thrust of this programme — to help young people grow into questioning, thinking adults; to develop a critical consciousness that will not accept anything blindly. And most importantly, treat young people with dignity and respect.

The programme has been under way for two years now, at Bala Vidya Mandir, Adyar, Chennai, and the results have been very encouraging. The programme is designed as a year-long series of weekly 40-minute sessions, during a class period that the school allots. The three facilitators, Fiona, Chandrika, and Meena, are bound together by a deep-rooted belief in the immense potential of young people, and the need to listen to them with respect.

This year, the programme began with the subject of identity and went on to look at the kinds of problems that young people were experiencing in their class. The facilitators realised that they had to first work with the class on their own problems, and helped set up a discussion on the issues that the students faced in their own class. During the process, they helped nurture listening, negotiating, and other conflict resolution skills.

The session on labelling turned out to be a very emotive and important part of the programme where the young people were easily able to make the connection between labelling and violence. Many of the students report that they have stopped labelling their classmates. One young participant writes: “Because of these sessions, I feel sure of what I am doing, whether hurting others or being kind to them.” With this understanding they made the connection between discrimination and violence in the outer world.

On February 21, a three-hour workshop was held, and the students met the human rights activists Shabnam Hashmi, Jawad, and Doss. They spoke to the young people of their own experiences of discrimination and injustice. A number of other activities were also held to help the students relate their new knowledge to the reality in society. Most of the students said that they enjoyed this session because it connected them to the issues of the larger world. The students participated actively in the session with many young people committing to changing the world around them by not discriminating on the basis of caste or religion. Some young people even considered founding a new inclusive religion to bring about peace among communities.
The feedback has been very positive, and many of the young people say the weekly workshops have helped them gain confidence, helped them to understand others, and have improved the classroom atmosphere. Some parents have even reported a change in the family atmosphere, surprise fallout of the changes in their children. Most of the students report that they have stopped fighting with their siblings or labelling them.

One young girl writes: “It is the best thing that has happened in our lives, or at least my life.” After two years, one can say that the programme is effective, and needs to be replicated in other schools. Unfortunately, the programme is hampered by a lack of volunteers. The need of the hour is for like-minded people to volunteer and join this small but powerful movement, and to take this programme to other schools. It is imperative that we do this, to save the secular fabric of our nation.


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