In the months of September and October, children and volunteers of Make A Difference, across India, participated in the global phenomenon that is Design For Change. DFC is a platform which encourages children to identify, find solutions and implement solutions to fix their own environments, thereby changing their own worlds.
Ever thought that a child cannot do something this momentous? Well, then you’re about to be proved wrong! Thousands upon thousands of children across the world (33 countries, this year) have participated in Design for Change, and by being the extraordinary talents they are, they’ve changed the world we live in, some way or the other!
At MAD, we were excited by the possibilities. So were our volunteers, and so were our children. A bevy of projects were implemented up and down the country. We were awed, inspired, shocked at times by how aware our kids were about the issues surrounding them!
The children took to it so fast that some of us had trouble keeping up. (One particular group came up with 80 ideas for DFC!) In fact, there were so many that we decided to organise a small internal competition to celebrate the best of the best of the best!
One group from Mangalore turned a lot of heads as they went about addressing the problem of security at their center. Because I was there on the day of the implementation, I can tell you with absolute certainty that the volunteers and children of this center is going to change our lives and our world. If not today, then tomorrow. That is the amount of dedication, belief and enthusiasm that they bring to the table every day they wake up!
As if to attest to this very fact, Design for Change awarded this group a Special Jury Mention. Greeshma Rai, another volunteer from Mangalore, and who was also witness to this project, talks about the experience.
.It started off with a panic attack! Jab we Met style. To cut long story short, Yasmin overslept. (Her phone was not on silent but still 60 calls couldn’t wake her up! Sound sleeper, much?) And then she had to take a cab and travel for 2 hours to the next station to catch the train. Ripped off, tattered, embarrassed (Cos she is normally very responsible) and in her night dress, Yasmin joined us with a sheepish grin. Though Hena was glaring away to glory, the kids couldn’t stop laughing at their mentor! On that note, we kicked off a journey of a lifetime. So why were we going to Ahmedabad?
A casual conversation with Hena and Yasmin, mentors of the ‘Security to Ashram’ group, took us back in time. How hectic the days were. How utterly confounded and confused they were thinking about how to implement their ideas? How to make their kids understand the importance of conveying their problems? How scared they were of the possibility of not being able to do justice to the kid’s ideas!
The fear, the hesitance, the sudden burst of confidence on the D-day, the hope, the quiet prayers and the jubilation of winning DFC Special Jury Mention!!
They started with brainstorming sessions with their kids . The problems the children came up with shocked the mentors. “When asked about the day-to-day problems that the kids faced we got to hear about a lot of things,” Hena describes, “but what alarmed us was the complete absence of security for the girls. Some of the prominent reasons for unease were:
- There was no sign on the gate declaring the ashram compound a private and restricted property. Anyone, whether with good or bad intent, could enter the compound .
- There were complaints about boys entering the compound and bother the girls late in the night.
- There was no compound wall at all in the back and the sheer terrain of it was reason enough to be concerned.
- Some girls, being really young and naïve, didn’t really understand the dangers they were living in. They told us that they thought the boys entered the compound to “steal stuff”.”
“After scrutinizing the boundary area ourselves”, says Yasmin,”it was clear that the Ashram needed a boundary. But we couldn’t afford a brick-cement boundary. Then suddenly, one kid piped in saying we can tie wires to the trees growing at the end of the ashram. And we realized that Yes! We could really do that!.”
As easy as the idea generation was, finding a solution turned out to be pretty simple too. They cornered in on getting the following done:
– Contacting the local police and persuading them to frequent the ashram area to send a message: “Trespassing will not be tolerated.”
– To avoid any unaware soul from intruding into private space, a board in front of the gate. was needed. We need to write proper instructions in Kannada and English.
– We need to construct a fence at the back of the compound to avoid accidents and also to mark the area.
– We need to teach basic self defense lessons to the kids to prepare them, just in case.
“So, we had selected a very important idea, the solution was proposed and we had centered in on the best way to get these things done” Hena continues. “We started off by getting all the required materials and the manual labour (US!) ready!”. We finally implemented all the ideas in the following fashion:
– Went to the police station with the kids and persuaded them to make frequent rounds in the ashram area to boost security.
– Conducted a self defense class by professionals who taught simple but effective techniques to the kids. We all learnt some good moves that day!
– Constructed a fence ourselves so that the children don’t get into accidents. “It was a difficult task,” Yasmin says. “But the kids’ enthusiasm and their belief in us drove us,” she says with a smile.
– Wrote anti-trespassing message on the board and put them on the gate. Now no one can mistakenly enter the compound.
“I guess we always evaluate any new idea or installation based on its success. I don’t think that’s right! I think the belief, enthusiasm, hope counts too. Because that’s what these kids would carry ahead in life. They should always be told to remember to try, no matter what!” Yasmin concludes.
No matter how and on what is , their solutions turned out to be pretty effective. “Trespassing reduced immediately owing to police intervention and better security measures taken by us. Although this is just a beginning and we hope to do more , for e.g. we have planned to put broken glasses with cement on the top of the existing boundary, it sure is a start!”, chipped in Hena.
So, that was the story which won MAD a special JURY mention from more than 2000 entries!
Which takes us back to Ahmedabad, where our children were to be felicitated. To-do for Day 1? An interaction with none other than Rahul Bose, the brand ambassador of DFC.
In this session, all the prize winners were given a platform to share their story of change. What followed was an emotional experience for all those present there, as some stories actually put forth the kind of hardships which are being faced by the children in India.
When the turn of our kids came, they very proudly went forward with their mentors and narrated their story of change. Boy, the goosebumps!
The D- day dawned on us nice and bright!! The ceremony was set in the very picturesque and humbling, National Institute of Design campus. And guess who was giving away the prizes??
The dynamic, intelligent and charming Mr. Shashi Tharoor. Kiran Bir Sethi, the brain and founder of DFC presented the stories of change one after the other and simultaneously the prize winners were felicitated.
When our turn came though the kids were raring to go on stage, they very gracefully went up and collected their prizes (One iBuddy laptop, one Nexus learning game, a certificate and a trophy). The kids showed off their prized belongings in every corner of the campus.
And just like that, after a magnificent continental lunch, it was over. A moment worth remembering every day!!