It is oft repeated that it takes a village to raise a child. As parents, in the mad rush of drop-offs, pick-ups, office angst and social engagements, we tend to confine our children’s “village” to our immediate family and friends. In our baba-culture, children inherit a sense of belonging to this small world, contrary to traditional precepts of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam.
Schools, either by choice or compulsion, try to create opportunities for children to get involved in their larger community; but the quality and level of engagement depends on the holistic profile of the school and the vision and priorities of its management. Just like schools are not expected (and in fact are not equipped) to manage all the learning needs of all the students, schools are not equipped to provide all relevant, meaningful and engaging community involvement experiences. As parents, we take cognisance (in some cases anticipate) of the former and take remedial steps but not many parents make up for the latter. For instance, if my child is not able to learn math well at school, I take remedial measures by getting him extra help (say tutorials) but if my child is not learning how to connect with the community of which he is a part, I do nothing or precious little about it.
My mother, who was a teacher by training; but housewife by circumstances, understood very well that her children need to be aware of the diversity around them before they could be sensitised. I vividly remember how my sister and I celebrated our birthdays and festivals. The day began with prayers in the house, serving breakfast to the kids at the local orphanage, going to school thereafter, distribution of candies within the class, come home to a house-full of guests and celebrate in the evening with relatives and friends. The first two activities of the day were non-negotiable; everything else could be adjusted and adapted. During the summer vacation, among the zillion other things we had to raise money as contribution to the orphanage; I would choose to embroider napkins and table covers and sell them to family members while my wise-Alec sister used to organise all kinds of performances by the neighbourhood kids and sell tickets to parents to watch their kids perform.
I have initiated something similar with my three-year old son with the hope that he will further connect with his humanity and identify with the real, idiosyncratic world around him. There is a good deal of education, real education in these activities provided they are undertaken with sincerity, consistency, patience and respect.
Here are some community involvement projects that parents can undertake with their children:
1. Plant trees within their own house and neighbourhood
2. Pick up litter at the local park
3. Spend time with and engage (play, create, perform etc) the less fortunate
4. Collect and donate (clothes, books, play materials, old eyeglasses)
5. Make a holiday/festival basket for someone in need or crisis
The list is endless;
What’s important, is the attitude the children bring to these projects / tasks and the learnings they take away from these experiences and not what they do. The spirit behind these projects is not to help anyone else but oneself, because our individual wellbeing is dependent upon our collective wellbeing.
I leave you with this touching and inspiring video of a speech made by Severen Suzuki at the 1992 Plenary Session Earth Summit in Rio Centro, Brazil. At the time Severn was only twelve years old.
Transcript of speach