Here’s an interesting curriculum that enables kids to respect each other’s identity and make a sound judgement without getting influenced from the society. From using multimedia tools to using literary pieces and films, Peace Works is covering many grounds to create a more inclusive future.
Be it the anti-Sikh riots of 1984, where thousands of Sikhs lost their lives and homes. Or the deadly Gujarat communal violence in 1969, which continued for weeks and left hundreds and thousands of Hindus and Muslims homeless, dead and injured. Or the India-Pakistan partition, which still evoke pain in the heart of those who witnessed it. Or even the recent Muzzafarnagar riots in 2013. Communal riots have been a black spot on the nation’s history for centuries.
When Gujarat saw yet another deadly riot in 2002 after the Godhara train burning incident which changed tens of thousands of lives, a group of people decided to deal with the never-ending saga of violence.
As a result, PeaceWorks initiative was launched in 2003, to impart education to people with differences and make kids understand the importance of respecting others’ identity through art.
“Art, because it is a medium through which kids can understand each other’s landscapes and identity. Art is beyond boundaries and friction, and can create empathy in hearts,” says Megha Malhotra, director, PeaceWorks.
This Kolkata-based initiative, which is part of an NGO, Seagull India, aims at discovering and disseminating ways of existing in this world in a manner that is not in conflict with other ways of existence.
What do they do?
PeaceWorks’ mission is to sensitize people about the wars and riots that are happening around them and how they can play a vital role in ending them. The initiative also helps young minds to understand that there is a need to co-exist and respect other mindsets.
To accomplish this goal, they have designed a special curriculum that is taught in schools during regular hours. From organizing workshops to using different multimedia audio visual tools and literature to spread awareness about various issues, PeaceWorks is all about making these young people speak up and frame the right mindset which is beyond religious pressure.
“The idea is to encourage students to look around, be observant and make a sound judgement,” says Malhotra.
Unlike a majority of initiatives which focus on underprivileged children, 90 percent of PeaceWorks’ focus is on mainstream kids. “We focus on these kids as there are already many programmes that are reaching out to underprivileged students. We want to equip these kids with the power to bring a change,” Malhotra says.
Giving exposure to lesser discussed topics
One of the programmes of PeaceWorks involves taking literary pieces to young people. Screening of films and documentaries that revolve around sensitive and critical issues is used as an important tool to change the mindset of the youth.
The PeaceWorks team has designed a special curriculum that enables a student to look at various issues of the society in a different way and to frame his or her opinion on that without getting influenced by others.
For instance, as part of their oral history project, 560 letters from Pakistan arrived in India in reply to Indian students’ letters, with an aim to building bridges between the two nations and communities.
Golpo Mela to make learning fun
This festival of stories was launched in order to celebrate Children’s Day in a different way. The carnival not only brings together volunteers who narrate stories to the street children, but the Mela also has exhibitions, musical performances, painting and entertaining through various art forms.
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“This mela was launched with an objective of bringing together kids from various backgrounds and making them understand each other’s lifestyle,” Malhotra explains. “When we think about our childhood, we still remember the stories our grandmother and mother told us. They lie within us and leave a great impact. We feel that storytelling is a great tool to bring a change.”
The carnival acts as a tool to narrate stories and develop imagination and confidence among the children.
The biggest challenge that PeaceWorks faces today is access to funds. As the programme is free of cost for all the students and they don’t have any external funding, it becomes a struggle to sustain it in a proper way. “We are open to partnerships and funding. Any kind of help will give a great push to our cause,” says Malhotra.
PeaceWorks has reached out to tens of thousands of students so far and the impact has been seen in the attitude of the children. “It is very hard to measure the impact because it is a long-term process and will show results over time,” Malhotra says.
The PeaceWorks team measures the impact by observing behaviour patterns of the students. For instance, at a party a common game which is played by everyone is Khoi Bag. The team observes how a student reacts in the game and then, in the break time, a story is narrated and the game is played again. The team then notices whether a student is more kind and willing to share his or her stuff with other participants.
This is one of the many methodologies used by PeaceWorks to measure the impact of various activities that they perform with the kids.
“I remember three years back I went to Assam for a workshop and received an overwhelming response from the kids. Two girls came to me and asked me about our work and showed interest in joining us. I thought that they were enthusiastic then and might forget about it as they move on in life. But after finishing their school, they came to Kolkata and were right there at our doorstep to be part of our team. I was moved to see their commitment. Both these girls have been closely associated with our work since then,” Malhotra remembers.
What does the future hold?
Currently operational largely in Kolkata, and having organized workshops in some part of Assam and Bangalore, PeaceWorks plans to expand to other cities and engage with a larger number of students.
“We are very keen on expanding our work to North-east India and other parts of the sub-continent like Karachi and Bangladesh,” Malhotra says.
The small team of five that works with around 20 volunteers also wants to create a standard model of curriculum that can be replicated by other organizations.
How can you help?
In case you are in Kolkata, you can become a volunteer at PeaceWorks and help them organize various interesting workshops and sessions. Otherwise, you can provide monetary help to the organization which will enable them to expand their area of work to other cities and countries.