Prathiksha was on a visit to Mysuru on Dusshera this year when she saw a little girl selling toys in front of the Mysore Palace. The girl was running from tourist to tourist, begging them desperately to buy toys from her. Looking at the plight of the little girl, Prathiksha thought of the lakhs of children in the country who are caught in the same web. After watching her quietly for sometime and she went to talk to the girl.
“Her name was Lakshmi. She was barely ten years old and pushed into this work due to poverty. Her parents couldn’t afford to pay for her schooling, instead, she had to sell toys till late night to bring some extra earning,” recounts Prathiksha.
The 14-year-old immediately decided to call the national child helpline number to inform them about the plight of Lakshmi. “We dialled 1098 but there was no response from their end. So, my parents and I decided to inform the local police and protect Lakshmi,” says Pratiksha.
After police intervention, Lakshmi was escorted back to her home. The officials also talked with her family and convinced them to get Lakshmi enrolled in a school. “I will soon visit Mysuru again and meet with Lakshmi. I want to see her doing well in studies,” expresses Prathiksha.
Like Prathiksha, thousands of children across urban and rural Karnataka are turning into social crusaders, thanks to CMCA (Children’s Movement for Civic Awareness). The Bengaluru-based non-profit foundation has trained over 2 lakh children to be active civic warriors in their neighbourhood.
The foundation equips children with knowledge of civic awareness, environmental campaigns, social equality and fundamental rights of citizens among other things, to help them grow up into ideal citizens of India.
Currently, CMCA reaches 50,000 young people in 11 cities and 450+ villages, in over 600 educational institutions.
Spreading Civic Awareness among Children
“It all started with a cycle rally in 1999,” shares Priya Krishnamurthy, one of the co-founders of CMCA. With the IT boom in Bengaluru in the late ‘90s, skyscrapers were rapidly replacing the tall trees lining the sky and the picturesque lakes dotting the city were slowly getting encroached to make way for more buildings and roads.
“As Bengalureans, we were concerned. Organisations were set up to voice the citizens’ grievances against the unplanned growth of their beloved city. And we also thought about the future generations who will inherit the onus of the city in our absence.”
With cooperation from NGOs like Swabhimana and Public Affairs Centre, the core founding team of CMCA organised a cycle rally for children at MG Road, a central location of the city.
“To our immense surprise, over 4,000 children turned up to participate and cycled up to Kanteerava Stadium while raising slogans about environmental awareness. The successful cycle rally quickly evolved to summer camps and then to civic clubs in 14 schools by the year 2000,” informs Krishnamurthy.
The expansion of CMCA
CMCA was registered as a project under Public Affairs Center and Swabhimana for 9 years (2000 – 2009).
Since 2009, it has been operating as a Public Charitable Trust.
Over a span of two decades, the CMCA movement has proliferated across Karnataka. Aside from Bengaluru, the foundation has a strong rural presence in schools of Hubballi, Dharwad, Ramanagara, Mysuru, Tumkuru etc. Outside Karnataka, CMCA also works with kids in cities of Tamil Nadu & Maharashtra, as well as over 450 villages in India. Their alumni numbers have reached the milestone of 2 lakhs. In fact, 2018 alone attributed to 50,000 fresh enrolments among school and college students.
“The CMCA classes happen every Thursday at my school. The volunteer-teachers explain to us a lot of subjects, like politics and social awareness. They train us how to step up and take action in case we spot some wrongdoing from citizens or inaction on the part of the government. We have called BBMP several times to clear up the garbage dumps in front of our school, but they are yet to respond. We are really trying hard to bring it to their notice,” shares Prathiksha, who studies at Mitra Academy in Bengaluru.
Prathiksha paints a precise picture of CMCA’s civic clubs, which constitute spirited 8th-graders from the participating schools. Aimed to address the various socio-economic issues plaguing our nation, the CMCA Club Programme works in two segments.
Their urban fraction, stationed in private schools of metropolitan cities, are working with city-centric problems like environmental pollution or lack of civic awareness. Meanwhile, the CMCA Government School Programme is mainly active in rural belts, where health, hygiene and basic education are the topmost priorities.
Whether it be getting a streetlight fixed, or having a child labourer rescued by the child helpline, the CMCA civic club sessions make children confident enough to tackle real-world issues, which are celebrated as ‘Acts of Active Citizenship’ by the dynamic youngsters. In addition, CMCA organises several workshops for different age groups – from primary school students to college goers.
Amazing initiatives by CMCA’s young civic crusaders
The dedication of the children is evident from their endless list of selfless acts. For instance, Ullesh, a teenager from Hulimavu Government School, put his own safety at stake to rescue a pregnant dog and two puppies from drowning, during a breach at the Hulimavu Lake that had flooded the entire locality.
Noor Fathima from Hosahalli boldly approached her principal and secured separate toilets for boys and girls at her school; while Mamatha from Mysuru single-handedly persuaded the local authorities to clean up the reeking dump yard near her home.
Nithyashree, Sathish, Daphin and Supritha – four 7th-graders from Hosur, demonstrated upcycling of old clothes into cloth bags as well as ensured minimal usage of plastic bags in their neighbourhood.
Since a decade, hundreds of children from CMCA Nagpur and Mumbai have been conducting clean-up drives during festivals like Ganesh Chaturthi. Students from Nagpur participate in clean-up initiatives at Futala lake and students from Mumbai take part in several beach clean-ups in the city.
Ashwini, a college student who is a member of CMCA’s Aadarsha Yuvati Mandali Youth Club, complained to KSRTC authorities about the separate rooms for nursing mothers lying locked up in bus stops across Tumkur. The authorities took prompt action following her appeal.
Teaching Children Equality and Empathy
CMCA recruits people who work as civic trainers in schools and colleges. Rajeshwari, an educator & facilitator at GMPS Hulimavu, tells in detail about the diverse range of activities taught to the students.
“They are taught the basic tenets of the Constitution, so they can develop a social scientific temper and spread the same among their families. We also make them aware of the fake news menace in the country – how to detect false news from WhatsApp forwards or dubious sources, and awareness about the same. We also train them to nurture empathy for all human beings, irrespective of their caste, religion or gender. They are also told about the political situation of the country, instead of keeping them alienated from the ‘grown-up’ subject.”
Students trained by Rajeshwari have undertaken several laudable initiatives on their own, be it fixing the water supply woes in their community or educating the local residents about waste segregation.
While speaking about the drastic impact made by them in 20 years, Krishnamurthy says, “Even a small action, like calling a helpline or keeping the neighbourhood clean, is highly helpful, when seen from the child’s perspective. All their achievements should be celebrated so that their humane feelings are kindled and nurtured throughout the growing years.”
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)