From across the border

While discussing the idea of schools contributing to building compassionate citizens of tomorrow, a friend of ours told us about two organizations, across the border, in Pakistan. In a country that appears politically volatile and unstable to the outsider, the work that these organizations are doing with schools there is very worthy indeed. We feature here short profiles.

A network for compassion

The Compassionate School Network (CSN) is the first of its kind in the world; it is a locally developed project inspired by the Charter for Compassion, a TED prize global initiative. Launched in Karachi in 2012, CSN is working towards bringing schools across the country to be a part of the Network by 2018 reaching approximately two million children so that they become compassionate leaders in the coming decades.

The Compassionate School Network (CSN) partners with existing schools in Pakistan to disseminate compassionate skills and understanding to both teachers and students. The nine skills of compassion include courage, forgiveness, mindfulness, gratitude, self-compassion, empathy, humility, integrity, and altruism. The objective being for students to understand, acquire, and practice these skills from elementary to senior school and to create awareness of the social benefits of compassion across the country.

The project starts with a four-day teacher training workshop that includes in-depth presentations on the nine skills along with interactive discussions. After completion of the training, supplementary lesson plans especially designed for this program are provided to the teachers. The plans are incorporated in the existing lesson plans from grades 1-10 and are rolled out during the school calendar year. The CSN team works closely with the school management overseeing the smooth running of the plans. Student engagement activities are also held from time to time where students interact with children from other schools in the Network.

Voices of empathy

Nidhi Shendurnikar

Not knowing, not meeting a person and yet picturing him/her in forms that are negative, demonizing and stereotypical! In our imagination, the ‘other’ is always a villain, one to be despised, demeaned only because he/she is different from what we are. Have we ever thought of how children are impacted by the phenomenon of ‘otherization’ and how it contributes to raising a generation that rarely questions, comfortable with stereotypes, and experiences pride in supporting extreme and violent forms of nationalism? A team of youngsters from Pakistan is challenging ideas of difference and superiority based on religion, ethnicity, caste, and gender. ‘Rabtt’, derived from the Urdu word Rabta, meaning connection, is a social enterprise based in Lahore that strives to build a society on the edifice of values such as empathy, kindness, accommodation, respect, and mutual cooperation. This, they accomplish, by employing education as a tool to impart positive values to school students from public and low cost private schools in the country. Rabtt is a 2011 initiative by Imran Sarwar and Aneeq Ahmed Cheema, alumni of The Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS).

Through cross-disciplinary and experiential learning in the form of summer camps and yearlong workshops, the team at Rabtt aided by teaching volunteers also known as ‘Rabtt Fellows’ engages students in a healthy dialogue focussed to opening their minds and hearts to varying perspectives and opinions. Devising their own curriculum, meant to fill in gaps left by mainstream educational frameworks, Rabtt undertakes student training in English, mathematics, public speaking, world history, art and dramatics.

In Pakistan’s current strife-torn scenario where liberal voices are being increasingly silenced, Rabtt is engaged in important work in encouraging school students to think critically and not accept things at face value. This is something that traditional education systems rarely allow. Also, the team at Rabbt agrees that ideas about the ‘other’ are difficult to change overnight since these are steeped into years and years of hatred and prejudice. However, children do not like to be curtailed. We must, therefore, let them fly, explore and discover at will. Rabtt is such a space where windows to empathy and kindness are left open and ideas that promote hatred are challenged. Rabtt works to realize the dream of Pakistan’s founding father MA Jinnah – a diverse, secular, and peaceful Pakistan.

Nidhi Shendurnikar is an independent researcher cum peace-builder based in Gujarat, India. She writes about politics, gender, peace, and popular culture. She can be reached at [email protected].

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