“What can I do?”

V R Devika

The Youth for Peace Initiative was conceived with the intent to engage young people in developing concepts of peace on three levels: ideological, practical, and analytical on ‘Peace and I’.

The idea is to bring the challenging aspects of Gandhian non-violence to the fore like caring for handmade objects, cleanliness, and courage in thinking among children through activities, such as spinning and performing arts.

Through the year, resource persons drawn from the field of Gandhian activism, nature lovers, traditional performing artistes, and theatre persons were invited to the ten participating schools (in the Youth for Peace initiative) in scheduled two sessions a week for class 8 and 7 students. They taught dance and music, worked with children in discussions on peace, Gandhi, and spinning. Of course, the sessions went beyond the scheduled timetable. In some schools the number of sessions were more and in some fewer, depending on the interest shown by the head of the institution and the time available to the students from their curriculum-related activities.

The project culminated in the Youth for Peace festival. We decided to invite the participating children from different schools to come together in a project for a week of two hours each in the Besant Theosophical School, Chennai. The idea was to get children from different socio-economic layers to mingle and be in a project together and understand creative ways of looking at peace.

Creative director Sangeeta Isvaran had this to say –
Paint a sari with your images of peace, link it to another, another, another as it goes around the world … dance a gentle gummi or an energetic African-Brazilian samba, get your energy up … learn to take photos professionally and then figure out what is important enough to be photographed …
Takita takita taka taaa … ta jham taa …
build a human pyramid and understand why we need each other if we are not to fall to the ground … link hands with a whole new bunch of friends from other schools …
Takita takita taka taaa … ta jham taa …
plant molapparai,feel the magic of the earth … create rhythms and rap songs, konnakol, and captions focusing on social change …
Takita takita taka taaa … ta jham taa …

The ‘Peace and I’ initiative has done all this and more with many groups of young people not just in Chennai but in Sao Paulo, Belo Horizonte, Alter do Chao, Recife, Mexico City, Merida, Xalapa and other cities all over the world [go on, take a map and find where they are!] The Amazon and the Cooum both suffer from human indifference; poverty and violence is not the domain of one race, religion, caste or community; neither is love, laughter, and peace … everything lies in our hands!

During the first phase we have run workshops with several NGOs, communities, schools, colleges, and government organizations. These workshops – using dance, music, theatre, circus, painting, and many other art forms – focus on developing individual and collective ideas on peace and violence. These are small efforts to undo some of the knots in the fabric of our society. These workshops are geared towards shifting the focus of responsibility for our society on to our shoulders – not just blame others for our problems – and develop a sense of community among young people today. Converting blame to responsibility is the first step to empowerment!

‘Peace and I’ is an initiative that wishes to place each one of us in the driving seat to create a peaceful world. Let’s not focus on global wars on terrorism or high level corporate scams – what about our lives and our communities? What are the issues that bother us daily and can we find a solution to them, individually or collectively?

Building on the evaluation and understanding of our workshops, in the next phase, we are looking to start projects to develop awareness on issues like cleanliness, domestic violence, economic polarization, and so on.

‘Peace and I’ is an endeavour to find out what you think and the ideas you have to improve the space you inhabit. Join us in ‘real time’ if you can spare it, or in virtual reality on our blog. Make a difference! “Be the change you want to see” – Mahatma Gandhi said it all in that one phrase! ”

Children took out a procession carrying the molapparis (clay pots with sprouted nine grains sowed by the children) and the sculptures created by artist Shailesh from the Gandhi statue on the Marina Beach (Chennai) to the Presidency College via Tilakar Tidal, where Gandhiji had spoken with passion in the pre-independence era. Children also put up a musical performance on the theme of peaceful environment.There were folk items on Oyilattam and tappattam, a visualization of the famous song on peace “Shanthi nilava vendum” (by the Tamil poet Subramania Bharathi) by a group of children rescued from child labour by Hand in Hand, an NGO in Kanchipuram. This was followed by “Pudupattu” – a play on peace questioning the treatment of women with Bharathanatyam artistes and five young artistes of traditional ritualistic theatre of Tamils, the Koothu, trained at the Kattaikuttu Sangam Gurukulam in Kanchipuram. Pudupattu was directed by the well-known theatre person, Pralayan.

What do we learn from all this? In feedback sessions after the event, young students shared their experience of breaking the stereotypical ideas of people belonging to different economic class and feeling of tenderness while tending to the sprouting of nine grains. That all of us are the same irrespective of class, religion, and language was the biggest learning experience.

The author is the Managing Trustee, The Aseema Trust, Chennai. She can be reached at aseema123@yahoo.com.

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