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Community Spaces as a way ahead for Resilience

I was about to finish my fellowship in the month of April. We all were excited and were hoping for a Bittersweet end to our 2-year long journey teaching bunch of hubbly-bubbly kids in our classrooms. Teach For India fellows works in communities and many of them even initiate projects to address different issues prevalent in these low-income communities. The work done in classrooms is exceptionally great and the overall holistic growth of the child is taken care of in every possible manner.

But with the lock-down after the pandemic spread and shutting of schools led to a collapse of this system. The education for million of these kids vanished overnight. Most of these communities lack inbuilt resources and motivated individuals to drive the learning process for children. The communities are not equipped to handle such abrupt changes and are too dependent on external interventions like schools for education while simultaneously have failed to establish capacity within to bring transition. The digital transition is taking place but the pace is extremely slow as well as difficult for these communities to adapt. As a fellow, I personally never thought of ‘How prepared my community kids are to such overnight changes?’ I also felt that we ran seeking out to technology or digital mediums as a quick fix to the current situation but the resilience of communities to develop methods within to cater day-to-day learning is missing.

I moved back to my village and observed similar patterns of missing systems within to let kids explore learning in these times. Though the village doesn’t have much impact due to COVID but the preventive guidelines have closed schools and many of these remote communities which are untouched by the pandemic are also missing systems that could address learning requirements of children. Many of these communities if were self reliant to an extent for education and had an inbuilt infrastructure; I hope things wouldn’t be this halted.

Since I was in the locality for a month and I even started visiting a temple nearby. I observed a bunch of kids just gossiping around regularly and one day out of curiosity I initiated a conversation on their school and classes. Kids mentioned how the classes have been stopped due to fee dispute and the lack of resources, teachers and motivation to continue studies on their own. This kept troubling me for a while and then I thought of experimenting with a Self Sustained Sustainability Community Space.

Once I have an idea, out of excitement it blossoms like Rafflesia. I had few illustrated books, a bird watching guide, set of colors, and a bunch of stories in my head. On the first day, I invited kids to just come to the temple compound and join. The kids were super shy to participate in but anyhow managed to join for the story circle and learning discussion. We just had 2 girls on the first day since girls are hardly allowed in the community to participate (an unfortunate sad part). I shared the story of ‘A Tiger on a Tree’ in a very dramatic manner; fortunately it was well received. Further as a learning circle we had open conversations, activities and group discussions; letting kids get comfortable. We left the circle with a promise to come back next day with a favorite story.

Next day more people turned up, excited and curious to know why the others enjoyed the previous session. On the second day, we created the space under trees where we explored stories, poetry and free ideas initially and then defined the purpose of the space:

“This temple space is for all and the resources, our library is a step away access to anyone to come and learn. We leave the space with something and returns to it with Ideas. This is yours and this belongs to everyone”.

Discussion and sharing

Going through the Encyclopedia

Kids liked the idea of the open space and we further established our Values, structures and behavior norms. The books from my collection, white sheets, colors, bird-watching kit, an encyclopedia were placed as an initial kit. Over the period of 7-days, this space brought all of us together and I succeeded in building ownership.

The independence day was approaching and the kids were excited to plan a local function. Though I was skeptical of a function since we had 2 days left to plan and I didn’t have time to think of ideas, train and execute. Jivish, a 9th grader came up with idea of 5 small events and asked to plan everything out. They just collected the speaker from me in the morning and by the end of the day successfully prepared the event. They colored some paper flags, brought mats, and even invited parents to the function the nexday. Surprisingly we had support pouring from the people where one of the parents offered biscuit packets in place of ‘Ladoo’ to be distributed.

The temple space is a junction of religion and education while students are engaged in their activities and books while the devotees are offering prayers. This brings a joy to see how people and different dimension of a social structure co-exist.

We have conducted three workshops so-far on Bird Watching, Tree mapping and Observing the Spaces around. The parents have started visiting the space too and the number of parents during the event made it a great success for our initiative.

Understanding the Surroundings

Art from Nature

Art from Nature

Understanding the Surroundings

Bird Watching

I initiated the space to explore and understand how we can build more resilient communities during crisis while focusing on a sustainability project involving experiments, field visits, experiential workshops. Eco-literacy is a priority but the initial focus is to create a space to kids to have freedom to learn whatever they want. I believe we need to devise interventions and local stakeholder involvement systems to make communities self-growth oriented. We need to establish a narrative where they learn to think about few parameters of their own growth rather then being dependent. We need to design spaces that brings them closer, sets up the narrative and design solution oriented actions. The deeper connect to the cultural identity and identifying the solution within is the way forward. We can make our people and communities resilient by driving a change within and to the path of that is to establish spaces that involves them in dialogue, that involves kids of the communities to learn and youth to strive for impactful solutions. Why not start a space in your community till the time things eases out and dives into an immersive journey to know our own people closely?

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