Perturbed at how irresponsibly some adults are behaving by not taking this COVID-19 outbreak seriously, children at a Kolkata slum have come up with a series of posters with powerful messages, with a hope to make it a safer and healthier society.
Phrases like ‘isolation’, ‘social distancing’ and ‘staying at home’ are trending all over the world in these trying times. Never has this country, or for that matter, the world, seen a terrible situation like this, where a viral infection has brought the whole world down to its knees, and the mantra on the lips of most of the people is “keep social distance”, even though it’s very difficult in a country like ours.
In our country, millions of people living in urban slums hardly have the luxury to practice physical distancing, given the scarcity of space. Neither they can afford to stay at home, as a major portion of them work in informal sectors and live on daily wages. But what makes the situation more worrying is that many of us do not understand the gravity of the problem that stares at us. Not only does it make them much more vulnerable, but also creates the probability of the situation going out of control at any point in time.
In such a situation what it requires is immediate changes in personal hygiene and behaviour patterns. What takes us years to achieve in terms of behaviour change procedures to be properly implemented, needs to be carried out in a matter of days.
For the volunteers of CRY (Child Rights and You) in Kolkata, this seemed like an opportunity to do just that. A few days back, CRY volunteers working in the urban slums of Narkeldanga area reached out to the children over the phone – children they work with every weekend.
While usually, these weekly sessions focused on studies, art and craft, creative pursuit and overall development of the children, this time it was to gauge how they were reacting to the Coronavirus scare.
What the volunteers realised was that the pandemic has taken a huge toll on the children. Their economic backgrounds leave them with little choice at this point.
Mostly the children of daily wage workers, labourers and small shop owners, they come from families that are looking at terrible times ahead and are grappling to cope with the new normal. However, speaking to the volunteers, the children expressed that there were other things that were frustrating them as much or more than not being able to go out – the non-responsive behaviour of the adults!
These children were clearly perturbed at how irresponsibly some of the adults were behaving by not taking instructions seriously. They were also aware that more often than not, their voices go unheard and are not given much importance.
“People don’t listen to us. Therefore, we decided to make them see. Through a series of posters that we have made, we wanted to show the adults our hopes for a better, safer, healthier and much more responsible country,” said Akbar (name changed), a child of 14.
“I cannot believe that despite repeated warnings, so many of them are roaming around in the streets like nothing has happened. If we children can understand how deadly this virus is and how it is creating havoc, why can’t they?” asked Akbar, bewildered.
“We live in the slums of Rajabazar and adjoining areas. Neither do we have access to a lot of space needed for physical distancing, nor clean environments or lots of water to keep washing our hands the whole day. Our community has just a couple of common toilets to share. Even then, we feel that though it is not going to be easy, we can definitely try to practise the healthy habits that can keep us safe during this scary time,” said Sabina (name changed), all of 15.
Aqsaa, one of the volunteers who coordinated children’s poster-making activities, is elated to see the effects. “These posters did indeed make a great impact on people”, she says – “Now that the community know the symptoms and what it takes to fight the deadly disease, they are now aware of taking precautions. And, for me, it was a unique creative exercise to attract people and convey the message,” Aqsaa added, brimming.
In a country where only 35.8% of households practise hand-washing with soaps before meals, such an initiative taken up by the CRY volunteers and this bunch of little children becomes all the more important. CRY’s experience of working with children’s rights to participation over the past 40 years has taught us of the importance of the agency of the child.
Children experience the world in a different way and through different eyes. When we give them their platform and listen to their voices, we adults gain access to the wisdom of innocence. Over the years, CRY has seen the agency of the child work wonders, and this is yet another shining example of it.
About the author: Puja Marwaha is CEO, CRY – Child Rights and You.