With the lockdown in order from the 25th of March, the daily routine of people came to a startling halt. All offices are shut, schools and colleges are closed, and the feeling of anxiety and concern about the upcoming days has settled in the minds of people.
One of the most affected – yet still the less talked about, unseen victims of the pandemic are children. Every morning, students wake up to this one thought “what will happen to our semester?”; parents are worried about their child’s education, fearing for the wastage of their academic year. The state of children from underprivileged families is even more acute. Till the lockdown persists and the schools are shut, the learning of these children, whose parents may not be equipped with the education to teach them at home them is bound to suffer the most.
We are already foreseeing a situation where a large number of children would force to go to work and support their family income instead of returning to school after the lockdown is lifted. However, the situation of children who manage to retain their academic year after the lockdown is also bleak as many, who emerges from a long gap of no practice of learning, would severely lag behind in their studies. To mitigate the crisis up to a certain extent, the NGO Child Rights and You—CRY (Mumbai) rolled out ‘Mentor-Mentee’ virtual workshops.
CRY, through its volunteers, tried to reach out to those students to help them get their academics back on track. It had a whole group of 61 volunteers who reached out to 85 children who had been cut off from studies.
The 85 children come from the various public action groups (PAGS) functioning with CRY. PAGS are volunteer-driven groups that work for the welfare of underprivileged children in the communities and government schools in Mumbai and Pune.
They could reach out to some other children through Rajashri Chatrapati Shahu Maharaj Municipal School in Rabale, Navi Mumbai where the principal and the teachers of the school were keen that the children should not lag behind in their studies because of the lockdown.
Eventually, a few volunteers also proactively reached out to 41 of the children that they have been teaching in their PAGS. The digital learning sessions (amidst the several technical glitches) were done to ensure that kids are learning, enjoying & cherishing this time at home while being a platform to extend support to kids and their families in order to remind them that they are not alone in this crisis.
CRY volunteers were obviously concerned about the mental health of the tiny tots they were teaching and made sure their concerns about the loss of studies and playing time were heard adequately. The children– however, surprised the volunteers by coming up with their own mechanism in dealing with the anxiety and boredom heads on!
They turned their thoughts to the canvas and began painting their minds. These drawings – made with whatever little material they have access to – not only reflect the scenes from their everyday life but also traverse far above the lockdown and unlock their most beautiful and colorful imaginations! Some kids also created beautiful drawings and paintings that remarkably had some important messages for society.
From preventive measures to doctors’ fight against COVID-19, they gave their best to spread awareness in their own community and keeping it safe through their colorful drawings. They had spread their meaningful paintings all around for people to see and take a lesson from it by putting up their drawings at every possible place where they could grab the mob’s attention, for example, near the groceries stores, pharmacies, etc.
A shopkeeper near the house of one of those kids named Laxman said, “very inspirational in these times, coming from children of all people. We have to keep our shop open sometimes to supply essential goods. It’s good that awareness is created so that we also feel safe. Prevention is better than cure.”
It was more than an achievement to see these small kids driving away from the quarantine blues by creating awareness in their society.
Their innocent initiatives revived the smiles on people’s faces that had vanished along with their freedom to roam around in the city. Their genuine efforts had to be fruitful as the public has responded positively about the washing of hands with sanitizer, wearing of mask especially when sneezing, coughing, social distancing etc.
Another child, Shravani shared her experience saying, “Lot of my friends around ask about my drawings as they are curious, like why they have to wear masks, why they need to wash hands frequently and why not to crowd in places etc. I know the answers as didi have told me to tell them.” (didi refers to one of the CRY volunteers).
The love and enthusiasm with which the kids have welcomed this initiative are really heartwarming. The spark of excitement in the innocent eyes of kids could be seen, eager to get back to learning new things and to interact with volunteers they have established beautiful strong bonds with.
This ‘Mentor-Mentee Initiative’ has so constructively channelized the immense energy of the kids especially now when they were getting restless during this phase of restrictions and uncertainty. And their painting and sharing knowledge efforts came out as a return gift to us which made the initiative a huge success.
Tabassum Shaikh, CRY Volunteer