As I sit today in Goa India back at work, the Training for Transformation (TfT) 2010-11 remains etched in my memory as a course that showed me what I have to do to continue my work with children. It brought to focus the need for a vision and how I must head for the goals set to achieve social and economic justice for the millions of children who remain deprived and neglected. The course reinforced what I already believed in best put in Mahtama Gandhi’s words “Be the change you want to see in the world.” I did not know how. The course has shown me the way.
I need to draw strength to continue my work by first realising that it is spiritual values that give strength to bring about transformation in order to face the power structures which have the resources to control the world. My faith in the spiritual springs from the lessons taught by my religion and the Bible became a book of inspiration with a new meaning. The words of Jesus and his life along with that of great spiritual leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Gautam Buddha, Julius Nyerere, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela reminded me of the central aspect of morality within culture. The course rests on the fact that spirituality means Ubuntu-universal love, truth and justice. The world is one and life is connected. I have to use my head, heart and hands to work to make any cause for justice a reality.
For more than twelve years I have worked in the field of child rights and it has left me wondering about the whole question of moral values. How can one imagine that it is possible that children face incest, rape, extreme forms of abuse, commercial sexual exploitation and female foeticide? They are trafficked and are a prey to paedophiles. Case after case left me disgusted and devastated. I felt helpless. I then began the work I do in Goa India. It started when an 8 month baby died of ant bites in the government remand home. It was a case that kept me going but there was no light at the end of the tunnel as the child had been abandoned and who would fight for a life that was lost before it even began? There are millions of abandoned children in India and millions more that end up in child labour and child prostitution. Discrimination remains rife and child labour continues unabated despite laws.
I began to work on advocacy with government and the police and found out how authorities function-the child remains least priority especially if it’s left to the mercy of the state. It led to the formulation of the Goa Children’s Act 2003 and I am proud today I was part of working with an NGO to get the Act to see the light of day. It was a vindication for all children of India. Child rights took on a new meaning! Yet children continue to be seen rather than heard. This led me to the idea of setting up a state of the art child participation centre where all children with the use of computer programmes and fun activities learn the UNCRC (UN Convention on the Rights of Children 1989).India is a signatory of the Convention and all child related legislatures or policies must be based on it. The centre focuses on child participation.
TFT has further helped me to use the participatory methods enumerated by Paulo Freire to get children to speak out, to develop a questioning mind in order to make choices and solve their own problems. The use of ‘codes’ to bring out emotions has given me the needed insight on facilitation and on how to ask relevant questions to get to the root causes of social, economic and cultural issues.. It would then fulfil the aim that is central to TFT to build learning communities and for me: Where better to start than with children?
There is a long way to go but with new found faith thanks to the intensive learning experience of the course, I know that I will not give up even if “The woods are dark and deep…” for “I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep.” (Robert Frost).
By Anita Mathew (Consultant -Women And Child Rights-Goa, India)