26 Nov 2011

Making a Difference!

Urvi Wani*

As a law student I had to study various legal systems such as the Indian criminal law, juvenile justice law, etc and the laws I read with particular reference to children always troubled me, they troubled me not because these systems were bad but because they were incomplete. A legal system must ideally provide not only punitive and remedial measures but also preventive and deterrent measures. Some such measures are provided in our laws but they don’t go a long way that is when I had heard of The CHILDLINE  India Foundation’s program on Child Sexual Abuse Awareness volunteer recruitment drive, I immediately signed up to do my bit (as small as that may be) to change the status of children in India.

This program primarily focused on the preventive aspects of child sexual abuse, by creating awareness amongst young children by giving them age appropriate information. As a Volunteer I would be given the adequate training and assigned a certain number of schools wherein I would be conducting the workshops.

As one of the guinea pigs( I say Guiea Pigs because it was the very first time both for the organisation and me, and being the first timer always has its share of  testing times)  being the  very first batch of the volunteers I think we were lucky. Like a fresh slate with no scratches, our training workshops were unsoiled with no predisposed notions on the part of the participants or the speakers. Everybody was relying on their gut instinct. It was a varied experience with lectures from experts in every field related to Child Sexual Abuse, such a law, police, mental health, medicine, etc. The practical sessions on story telling were fantastic and most enjoyable! Who would have thought that a room full of adults could actually enjoy the experience of storytelling and role playing so much?!

I have never been in a classroom except as a student. That being said, I was extremely confident about conducting the workshops. I had read my material over a dozen times and had practiced voice modulations in front of a mirror and made funny faces at children on my morning jogs as an experiment to see which ones they reacted to! So when I showed up at the doors of my assigned  school on that   pleasant  february morning, it was surge of emotions I was excited,  anxious, confident , This was a great school to start with, the principle was inviting and the PTA members present and hospitable (excessively !). The story telling workshop with the younger children (std 2, 3 & 4) was wonderful! They had look at you with their eyes brimming with innocence and limitless interest. But my little bubble burst when the older ones (std 5 & 6) showed up. Getting them to sit in their seats was a mammoth task in itself! Thankfully once the story telling session began, they gradually calmed down. I don’t think I have ever been asked more difficult questions in my life, not even in the numerous oral exams I have had given in the 18 years of education.  They were so curious and they would connect random thoughts at lightning speed. And God Forbid they catch you if you make a mistake … phew !!! But trust me the experience was so addictively exciting!

Many other schools and workshops followed, a pattern began to grow. Anxious teachers wondering if this was a Sex Education workshop, an inquisitive child hoping this was a Sex Education workshop. There is this one particular incident that truly stands out. During a hot humid week in July I was conducting these workshops in one of the schools. At the end of my fourth day, a member of the CHILDLINE team called me and said she needed to tell something about a call she got in regards to my workshops of that day and then the phone line got disconnected. I was extremely nervous and even a little scared while I tried to call her back to no avail… Did I use a word I shouldn’t have? Did I say something I shouldn’t have? Did I forget something important?! I finally got back on line with her and she told me a mother had called the CHILDLINE office and my heart sunk! I knew I was in trouble, big trouble.

She then went on to tell me that the mother had heard about the workshop being conducted from her child who even narrated the stories to her. I was just about to blurt out a string of apologies when the CHILDLINE team member said that the mother was thrilled and extremely grateful that we had handled such a sensitive topic with such care. Words fall short of describing the feeling …. The parent was happy, the CHILDLINE team was happy and I was ecstatic!

This journey of ten schools of every demographic has really given me incredible insight into schools in our city and how much a school influences a child’s overall development, and what makes a good school.


*Urvi Wani, a 24- year- old lawyer is a volunteer for the CSA Awareness program in Mumbai.