Charunila Malatpure, Fellow at HumanQind | Safe School Zone Project
How colourful the journey of this girl student seems, no? From the Mental Map drawn by her? Is it though? The good thing is that children find happiness within the smallest of things: from a chole bhature shop to a cake shop, to an occasional spotting of a pigeon. It’s these small windows of wonder and wide smiles which give them a reason to look over the everydayness of their journey to school and then back home. Journeys where they are invisible, where they are invisiblised. Cities of India, it seems, are increasingly being created by real estate developers and not by urban planners. Even if it be the latter, inclusion – social and economic, intersectional and intergenerational, is rarely within the purview of ‘important’ aspects. Children sit at the bottom of this hierarchy. For children from government schools, this invisibilisation is amplified further because of the communities they belong to.
This Government school for girls is strategically located. It is adjacent to the Rohtak National Highway, has a Metro station well within a kilometre of its radius and is surrounded by an Industrial Area. One way to look at it is that access to transport mediums is easier. Another lens is the chaos it sits between. The school is also important because it is the only government school within the four-kilometre area. Numerous students make their journeys from the locality of Premnagar – either walking for forty-five minutes to one hour, or walking + via e-rickshaw, which roughly takes around thirty minutes. If for a moment you think time and distance are the biggest barriers they hustle with, add to it a railway crossing which literally piles up traffic every morning and how they are made to learn to manoeuvre it to reach school. No dignity for children, none for those who have disabilities.
When children see themselves being treated as non-citizens on the roads, on the streets, and within the spaces they occupy, repeatedly, they eventually give in to the culture of being shoved, pushed and hustled. The workshops conducted under the Safe School Zone Project were to acquaint and educate these young citizens on concepts such as Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Sustainable Traffic Safety (STS), and furthermore, introduce them to the bureaucracy and the government systems with respect to governance and social accountability, each of which is required to ensure human rights, equity and democracy for all. – Tools and Knowledge which can allow them to have a voice. A voice that’s been systematically overlooked.
Our Visions begin with Desires. – Audre Lorde
What happens when children open to you, they begin to trust you, they allow you a glimpse of their quirky self, their wishes, their journeys; allow you a peek into their thoughts, their feelings, the manner in which they make sense of the world; when they hold your hand (as a parent would) to make you see and understand their lives and the many emotions and happiness-es they experience every day? What happens when they lead with love, and care and show you what listening, respect, and dignity can truly be? What does it mean to not merely be seen, but felt as well? What do you do? How does one act-react? How does one take in? All this. It is moments like these when we as a team felt that us adults are not built for such sort of intensity.
The workshops which were designed to re-imagine the school zones not only enabled an understanding within the design and planning: a pedestrian walkway, benches, traffic lights; road safety: signages and zebra crossings, and sanitation: cleanliness, pollution, water logging aspects (or better yet let's label them, wishes as well as needs of the students who participated), but more so on the inequality of living they and the communities within the area/locality experience every day with respect to mobility and safety.
“The exercise of imagination is dangerous to those who profit from the way things are because it has the power to show that the way things are is not permanent, not universal, not necessary”.
- Ursula K. Le Guin
The school zone models created by the girl students of Class 6-H were visions of an inclusive world - their world, a small world to begin with. – A world that is for everyone and not just for those with access and means. Access is gendered – in terms of land, property, housing etc. It is blatantly socio-economic as well when it comes to the quality of life – who gets what and why, or why not? The workshops hosted were to familiarise and build capabilities of students on representation, resources, rights and realities through the prism of transport and safety in a playful and activity-led exercise – through films, stories of change and other visual and interactive mediums to underscore #notsmallbutequal mission of the project. For a space (the school), that is occupied by the children, where they are the key ‘stakeholders’, the goal of these nine workshops was to co-design spaces, and catalyse communities – that of students, school authorities, parents as well as immediate communities, and thereon, for them to lead change.
To conclude, ‘to lead change’ comes with such loaded and glib connotations. As a jargon, it's about vision and impact and scale, but when it comes down to working towards it, it's messy. (We all know it!) Constant motivation, and engagement, to be able to visualise together what this ‘change’ looks and feels like, how it affects, and how is it communicated is a collaborative, immersive, sensory and evidence-led work. It is the kind of work which needs re-visiting every now and then. It cannot be in isolation. It has to be rooted within and carried out alongside the community. Equally, through equal power-sharing, hand-in-hand. The Safe School Project by HumanQind is an attempt towards it.