The above words may seem like a pipe dream, a utopian ideal, penned by someone hoping for a better world but in some corners of our great nation, these lines are well on their way to becoming a reality.
“Before becoming the Prime Minister, I only cleaned my home and my school but now I even pick up garbage I see on the road and put it in a dustbin. If I see someone litter I go up to them and speak to them about the need to keep our environment clean. I promise to make the Swachh Bharat campaign successful in my school and in my community,” says Prime Minister Harini R. A student of Class 8 at the Government School in Manapet, Puducherry, Harini was democratically elected by a Bal Panchayat, a Parliament consisting of her peers. Entrusted with this immense responsibility, she is keen to replicate Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision in her school and community.
Leaders of tomorrow
Harini’s classmate, M. Ragavi is the Speaker of the House. “I preside over meetings and ensure that important Bills are passed by my fellow Ministers,” says the young girl who considers the warrior queen, Rani Lakshmi Bai of Jhansi her role model.
After joining the Bal Panchayat, Ragavi’s interest in education has increased and she comes early to school to assist the weaker students with their studies. Last November, she appeared for the National cum Means Merit Scholarship and got through with flying colours.
She aims to achieve a BSc in Agriculture which will help her fulfil her dream of educating farmers about better cropping patterns. Recently, this spirited student attended a three-day camp organised by her school at Aranya Forest where she and her peers learnt new things about various kinds of trees and their importance in maintaining the ecological balance.
“The camp co-ordinators taught us to maintain the natural order by refraining from several practices like killing snakes as most of them are harmless and in fact, necessary to safeguard the environment,” she says. Ragavi and her classmates are now passionate advocates for causes like water conservation, recycling and environmental protection.
J. Valatha, Health and Environment Minister was fairly lax about school work till he assumed responsibility of his current portfolios. He now nurtures medicinal saplings and has also developed a portable organic waste cutting machine which cuts dried leaves and adds it to a specially created compost pit. Valatha won first prize for this project at a competition held at the Regional and District level. He and his peer also participated in another competition held at the Southern India level, where he won second prize, competing against schools from Puducherry, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. This innovative project was also selected for Wipro’s Earthian Programme and the National Science Congress.
“The change brought about in these children as a result of the Bal Panchayat initiative is immense,” says Mary Angelina, who oversees Community Initiatives & Sustainability at Mahindra Holidays & Resorts India Ltd. “I have received very positive feedback from schools where this system has been implemented. Teachers and students alike have observed significant change in the children’s confidence levels and commitment to the society. It also demonstrates just what children are capable of given an opportunity.”
Bal Panchayat as an agent of change
Mary had first seen the positive impact of the Bal Panchayat initiative when she worked as a Project Manager for rural development in the villages of Maharashtra. “The concept of the Bal Panchayat was first introduced by the Institute of Health Management in Pachod, Gujarat. When I joined Mahindra Holidays, I thought it would be an excellent way to engage with the local communities surrounding our resorts. We began with two schools in Binsar in North India – Shishu Mandir and Shriram Vidya Mandir – and have now extended the concept to the Government School in Manapet, Puducherry,” she says.
Rural communities generally lack awareness about various issues including health, education and the environment, usually due to dearth of education, exposure and apathy. The Bal Panchayats aim to remedy this situation by placing children at the forefront of development. Children in the age group of 9 – 14 years are elected and mobilised to form a group and take up developmental activities in a planned and effective manner. The Bal Sevaks, as they are known, then focus on areas concerning education, health, hygiene, sanitation, tree plantation, non-formal education and the environment.
Bal Panchayats have identified several developmental issues in their villages, seeking to devise solutions along with the adult Panchayats. These include better infrastructure for schools, availability of clean drinking water, separate toilets for girls, easy access to schools, building of libraries and playgrounds, improved electrical connections, water supply and closure of liquor shops.
The Change Within
Another positive fallout of this initiative is the change it brings about in the children. “Formal education is important as it helps one earn a livelihood but schools also need to impart life skills to children if they have to thrive in a better world. Initiatives like this make them more sensitive to the needs of others and teaches them to respect human rights,” says Mary.
“The main benefit of the Bal Panchayat programme is that children learn to work as a team and understand the importance of working together towards village development. Planning, supervising and following-up on activities adds to their self-development, while their decision making abilities are also enhanced. They also learn the importance of respecting the consensus and the individuality of each group member,” says Mary.
‘A GROWING MOVEMENT OF CHANGE IN RURAL INDIA...’
Heartened by the success of the initial Bal Panchayat programmes in schools near its properties in Binsar and Puducherry, the company is now keen to replicate the model wherever its resorts are located. “The purchase team from MHRIL that visited the Government School in Manapet were astounded at the confident manner in which these children conducted themselves and took on the responsibility of improving their immediate environment. The staff at our resorts in Binsar and Puducherry have put in a great deal of effort to ensure that this programme is a success and we have now resolved to introduce the Bal Panchayat concept to many more schools in rural India,” concludes Mary.
Harini, Ragavi, Rahul and Valatha are clearly part of a small revolution, a growing movement of change in rural India and while they cannot change the world, their efforts can certainly help them change the communities in which they live, towards a better tomorrow.
In the words of Anne Frank, another child who sought change in the world she lived in, “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”