If education is meant to inculcate understanding, tolerance and unconditional love for one’s fellow human being, it was in generous display at the Student Exchange Program held by Bal Utsav between its School for Construction Workers’ Children and Deens Academy, on 14 October 2014, from 9:30 am – 2:30 pm at the Deens Academy campus and classroom environs.
The activity, now in 3rd successful year, simply means having the children spend a day at the Deens Academy campus, with their peers, in their classrooms, along with their teachers. What has worked wonderfully through all these years have been the extraordinary level of camaraderie and genuine warmth, not to mention love and affection that becomes instantly visible as the Deens take our children into their fold.
One of the chirpiest at Bal Utsav, Lakshmi, is so excited and overjoyed that she has a tough time managing her attention span, in a tearing hurry to make the maximum number of friends in the available time. She should know more than any of her peers in Deens Academy – of living alone with her mother, single, in a one-room tenement and in mortal fear of her estranged father. The yellow bus that came to her slum, regularly in the morning, was her “Magic Time Machine” that brought her the joy of sanity, companionship and above all, learning. For those like Lakshmi, and more who are worse off than her, emotionally and socially, these meaningful interactions are passages to a part of the world where they are welcomed unconditionally, without any presumptions on caste, creed, color or social standing.
To Lakshmi, above all, it is a crucial part of being “accepted” by the society around her, to be in the knowledge that she is equal to any child of her age in terms of talent and capabilities, and that she has an opportunity to learn and grow like her new found friend in Deens Academy.
“It is amazing the way children react when they are told of an initiative like this Students Exchange Program, which is of a different league altogether”, says Ramesh Balasundaram, co-founder of Bal Utsav, as he watches little Lakshmi set the class room ablaze with her laughter and natural wit. “She is a natural charmer, though it took us a lot of patience and hand-holding to bring her out of her depressing cocoon that she had woven for herself.” He is moved by the unconditional love that binds the children together, and so are the teachers from both the institutions.
The students from Deens Academy were informed the previous day that each one would be meeting a new friend the next day, and it would be great to have them bring along a lunchbox for them too. The response was phenomenal, to say the least. Each one had a lunch box of mostly their own favorite dishes, home-made, for their new friend whom they looked forward to meet that morning.
The post-lunch recess came sooner than expected and the visible happiness on each face of having made new friends were hard to dismiss from both the student communities, as the children from Bal Ultsav started boarding their bus back home.
For the children finding hard to settle down inside their transport, as everyone tries to talk to everyone else at the same time about their new friend from Deens, the co-ordinators are finding it hard to help them settle down for the ride ahead.
“This could not have been possible but for the whole-hearted co-operation of Ms Shanthi Menon – Principal of Deens Academy, and her students and teachers. The possibilities of these interactions are immense, and way profound that we can ever imagine,” says Binu Verma, “the opportunities and the doors that unconditional love and inclusiveness open are what would help our children soar.”
Looking at the tired but excited faces and listening to the animated chatter amongst the Bal Utsav children, it is hard to disagree.