The year 2020 was like turning the page in human history. We were in the grip of a virus that killed mercilessly. Countless people were dying. Others were suffering the deepest pain of losing their loved ones. In the midst of such traumatic events, we saw the best and the worst of humanity. We were abandoning each other when we needed each other the most. The isolation suffered by people all across the world was terrifying. Perhaps we were being told to slow down. To hear, connect and be there for one another was difficult.
That is when we coined Project Empathy to bring ‘alive’ conversations around emotions, feelings, fears amongst school children and teachers. Project Empathy began its journey with an intervention for school children in
Delhi and Poland to help them discover the power of this social skill. The challenges of the pandemic and the variation in the time and space did not hamper the progression of the project from reaching out to a number of 150 students in Delhi and 25 students in Poland. The project impacted students from kindergarten to middle school levels.
It was a pilot project and a social experiment. Children’s responses to all the activities were an indicator that conversations about what is empathy, what does not fall in the paradigm of empathy, how to create healthy boundaries, how to understand and express emotions and how to walk into the shoes of another person, are absolutely essential, for children and teachers to have a whole hearted school experience. It is necessary for communicating mental health issues and for addressing bullying, silent treatment, unfairness, favouritism, inclusion and acceptance of one another. This is the road towards encouraging diversity and avoiding discrimination in the schools.
The year 2022-2023 has brought forth the phase II of the Project with baseline research, intervention and evaluation.
Why talk about empathy?
Empathy is the highest form intelligence. It compels us to process multiple layers of data about another person, feel for them and act from a place of compassion towards them. Empathy education or empathy training rewires the way we function as there are changes that occur in our brains which activate the mirror neurons. It directly affects our sense of well being and mental health.
Children and teachers were rejoining the schools after a gap of two long, painful years. It was essential to understand one another at a slower pace. Therefore Project Empathy initiated a six months long intervention in Boniyar, Kashmir, Kohima, Chieswema in Nagaland and Delhi. Teachers workshops were conducted at the outset to orient the educators about the importance of addressing empathy in the schools and about the format of the intervention. The project was backed with the baseline research in collaboration with Sreepriya Menon who is a trained therapist.
In Kashmir, the Principal of Army Goodwill School, Boniyar, Mr. Rizvi, said that it was need of the hour to introduce empathy in the schools. The students have received the project very well and so have the teachers. It is a new topic which is not a part of the academic education. Yet it has generated interest amongst the teachers to not only educate themselves about the concepts included in the project, but also to deliver them to the students with utmost care and sincerity. According to Ms. Tafheem who is coordinating the execution of the project in AGS Boniyar, “As far I have observed them ,they have developed creative thinking . Apart from emotional development students have also developed in their vocabulary ,whenever they have to write the answers they also go for choosing the right words. Besides behavioural changes ,it is also adding to their
It has resulted in the students becoming more confident about sharing their feelings and emotions with their peers and teachers. They have also become creative in giving expression to their ideas. They have learnt that it is safe to openly talk about their fears and doubts without being judged by their classmates or teachers. This has helped in addressing the discriminatory thoughts and a sense of separation that children experience from one another. The project has thrived on storytelling, journaling, artwork, discussions, nukkad nataks and many such creative ways of introducing empathy and compassion to the school ecosystem.
Project Empathy's activities and approach reinforces the humanitarian role of how the army participates in developing civilian lives and safeguards health and rights of those most vulnerable, especially in conflict areas. There is an extreme
impact of multiple stressful factors contributed by tough temperatures and terrain, distance from family and civic life and and influence of critical incidents in these areas where army works and plays a huge role. By initiating this work with Project Empathy, the army has supported the well being of families and communities residing there. It is important to bring such concepts more and more in the regular discourse of the schools to sow seeds of change in the consciousness of our students.
Alok Bharti Public School
Assam Rifles Public School
Kohima & Chieswema (Nagaland)
Kindergarten Chata Skrzata
“As an observer,I appreciate the initiative as the project has highly contributed to the physical and emotional well being and upliftment of the students and in fact it had the good impact on the teachers as well The project has served as a key element of emotional intelligence -the link between self and others. As we know that empathy is intuitive but it is something you can work on. It is a skill that can be developed and the project is serving best in this direction. By introducing the project and defining it’s underlying aim to all age groups through certain programmes and introducing it to common folk of the valley ,the project will be able to build up compassionate and healed communities in Kashmir.”
Mr. Syed Rizvi, Principal Army Goodwill School, Buniyar