Research on discrimination brings home the fact that the members of a dominant group are not at the receiving end therefore are unaware of the pain such actions are causing in the day to day life of the minority group or individual. In an effort to build a pluralistic society emphasis must be placed on empowerment, dialogue and awareness about the sanctity of each individual life and efforts must be directed towards enabling everyone to live in peace and harmony. Learning tempers heart and mind, by clearly discerning the impact of actions and the effects they will engender on others as well as oneself. At the same time empowers the indomitable human spirit to have the courage to address the discriminatory behaviour and stand up against it. This further fuels the determination to effect positive change by remaining undefeatable and invincible.
In 2016 The India Project ‘Say no to Discrimination’, was launched by Reachout Foundation. The project spanned over three years and went from micro level of school – student – educators and parents to communities - North East frontiers of India to - a global interaction of people from different countries coming together as one community. Observations were made through interviews and workshops and the findings recorded by for further analysis, research and studies.
Through these experiences across the various divides of people of different age groups, ethnicities, cultures and countries the project aimed to create ’acceptance ‘of diversity as a strength, awareness of multicultural diversity, stereotypes, prejudices and discrimination that manifest in the day to day lives of people everywhere. An exceptional facet of the project was an attempt to create a human connect amongst the children in Delhi with their friends in Assam, Manipur, Arunachal, Meghalaya and Kashmir through an exchange of cards and letters. This effectively connected the children amongst the 6 states and also brought to the fore the urban rural diversity. This was an innovative social experiment to open up the minds and hearts of children and help them accept the amazing diversity of this country. It established the fact that inner awakening at the early years is the transformative force for development of humanistic values of respect for ourselves as well as everyone around us.
This journey from ‘Say not to Discrimination’ took the shape of ‘Project Empathy’. It was conceived during the pandemic lockdown conditions. This bears testimony to the fact that the human spirit is forever evolving and no form of outside restrictions can hinder its growth. This project had its first participants children of household workers. Interactions with them and their responses enabled the founders to reach out to children with the vision that empathy can be taught, experienced and practiced by anyone and anywhere. Armed with the observations and the desire to enable Children to be the ‘Ambassadors of Change’ the project made the bold attempt to cross all divides of countries, time differences, ages and partnered with Ad Lucent Foundation, Poland .
Two schools were selected and the age group differed the pre-primary students in Poland and the middle school students in India. The same lesson plans were conducted with the age appropriate activities. The observations were very interesting. Perspectives may be driven by cultural, social, and economic stereotypes and prejudices but when these children were made to self-reflect about the sufferings of their own and others during the pandemic and the effects of forced migration of refugees they came to understand that suffering is universal. This self-realization transformed the feelings of being alienated from others and made them aware of our shared humanity.
The valuable findings of these two projects are touching the core issues of discrimination and empathy. These can be points of reference for further studies and can be applied to a larger segment. They can be the foundations on which workshops can be conducted to empower educators as well as parents and civil societies. The fact that at the heart, these projects are directed at empowering children in their formative years, they hold a promise of creating a better, more humanistic world. The respect for life and the awareness that each life is precious and worthy of respect will root out the evils of hate discrimination and indifference. We are all aware of the fact that human life is plummeting towards a downward cycle of hate, apathy and misery. We all feel the need to act but how do we go about it. These feelings of helplessness grips out hearts and minds. The courage to act is the need of the hour. These findings not only give us food for thought but as their involvement is with real people and real situations we can apply them as the first step towards empowerment and creating awareness. This will enable us to proceed on our own journey of empowering ourselves and our societies and communities. The practical insights which these observations, interviews, lesson plans provide are ready tools of implementation with our students, educators or even in the community we are involved in. If given a chance they can be adapted to suit the requirements of anyone with the heart and mind to take the courageous step towards building a better and more humane world. In conclusion these can be a catalyst to our own growth and empowerment as they are related to our own core values and beliefs and compel us to reshape our own thinking and thus the world.