Construire un pont d´empathie
Au moyen des ateliers littéraires après l´horaire scolaire, ACNUR apprend les enfants de l´Inde à réfléchir sur la tolérance, la diversité et à développer leur empathie envers des personnes de différentes religions et cultures.
Reported by Sunrita Sen
A little girl writes from a Delhi slum,
I am a Hindu; You are a Muslim
I am a champa; You are a chameli
Two flowers of the same color,
But with a different fragrance.
In India where sectarian violence has bitterly divided urban communities, this is the stuff of radical poetry. They write a lot of it at the Ankur afterschool centers, where amidst poverty and deep distrust, they are quietly and determinedly planting the seeds of peace.
Ankur, which literally means “seedling,” was founded by a group of activists, artists and thinkers who felt that India’s textbook-based education system failed to give children the real life skills to cope with their complex society.
“There may be lessons on nonviolence and justice in textooks, but the child sees the opposite around her in the larger world.” says Jaya Shrivastava, Ankur’s director.
“Unless she understands the dichotomy on her own terms, how will she cope with the contradictions and conflicts she encounters in real life, the differences and diversities she sees around her?”
Ankur begins with children’s innate curiosity about others, the takes them on a journey of self-awareness and understanding of others that leads ultimately, to compassion and empathy.
In a society as sectarian as India’s, this is a major undertaking. A year after the program started in 1983, the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi led to explosive riots and the killing of almost 3,000 of Delhi’s Sikhs. Immediately afterward, Ankur set up eight centers in Delhi’s slums, where many children were directly affected by the killings.
Staffed by women facilitators from each community, the centers run early morning and after school programs that currently reach 10,000 children between the ages of 6 and 15.
Learning at Ankur begins with the self-understanding, says Srivastava. From there, study moves outward to notions of family, friendship and community. Creative writing, art, dance, and theater are combined with formal lessons. Ultimately, students progress to the larger issues of violence and conflict in their communities, and between India and Pakistan.
Ankur brings children together from diverse backgrounds to talk and ask questions of each other. A group of Hindu children whose families migrated to the city’s slums meets a group of Sikh children whose families have been uprooted from their homes by violence. They learn about each other’s families and religion but also about each other’s fears and pleasures.
“It is through constant self-questioning, interaction with others and exposure to diversity that one can build bridges of empathy,” says Shrivastava. From these encounters, real connections are made and real understanding takes root, alongside genuine appreciation of diversity. The result can be poetry.
As women from the communities become involved as facilitators for the children at the centers, they have started forming their own groups for raising awareness about women’s rights and education.