I went looking for big accomplishments,
I thought bigger the achievements, better it would be…
And then the little ones came marching along,
And in a firm voice one said, ‘well, you can look at me!’
‘I am neither big, nor grand,
And I only make promises that I can keep,
My solutions are simple yet effective,
My feelings though are true, and my thoughts deep.’
‘I don’t give up till I succeed,
Because I’ve been told I have great power within me,
It must be true and I do totally believe,
That I will be the change that the world wishes to see!’
© Prionka Ray
That in short sums up my entire experience at the ‘Be The Change Exposition’ that was held on the 12th of November at #2, Orchard Link, Singapore.
I had promised in my last post to introduce you to some real life young heroes and this was the place to find them. So, I had braved gloomy weather, rain and a chaotic traffic to reach the venue but once inside, I found myself transported to a different world, a world that was bursting with vibrant energy and was far removed from the gloomy streets. The place was full of educators, parents, supporters and students, aged 9 to 14. Each of the students believed that he or she could change the world. It was not an empty boast, either. They had indeed changed a few lives, in a small way perhaps, but changed them, nevertheless. In fact, the exposition’ 2013 celebrated these achievements and hoped in turn to inspire the others, by these success stories.
Inspired I definitely was, but I also realised pretty soon that it would be unfair to hand-pick a couple of heroes in a room that was full of heroes. No one there was better than anyone else, so, before I go any further let me say that I am honoured to be among these bright, passionate and creative kids who didn’t wait for the world to solve their problems, but jumped right in with whatever little resources they had, and came up with creative solutions. When asked, what bothers you, these kids had not only come with an extensive list related to stress management, peer pressure, body imaging, loneliness, etc., but they had also come up with ways to handle these issues around them. They had worked systematically in groups, reviewing and revising plans, using design-thinking skills that the ‘Catalyst for Change‘ workshops had equipped them with, and then implemented these plans. It was heartening to know that each student group had tried out their solution and now these solutions could be emulated and implemented by anyone, anywhere in the world with a similar issue. It was good to know that people across the world could connect in this way. Going around the venue hall, where groups displayed their causes, I was struck by one recurring theme, bullying. This seemed to be bothering most students these days, and if so it was a worrying trend and reflection of the society.
“Why did you choose ‘bullying’ as the issue to tackle?” I asked the students of Tampines Primary School, and the smallest boy there, Samuel replied, “It’s because I was bullied.” Two other voices echoed in unison, “he was bullied, so we decided to do something about it.” I smiled and looked at the serious faces of the girls who supported Samuel. These students, along with few others had formed a group. Their message was, “I may be different, but that does not mean you can treat me this way. Stop bullying!” When asked if things had improved at school after their project, the answer was a shy ‘yes.’
Wellington Primary students echoed the same thoughts on bullying and had created an anti-bully song which they dutifully sang for me. They had performed the same song at their school assembly, at various classrooms and many other places where they thought they could shame the bullies. Their simple and catchy song was based on the tune of ‘Best Song Ever’ by One direction and so I knew that our ten-year old heroes had a favourite boy band that didn’t differ much from other girls of similar age. So heroes are like you and me and like any body else. Perhaps what differs is their determination and the way they look at things.
Sengkang Secondary was another school handling the issue of bullying, but with a different perspective. They wanted to help the bullies overcome their problems. Why? According to Humairah and Janice, (both 13), when you help the bullies overcome their anger issues, listen to their problems and perhaps provide them with a channel of communication (sometimes even with their own parents), you tackle the ‘root cause.’ Curious to know why they had come with this slant, I probed further. “How do you know this works,” I asked. “I was a bully,” one of them replied “but now I am here, helping others with the same issue that I had once.” I looked at the pretty girl with the kind eyes. It was difficult to believe she could be a bully. Strength of character is not limited to adults or famous personalities. These kids had conviction that many adults lack. Maybe, that’s why children make better change agents. I sincerely believe more children should be encouraged to lead changes and this belief had resulted in my association with SoCh and Design for Change movement. I looked at these kids and knew the movement was on the right track.
Half a day in such a place is enough to get a person inspired, overwhelmed and emotional, and I was no different. It was like recharging my batteries. I visited many more student run stalls, where passionate team members talked about the ways to save the strays, stop food wastage, handle study pressure, help peers cope with studies, rise above body imaging issues and integrate students with special needs among other relevant issues. Having faced the problem either themselves or having seen some one around them facing it, they were determined to come up with solutions. To my question, is change easy? The answer was a consistent “No.” Change, they acknowledged, was not easy to come by. There had been failures, disappointments, oppositions and many false starts before they had achieved any kind of success, but at the end there was an immense satisfaction and that to them, mattered the most.
(My heartfelt gratitude to the teachers, educators, parents and the SoCh team members, who had facilitated these young heroes to reach their full potential and a big thank you to the young heroes for leading the change and for inspiring others to do the same. (To read all the change stories, please visit www.sochinction.com).
Before I go, I would like to thank another educator who turned her teaching experiences in to stories of a different kind, ones that entertain. Author Barbara Park, who recently succumbed to cancer, created the adorable, funny and spunky character, Junie B. Jones, who is a shade younger to the kids I had met at the exposition. I know that I should have read the ‘Junie B. Jones’ series when I was a kid, after all it’s a kiddy book. Instead, I discovered them as an adult and realised that as an adult, I need the laughs more than I did as a child. So, thank you Ms Park for your stories and farewell!
“When you’re in between dreams, you get to lean back and relax and stop trying so hard. Trying to be somebody, I mean. It’s not as exciting as being a television star, but it’s not that bad, either. You just have to learn to be satisfied with the way you are for a while. Not Forever. Just until you’re finished resting.” (From the series- Junie B. Jones)