In village Chhitgaon Mel in Timarni block, about 25km from Harda district headquarters, a group of adolescent are eagerly waiting to get a cricket kit from the local panchayat. The girls had submitted a list of demands to the panchayat during the special Gram Sabha held on August, 15, 2018 and after passing through different processes, the kit is about to arrive.
This special gram sabha in Chhidgaon Mel was more special in the sense that a special session was held for children during the meeting – introducing the future generation to the details of Panchayati Raj system and the daily functioning. Understanding that the panchayat could help them in resolving some of their basic issues, a group of about a dozen kids had submitted memorandum – also demanding a girls’ gym, good road, street lights as well as proper garbage management system.
And though it might some as a surprise in other villages that children took such initiative, it is expected in Chhitgaon Mel – where two youngsters have taken the onus of converting the village into a ‘Child friendly village’ – under the Changeloomer project of NGO Synergy Sansthan, run with support of MP office of UNICEF.
So in Chhidgaon Mel, children gather every evening to have fun time and also learn some lessons on their rights and duties from the project anchors Yogesh Sunaniya and Satish Chouhan, who are locals of the village. The anchors have also held consultations with elders and local panchayat representatives to ensure that child-friendly attitude prevails in the village and children’s voices are not only heard, but also acted upon. “Now parents are more open to discussing children’s issues with them, have become less restrictive and far more supportive. On their part, children have started sharing problems and good thoughts with parents and seeking their guidance on any matter,” Yogesh says.
“I and my younger sister Deepika both want to become policewomen and we have conveyed this to our parents. They have allowed us to pursue our dreams,” Neha Kaushal, student of class 10 says.
Neha and Deepika were among the group of girls who had pushed for their demands including cricket kit at the panchayat along with Payal Waghela and Ranu Ajneria. Payal had to give up studies due to poor family background, but now seeking support from the project anchors, she wants to restart.
And it is natural for Payal to do so, because the co-anchor of the project, Yogesh Sunaniya himself has decided to resume his studies after a gap of 14 years. He had given up studies after class 8 due to death of his father. Yogesh’s life is a story in itself and which is why he wants to ensure that every child has an opportunity to pursue their dreams to the best of their abilities and elders’ support.
After his father’s death, Yogesh worked as a driver in Maharashtra for few years before realizing that he wanted to do better. He returned to Chhitgaon and apart from restarting a tea-stall of his father, got into small-time marketing and surveying works. That is how he got associated with Synergy and when fellow villager and colleague Satish, proposed the child friendly project, he went all out. “Now I am a far better man inside me with enthusiasm and confidence of doing good work not only to provide for my family, but also to do common good,” he says.
Satish has the same dream. Though his background is starkly different from Yogesh, as he is first postgraduate in his family, he was also lacking in self-esteem confidence and direction of life. But now he has found all three. “I can now talk and resolve things with ease and it surprises me too,” he says.
The duo managed to get the local community hall allotted for their activities from panchayat. Every evening, the hall erupts with joy of children – dancing, playing, learning, writing and simply talking. Yogesh and Satish have also managed to involve other youngsters in village in their quest for better life for children. So a five-member team ensures help to the duo on girls’ safety issues.
Rukhsar Khan, a graduation student as well as teacher, chips in time to tutor the students in their weak subjects and she feels the project has changed life of entire generation.
Vimal Jat of Synergy says that he saw the anchor duo evolving as persons along with the progress of their project and he is sure they would expand the activities even after project is formally over. “They are part of a critical mass of youth looking at changing the society.”