The future is in safe hands: Inspired by the bonding, empathy between students from two ends of the world

When mHS took on the task of hosting a workshop in the slums of Delhi for a class of American students from the ACARA program at the University of Minnesota, we spent a lot of time worrying about how to do this without just landing inside a community like aliens and shooting questions at those who lived there. And so we partnered with a well-known NGO Katha, which runs a school in Bhumiheen Camp in Govindpuri near Kalkaji, New Delhi. Class 12 students from the Katha Khazana school took the lead in introducing 15 American students to their community. They took them home, helped them speak to shopkeepers and neighbors and relatives, showed them places they liked and places they would like to change. They also spoke of their aspirations, their lives, their dreams, their future, their joys and sorrows…

I explored the slum with this specific group both days. The three Katha kids were fabulous-confident, expressive and innocent.

I explored the slum with this specific group both days. The three Katha kids were fabulous-confident, expressive and innocent.

In the two-day workshop, we who were wearing the facilitator’s hat found that while we did need to step in to translate conversations related to the assignment the University students were doing, we had no need to intervene in the bonds that we being formed between the Katha kids and the American ones. By the end of the two-hour visit on Saturday, the tone of conversations was relaxed and informal. By the end of that first day, Facebook requests were flying around. By Day 2, they were sharing earphones and exchanging views on music, eating together, taking pictures together, body language had changed. Even the girls from the Katha school who were from conservative families (parents were calling every half hour to check on them) were mixing openly and clearly feeling very comfortable with the American students.

Fevicol from Dabangg 2!

Fevicol from Dabangg 2!

Celine Dion on Shanu's playlist...Greg from mHS finding that rather bizarre!

Celine Dion on Shanu’s playlist…Greg from mHS finding that rather bizarre! And I loved Shanu’s hair and sense of style too 🙂

Undoubtedly, this is a different generation. With apparently so little in common (language, affluence, social background, family structures, exposure….), young people can connect effortlessly both in person as well as via social networks on a variety of common subjects like music, role models, aspirations, relationships…… In a flash, they can bridge an enormous gap, something that has never been possible before in the history of humankind; and technology helps them do this effectively and maintain that connection long after their time together. What’s more, they have no hesitations about taking that leap. Not all the bad news in the world-media screaming headlines about rapes, warnings from anxious parents and Embassy bulletins giving all sorts of travel advisories, nothing can deter young people from taking forward a connection once they deem in worth their attention.

What is equally striking is the enormous capacity for empathy. In these two days, we saw children who had never stepped outside the proverbial ‘West’ sit squeezed inside the matchbox-sized homes of their new friends genuinely trying to find out about how they live and what bothers them, We saw them walk over open sewers and across garbage dumps, ask the most sensitive questions in the nicest way and even walk into the filthiest toilets in the world without even wrinkling their noses! I actively tried to dissuade one particular student from doing that. He hadn’t been too well and I had just seen the appalling conditions in the community toilets. I genuinely thought he didn’t need to subject himself to that experience. But on he went. “If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me” he declared! Of course, those toilets are not good enough for the community and that’s a story for another post, but I was sufficiently impressed by his determination and genuine empathy with the people who lived in Bhumiheen Camp.

So they were trying to see what the difference in height was when Tim was kneeling! Hilarious :)

So they were trying to see what the difference in height was when Tim was kneeling! Hilarious 🙂

After lunch on the mHS office spillout...the clicking went on for a while...in an attemot to sort of delay that moment of separation!

After lunch on the mHS office spillout…the clicking went on for a while…in an attemot to sort of delay that moment of separation!

Observing the young people from Katha and University of Minnesotta during this two-day workshop filled me with a sense of hope. The future is in safe hands if the young can so effortlessly exhibit sensitivity and concern and genuinely find common ground with those unlike them. I am inspired, indeed infected, by the innocence, spontaneity and simplicity of the interactions i saw and resolve to bring more of these aspects into my life. A new, better way of doing things, perhaps.

 

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About ramblinginthecity

I am an architect and urban planner, a writer and an aspiring artist. I love expressing myself and feel strongly that cities should have spaces for everyone--rich, poor, young, old, healthy and sick, happy or depressed--we all need to work towards making our cities liveable and lovable communities.

Posted on January 7, 2013, in Politics & Citizenship and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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