Stepping into someone else's shoes

Last Updated 10 November 2011, 13:49 IST

On Children’s Day, many teachers step into their students’ shoes for one day.

Suddenly, for a change, it’s the teachers who are rushing to a secret practice session (the school’s kids are not supposed to know what show is going to be put up), learn difficult lines, memorise tough dance steps and put up a play or skit, to entertain their students.

And often, teachers get very nervous stepping on to stage, just like kids do, all year round! Kids wait eagerly through the weeks running up to Children’s Day for a chance to see their Principal dressed up as Jhansi ki Rani or their PT Sir doing a Shahrukh Khan number.

Korvi’s cool idea

A couple of years back, Korvi Rakshand, a young Bangladeshi student who’d returned to his country after a degree from the University of London, had a very different idea about stepping into someone else’s shoes. He set up the Jaago Foundation in Dhaka, to raise money for street children. And he believed that those who could help him the most would be other kids… just like you.

So on November 18, 2009, the Jaago Foundation got 500 child volunteers from well-off families to switch places with the child hawkers who sold flowers and balloons at Dhaka’s traffic lights. While the 500 volunteers worked hard at 8 key traffic signals and managed to raise 4,00,000 Bangladesh Taka (about Rs 2,57,000), 500 child hawkers got a break from their dreary lives. Jaago took them on an all-rides-paid-for day at Wonderland, an amusement park.

The volunteers, all dressed in yellow Jaago Foundation t-shirts, were thrilled to discover that their day’s work earned enough to open Jaago Foundation’s first free school for poor kids at Rayar Bazaar at Dhaka!

That first year’s success inspired more kids to enrol as volunteers the following year.

So in 2010, 2000 yellow t-shirt-clad kids fanned out across 18 busy traffic junctions across Dhaka city. And the volunteers managed to raise 24,00,000 Bangladesh Taka (Rs 15,42,000!). And 1000 child hawkers made the day trip to Wonderland. The money was enough to open 2 new centres at different parts of the city. Now the Jaago Foundation has taken the movement to other cities across Bangladesh, where ‘switching places’ and ‘stepping into other kids’ slippers’ has become a great way to raise money for kids.

The Jaago Foundation’s first school at Rayar Bazaar, which began with 17 students and one white board, now has 400 students! All studying free! And most importantly, Korvi Rakshand’s original plan of “giving world-class education, free” seems to be working.

The other important result of Jaago’s ‘switching places’ idea is that rich kids learn exactly how poor kids live. As one volunteer reported, she learned how poor rickshaw-wallahs were more generous to their cause than those in air-conditioned cars!

For kids only!

In India, Children’s Day is on Nehru’s birthday. And so, every country has its own reasons to celebrate the day. The first International Children’s Day was celebrated in 1925, on June 1. It so happened that the Chinese ambassador in the US visited San Francisco during that period. He found a number of poor Chinese orphans – children of poor Chinese immigrants who’d moved to the US as labourers building the United State’s first railroads.

So he organised a Chinese-style Dragon Boat Race for the kids on June 1, which happened to coincide with an international gathering of country leaders at Geneva, in Switzerland. There, June 1st was declared International Children’s Day. And it still is celebrated on that day in China, Russia and many countries of the former USSR.

The Paraguayan Children’s Day has a sad history. Every year, it is celebrated on August 16, in memory of the Battle of Acosta Nu, which happened in1869. For 5 long years before that, the Paraguayans had been fighting a losing battle against the invading Brazilian and Argentinian armies. Most combat-worthy young men were dead. So the losing Paraguayan army was filled with children and old people. Many kids wore false beards to hide their age from the enemy.

On August 16, all those years ago, 20,000 Brazilian soldiers defeated a bedraggled army of 6000 Paraguayans, many of whom were kids. So Children’s Day in Paraguay is in memory of the kids lost in that battle. Today, there is a UN-sanctioned law against using kids in combat. But often, in places where war has dragged on for decades, kids step into the shoes of their dead fathers, to fight.

This Children’s Day, maybe you, me, your friends and family, could think of how we could replicate the Jaago idea in our own lives…maybe in just a small way?

(Published 10 November 2011, 13:49 IST)

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