Of, by and for children

Of, by and for children

For the community: Children discussing at a Hasiru Sangha core committee meeting in Bengaluru

What can children do to improve their neighbourhoods? How can they be enabled to be conscious, proactive citizens of tomorrow? These are some of the questions that The Association for Promoting Social Action (APSA), a Bengaluru-based child rights non-profit organisation, decided to tackle through their initiative, Hasiru Sanghas. Through this, APSA equips children with training in child rights, communication and decision-making to enable them to advocate on their rights and entitlements.

Conceived in 1996, Hasiru Sanghas have children as members. These enlightened children in turn create awareness about the rights and possibilities among their peers and work towards the betterment of their communities. In particular, they empower children from the poor and marginalised communities to address the issues they face and to participate in decisions that affect them.

“APSA offers support to the sanghas by providing training on data collection, documentation, presentation, leadership, communication, conflict resolution and time management, thereby increasing children’s own capabilities for empowerment and change,” says P Lakshapathi, executive director, APSA. While these sanghas are entirely run by children, support is offered by APSA whenever required.

Student leaders

The sanghas work to increase awareness on various problems that affect children and their neighbourhoods including civic issues like bad roads. One of the most significant achievements of the Hasiru Sanghas has been the initiative taken by its members to identify and re-enrol school dropouts.

So, what exactly goes into the running of the sanghas? Each month, the members discuss problems in their area like uncovered manholes, open drains, loose electrical wiring, unhygienic conditions in the surrounding areas and lack of playground area. These are then taken to the quarterly meeting of the Hasiru Sangha representatives for further discussion.

During the meeting, child representatives make a presentation on prevailing issues in the area and approach the officials concerned from various government departments to address their demands. Once the department representatives have committed to address the issues, children monitor the redressal process and evaluate if issues have been addressed satisfactorily.

“These meetings allow us to know what problems we face in our neighbourhood and how we can overcome them. We feel good when our issues are addressed by officials. We also follow-up if an issue has not been resolved,” shares Varalakshmi, a Hasiru Sangha member. As a result, children come to play a crucial role in the reporting, monitoring, evaluating and decision-making process.

Since the inception of Hasiru Sanghas in 1996, APSA has been able to notice a lot of changes in how children approach the issues at hand.

“Today’s children are more knowledgeable, more confident in the way they talk with government officials and how they showcase their issues and also present a viable solution to it. Earlier, children used to just present their issues and provide only hypothetical solutions,” shares Lakshapathi.

This has been one of the biggest changes they have seen. Children have become a lot more confident and given the way they are now trained, they are able to not only come up with effective solutions but also critically analyse the issues at hand by offering concrete evidence. Additionally, they have also noticed that the participation of girls
in the sanghas has increased over the years.

Currently, these sanghas operate in four areas in Bengaluru — KR Puram, Mahadevapura, CV Raman Nagar and JP Nagar. A similar model runs in Hyderabad, Telangana. Each sangha comprises around 50 to 60 children in the age group of 10 and 18 years. Today, over a thousand children are actively taking part in this initiative. “When we began, we were working only in a few slums. Today, we are working with children in around 40 slums, government schools and even migrant children,” says Lakshapathi.

“We discuss our issues during our area meetings. Most of the problems are something that affects us all. So, during these meetings it is important to understand the issue and resolve it by contacting the right officials through letters and face-to-face meetings. For example, uncollected garbage can cause a lot of health problems if not cleared on a regular basis. So, when we see that it is collected based on complaints, it makes us feel good and happy as it allows us to be healthy. When we ensure that action is taken, it doesn’t just benefit us – everybody in the community benefits as well,” share Ambika, Likitha and Sushmita.

The work done by the Hasiru Sanghas clearly shows that one is never too old to take action, particularly if it relates to policies that will affect one directly. With many Hasiru Sanghas actively fighting for the rights of children, APSA hopes that officials will be accountable to children for addressing child-related issues and that children will have a more significant role in decision-making and formation and implementation of child-friendly projects.