The kids are alright!

The kids are alright!

They are passionate, innovative and ambitious. And more than willing to carry big responsibilities on their small shoulders.

'This is all wrong. I shouldn't be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet, you all come to us young people for hope. How dare you!' These were the cynical and angry opening lines of Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg's UN speech that made the world sit up in shame. We shouldn't be here at all, she thundered. She is right. But she and other children are here and very much in the moment, taking on the mantle many adults are afraid, or worse, uninterested to take on.  

In his book Prophet (1923), which has now become a classic, Khalil Gibran has written a poem ‘On Children’, where he talks about parenting: 'You may house their bodies but not their souls, / For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, / Which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.' And Wordsworth famously wrote: 'The child is the father of the man'. The enthusiasm and passion of these little warriors spring from such values. In fact, the 21st century seems to have been already extraordinarily generous in giving us young role models -- be it a Greta Thunberg or a Malala Yousafzai, whose rallying cries have got both children and adults joining their causes. 

With over half of India's current population younger than the age of 25 - a sizable number of which consists of children - it is no surprise that more and more of them are taking up larger responsibilities on their own, without much adult prompting. The reasons for this welcome change? Better education, improved parenting and greater technological prowess. For the first time in history, we have so many young minds taking on the challenges that haunt us today, ranging from health, education, climate change and human rights.

A lot of these children believe this is the beginning of something bigger and more substantial. Unlike us adults, their sense of camaraderie is also much stronger. "I will obviously take more inspiration from other teenagers, than say a 30 or a 40-year-old. Someone of my age is managing school as well as creating records, while doing so much more," says Chandni, one of the young go-getters we spoke to. While growing up, these children had fewer role models to look up to; but, it seems, they themselves have determined to become one. All of them strongly reiterate that today, more and more children are getting socially, politically and environmentally aware and are itching to do something positive and life-affirming. They are certain that their contemporaries' participation in the struggle for a better tomorrow can only get bigger and stronger. And really, that can only be a good thing!

Greta Thunberg of India

Last year, the 17-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg was in the spotlight for her speech at the United Nations Emergency Climate Summit organised in New York. Not many of us know, however, that she was part of a delegation of 16 children from across the world, which included 12-year-old Ridhima Pandey from Haridwar, Uttarakhand. The children had come together to sue five countries (Germany, Argentina, France, Brazil and Turkey) for failing to adequately reduce their carbon emissions. 

"This is a violation to our right to a future," says Ridhima, who has been fighting legal battles since the age of nine. "I filed a petition at the National Green Tribunal against the Government of India for not taking serious steps to combat climate change. The petition was dismissed a year and a half later," she adds.

Ridhima was five when Kedarnath floods broke in Uttarakhand, causing the deaths of nearly 6,000 people. "Through questioning my parents and teachers, I came to know about climate change for the first time and was shocked at the apathy and inaction of people," she says.

Ridhima visits schools, colleges, and attends conferences across India and the world. Her goal is to unite all children and make them realise how their rights are violated by emissions caused by adults. "This problem is created by the older generation and supported by lack of government action. We need to wake up to the fact that our future is in danger," she says. Ridhima continues passionately: "It is a violation of our rights and more children are waking up to this fact. Their future is in danger, which is due to the inaction of the older generation. It is a do or die situation for us."

The Chota Masterji

Stories like Ridhima’s raise hope. She is not alone though. Take the example of Anand Krishna Mishra (16) from Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. Locally known as Chota Masterji (little teacher), Anand teaches children from slums and nearby villages, and has been doing so since the age of eight. It all started as an attempt to teach the children of household help and workers who visited his locality. Today, he has taught more than 50,000 children from over 150 villages in Lucknow and the nearby districts of Kanpur, Unnao, Ayodhya, and Fatehpur.

"I organise Bal Chaupals (gatherings of children), where kids from poorer families join us to study, play and learn together. There are over 100 young and old volunteers who have helped me at different stages. Bal Chaupals have enabled more than 800 children to eventually join formal education and schools," Anand says. "I believe that no child should remain uneducated. I am just doing my bit by becoming a part of the solution," he adds.

The empathy enthusiast

"Kids are more empathetic. Better education and parenting have also played their role," says Chandni Grover (15) from Bhopal, who has been rescuing and rehabilitating stray dogs for over a year now. 

Chandni’s initiative is called 'Kindness: The Universal Language of Love', which she started as a response to a pup getting run over before her. Today, she heads a team of 16 members who feed 80 rehabilitated dogs every day. They also conduct food, water, vaccination, and de-worming drives for strays across the city.

The children admit that their parents have played major roles in making them free-thinking and questioning individuals. They also give credit to the Internet and social media, which make information gathering and collaboration easy, while also opening up their minds to various schools of thought.

The OCD fighter

"Collective is our biggest strength," says Kaajal Gupta (17) from Bengaluru who has developed 'Liberate: My OCD Fighter', a mobile app that helps patients suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), a common mental health problem.

Kaajal's app combines self-help exercises, makes communication with therapists easy, and shares articles and reading material on OCD and anxiety. The app has over 5,000 users from all age groups. Hearteningly, physical communities have evolved from the app in as many as 19 cities; today, there are 35 clubs from all over the world, which are a result of the app. Kaajal plans to start similar initiatives for anxiety, ADHD and other mental illnesses, which can gain from such active group participation.

Kaajal explains, "I was diagnosed with OCD in my 8th grade and started developing this app as a personal self-help tool. There are many myths and stigmas surrounding mental health. And no one believes mental health is as important as physical health. Given these challenges, communities are very important to ensure that the ones who actually need help don’t get further alienated."

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