MelJol: Hum Bacchon Ka is a non-profit organization run by a team of dedicated and professionally trained social workers and child development professionals. MelJol's mission is to nurture a generation that truly believes in equal rights, opportunities and respect for all.
It was in December 1991 that a group of teachers, parents, educationists, and concerned adults met to discuss their concerns about children inheriting a discriminatory value system, heigthened by stereotypes, prejudices, and classism. They felt the need to increase children's awareness and change their attitudes toward participatory, non-hierarchical methods of learning. Thus MelJol evolved.
The program was started with about 125 children of Grades VI and VII from private and municipal schools with the understanding that children in their adolescence are in the process of developing their abstract thinking skills, learning skills for living, and preparing themselves for adulthood. The success of these activities encouraged the participating schools and the MelJol team to conduct activities on an on-going basis. The program started to operate on a regular basis in February 1992 with 10 participating schools in Mumbai city. Today it reaches out to over 20,000 children every year.
"Equal rights, opportunities and respect for all" - this forms the main crux of the MelJol philosophy. This is translated into action through several activities which involve spreading the awareness that all human beings, though unique in their own way, are essentially equal. It teaches children to accept each other and co-exist with one another in harmony by being sensitive to one another irrespective of their backgrounds.
MelJol has identified its goals as follows:
- to promote the concept of equity, especially among children through equity education;
- to create awareness about rights and responsibilities of children with references to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child;
- to empower children to be active participants in the change process towards equity.
Through years of interacting with over one lakh (eleven thousand) children of different ages, from both public and private schools, MelJol has evolved unique methods of working with children.
MelJol's school-based activities consist of Twinning, Municipal Schools and Private Schools programs. MelJol's Research and Documentation activities include the initiation of a resource bank on marginalized children, a games manual, a playground manual, and a study on school drop-outs.
The Twinning Program has been MelJol's core program for the past five years. Twinning is linking a municipal school to a private school near it. Children from both schools meet and interact with each other in a non-threatening environment. Thus one class from each of the two schools with children belonging to different socioeconomic backgrounds are paired together.
The objectives of the twinning program are as follows:
- to sensitize the children to one another and to their environment;
- to modify certain perceptions that children may have about one another and about other groups on people in their environment;
- to provide an equity-oriented perspective to issues related to vulnerable children.
The twinning program module runs parallel in the private as well as the municipal schools. It comprises of several sessions:
Following is an illustration on how the module (on Coexistence with the environment) is implemented:
- orientation sessions - to provide the children an understanding of the program, and lay the ground for equity education;
- interaction sessions - the children from the two schools meet and participate in several creative activities together. Friendship bonds are also created in this process;
- post-interaction sessions - to make children participate in the thinking process where they also question their previously held stereotypes and prejudices;
- feedback sessions - to provide children an opportunity to evaluate the program and make suggestions for developing it further.
a. orientation sessions - these sessions were conducted simultaneously in the twin schools (municipal and private schools). They introduced the children to MelJol, its concepts and the theme "Coexistence with the environment". It also discussed common prejudices and stereotypes.
The objective of the sessions was to facilitate the children's understanding of garbage and water, and to make them realize their own contribution towards creating garbage and wasting water, and to help them explore means of reducing it.
It was observed that the private school children's initial opinion usually is that the slum dwellers create more garbage. This misconception had to be clarified through examples, which led to the realization of consumption patterns. Some of the examples were that the people who can afford tetra packs, fountain pepsi, aluminum sheets create garbage too. Children suggested ways in which they would attempt to individually try to reduce garbage.
b. interaction sessions - these sessions gave the children an opportunity to learn and reflect on their stereotypes and prejudices by actually mixing with the other group of children and participating in common creative activities.
The objective of the sessions was to enable the children to take the first step towards friendship with their "twins" and to provide them with a stimulating and creative environment for expressing their thoughts on environment.
It was observed that initially private school children would not sit on the floor and the municipal school children were clustered with children from their own school. Both the groups were wary of each other. But as the games and activities got underway, the children soon came together. At the end of the interactions, the children feel sorry for leaving their newly-found friends.
MelJol gives utmost importance to the feedback received from the children and takes it into consideration in planning for future activities. For the 1996-1997 year, an evaluation form was specially designed in Hindi and in English for the purpose of such evaluation. Some important points that emerged in the evaluation are:
MelJol's municipal school program is unique and the first of its kind in Mumbai city because it is based on the belief in children's participation in contributing to and changing their own environment. It was initiated in response to the special request by the municipal school teachers, principals and superintendents of secondary section. In the 1995-1996 year, in collaboration with its participating municipal schools, MelJol initiated a "Clean School Campaign." The unique feature of the campaign was the setting up of a council in every school. This is a body of children who have been elected by their friends in the school through a democratic process.
The objectives of the program are:
- to sensitize children to one another and to their environment;
- to boost the children's confidence to take positive steps toward bringing about a change in their environment;
- to facilitate the concretization of the children's role vis-a-vis their environmental concerns.
The activities under the program's module consist of the following:
The children were actively involved from the setting up of a council to planning and implementing the campaign. Children were made aware of their rights and about the election process. The idea was to help build their self-confidence so that they would learn to be responsible for their actions. The rights of participation and expression were then linked to their need for a better environment. The manifesto concentrated on how they could keep their class clean and beautiful and how they could sustain cleanliness in the school. The activities in this module included election of a council in each school, preparation of a manifesto by the school council, and implementation of the manifesto.
- orientation session - to discuss the concept of environment and to identify the children's concern;
- small and large group sessions - to highlight the children's rights and responsibilities and facilitate the election process at the class level as well as at the council level;
- facilitating the council's preparation for the presentation of their manifesto to the entire school;
- beautification and cleaning activities within each school from all the classes;
- leadership camps - to build the children's confidence and enable a planning process.
After the campaign was implemented class meetings were held to obtain feedback from the children. Most of the children felt that the campaign was very interesting and a totally new experience for them. They also appreciated the idea of having the election process as they got the opportunity to express themselves better. They also realized that they themselves were responsible for their school's cleanliness.
In response to the feedback of the children, and to the observations made by MelJol workers, a leadership camp was held. The primary objective of the camp was to plan for the next year's activities and program for each school. The children decided to undertake other issue-based work for their school environment, besides continuing the clean school campaign. The three issues identified are:
- establishment of canteen facilities for the school children in collaboration with interested parents;
- campaign against Gutka (drug) use in schools where this occurs; and
- provision of financial aid to those students who are forced to drop out of school due to monetary constraints.
The program involved 11 municipal schools in Mumbai city reaching out to 12,000 children. At the end of the third year, MelJol aims to mainstream the concept of empowerment and child rights into the school curriculum.
The Private Schools Program was initiated by MelJol in 13 private schools in response to the request from private schools to reach out to children on a range of issues related to child rights and responsibilities towards themselves, their environment, and the vulnerable groups of people. Based on their suggestion, MelJol started a separate program in private schools in 1996 on an experimental basis.
It is strongly believed that private school children never had the opportunity to look beyond themselves. Their environment is restricted to their own family, friends, school and social group. They were oblivious to, or rather lacking in sensitivity, to other segments of society. To them, vulnerable children included in other social segments of society are either to be degraded or ignored or are not a reality (though they may appear far beyond environment). This mindset, according to the teachers, is a result of systemic influences from the media, parents, government, etc.
The Private Schools Program aim at sensitizing children to issues related to vulnerable children and encouraged them to accept the latter as part of their environment. It is also aimed at breaking myths and stereotypes by addressing questions and anxieties related to common prejudices.
The Private Schools Program module includes teachers' meeting, orientation on MelJol, selection of an issue, orientation on the issue, surveys, coding of the survey findings and presentation of the finding to the entire school. A verbal evaluation of the year's activities is also included.
The children learned about vulnerable children through surveys and observation studies and by processing their findings. They were able to understand what other people thought about vulnerable children. A new perspective was given to their preconceived thoughts and ideas. The children learned to express themselves confidently to others through data collection and data analysis.
The children began accepting vulnerable children and respecting them. They realized that something should be done for the situation of vulnerable children, and that they themselves could be instrumental in achieving this objective.
All the children enjoyed the program and felt very involved in the survey. Their responses to the program are as follows:
A component of the Private Schools Program is the Twinkle Star Program which is for primary school level.
This program reaches out to children between ages 5 and 10 years. It encourages children to analyze their own behavior and responsibility towards everyone and everything in their environment. It also teaches children to recognize and respect the efforts of contributions of people in their environment especially those who make their life comfortable.
Some of the children's comments were:
MelJol began with only one programme. However over the years the activities have evolved and expanded manifold largely due to the positive response from the schools. Teachers in private schools have been able to see the need for MelJol's intervention with the children. They realize that the current generation is growing up with discriminatory attitudes and prejudices and need to be made aware and sensitized. Teachers have also appreciated MelJol's methodology and strategies of workng with the children. In municipal schools, teachers and authorities are seeing a definite change in the children's level of confidence and are understanding the need for active children's participation. It was on the basis of their repeated requests that MelJol has expanded the municipal schools program to include every child from Grades V to VIII in the municipal schools Meljol works with, totalling approximately 14,000 children.
In spite of all such interest and cooperation though MelJol does encounter difficulties - sometimes of getting adequate time slots with the children in schools. Due to academic pressures schools have often to prioritise academics such as completion of syllabi, tests and exams and are thus pressed for time when it comes to Meljols activities.
In order to create a children's movement, MelJol started to streamline its messages into the formal educational stream through a series of textbooks on "value education". The child-friendly series includes the MelJol Twinkle Star Textbooks for Grades I - IV, and the MelJol Explorer Series for Grades V - VII. Interactive in nature, the textbooks emphasize the concept of learning through doing.
The MelJol Twinkle Star Series is designed as coloring books with illustrations, and various activities such as songs and games to communicate value-based messages. The MelJol Explorer Series acts as a foundation on which a child builds a sense of rights and responsibility. Messages are communicated through innovative puzzles, quizzes, games, and other interactive methods. The self-action component at the end of each section encourages children to question, explore and discover the meaning behind each exercise.
MelJol - Hum Bacchon Ka - has been able to achieve the objectives set out for the individual programs. The experimental programs namely the Twinkle Star and Private School Program proved to be successful and will be further developed. MelJol will also experiment new programs based on the suggestions from children.
MelJol has initiated a thought process in children, thus enabling them to question existing stereotypes and participate in transcending the barriers of hierarchy and prejudice toward coexistence in harmony in a humanitarian society.