At Bookaroo, Delhi
At the Aviva Young Scholar Bookaroo Festival in Delhi, there were many activities, talks and readings for children to choose from at any given time. So I wondered if children would choose to spend an hour and a half on something as serious as human rights. It turned out they would— ‘I Have a Right’, the workshop on human rights, was almost full.
This is a marvellous picture book, which lists the Declaration of Human Rights in a simple and readable way, for children. Each article of the Declaration is accompanied by an illustration from different international illustrators which helps the child understand the right in question.
A little bit, first, about Bookaroo: Bookaroo is an organization started by a small group of people with an interest in children’s books and literature. With the idea of bringing books closer to children, Bookaroo began India’s first children’s literature festival in November 2008. Bookaroo 2009 was held at Sanskriti Anandgram on the Mehrauli-Gurgaon Road on Nov 28 and 29. There were more than sixty events, conducted by forty-eight authors, illustrators and editors. There were talks, discussions, poetry readings, workshops of various kinds and storytelling sessions, all targeted at children from four to fourteen years of age.
The workshop ‘I Have a Right’ was for ten-year-olds and above. There were over twenty children at the workshop. I started by asking the parents to go away, so that the children could be uninhibited when they talked about rights and freedoms. The children were then asked to think of occasions when they had thought to themselves ‘he/she had no right to do this’. The children came up with anecdotes involving teachers and monitors, which led nicely into the next segment.
We wrote down on a flipchart all the rights that we felt everyone should have. Predictably, most of them spoke about things like freedom of choice and right to education. There were some touching ones like the right to fulfil your dreams, and the right to choose your own future, which clearly came from deeply felt places. But it was interesting that no one came up with the right to food and shelter. These were middle-class children; they take these things as given.
Next the children had to ‘read’ the pictures, to get the most out of the book. There’s a notion that picture books are only for very small children. Watching these children, it struck me that children of all ages, and even adults, respond with excitement and enthusiasm to pictures.
Once they had understood the different processes by which a complex idea could be turned into a visual, I asked each child to choose a right from the ones we’d listed, and draw pictures. Many of them told stories, with speech and thought bubbles; some of the illustrations were more abstract.
Once they were done, it was evident that the children had basically understood the concept of rights.
They then wrote their own stories. One girl said that she did not want to write. They had just learnt that no one could force them to do what they did not want to do. ‘You have a right,’ I said, and let her be.
I noticed that a couple of the children were exercising their right to express themselves in the way they wanted, by drawing pictures again.
We had some stories read out at the end. The one that stays in my memory is a story about a black boy who was excluded from a football team because of his colour. He went on to make a team of ‘outsiders’ and they became the champions. The story ended with – ‘And the boy’s name was Pélé!’
There were many stories and pictures about deprived children and adults –of poverty and lack of access to education. This is what education should be about – making connections. Books like We are All Born Free, because of their unusual approach, help children think differently about issues that they don’t always see as relevant to their daily lives.
One never knows what and how much children take back from sessions such as these. But the sense I got was that the book and the exercises we did had got them thinking. That’s a good first step.
Author, Tara Books