Ever seen an auto rickshaw with over 10 children packed together with their school bags? Sure, you have. It’s a common sight across the country and even though a lot has been said about cracking down hard on such a gruesome violation, our young students continue to spend their mornings and afternoons traveling in such conditions!
This was the issue, Anaya, a class 8 student of one of our partner schools wanted to dig deep into. What she learned through her interactions with parents, auto drivers and teachers of the school shaped her argument and project for the Design for Change Challenge – a global platform for students to highlight issues they can change! She presented her empathy in the best way she knows – through a heartfelt poem:
Every day I go to school,
I am thrust into an auto as a whole,
Inside the auto, I suffer from overcrowding.
Every child inside is tightly stuffed,
I go to school in the morning well-dressed
And come home in the evening depressed
My uniform becomes so shrunk,
And my body also is being declined
Every day we lead this awful life,
Who will come to save us from this fire?
Every morning, as children traveling by hired autos entered the school, they were picked for looking run-down. Crumpled uniforms, shabby hair, and disarrayed gait – it was assumed that these young ones left their homes this way. As is the norm in most schools, those violating the uniform code would be subjected to punishment.
It was only when Anaya and her team of 5 other students from the school began working on the project, did they realize that the issue was much graver than they thought! “In so many cities, overcrowded autos with school-going children is a reality and even though everyone talks about doing something about this problem, it still continues to exist,” said Anaya.
“We spoke to auto drivers, parents, and teachers which was a requirement for the project as part of DFC as well. But, what we found out during this process inspired us to find effective, long-term solutions for the well-being of our students,” she added.
Convenience over children?
To make a little extra income, auto drivers would agree to onboard children beyond their vehicles’ capacities. This being a common practice across the country, is not only a cause for discomfort but a serious violation of child rights.
Anaya and her team further discovered that since most parents are daily wagers with challenging jobs, their inability to drop and pick up their children to/from school leads to resorting to auto rickshaws for everyday transportation.
“If these children were leaving their homes smartly dressed for schools, then punishing them is a grave mistake. Instead, it’s important to relieve them from the everyday misery they go through, crammed up in an auto with 10 other children,” said Anaya
“We would see auto rickshaws pulling into the school’s driveway with children sitting at the back as well with their school bags hanging. This isn’t how they must travel to and from school. It’s just unfair,” she added.
A small ripple of change
Anaya and her team stuck to what they believed in… punishing these children without understanding the hardship of their travel was a mistake! As soon as they reported this to the teachers and school leaders, such punishments immediately stopped. That’s not all. Teachers have begun to find reasons for the problem themselves and chart approaches feasible to the issue.
Even though children continue to travel to school and back home in this state, the school has grown to become more understanding of the problem. However, the larger issues continue to persist. For a low-income school such as this, with the affordability of one school bus, how can change be made? How can the school ensure that every child travels comfortably?
Project: Overcrowded Autos
Working through a magic formula – the Design for Change Challenge follows a four-step model – wherein every team needs to first feel the problem, then imagine the solution, do or execute the solution through a collaborative approach, and finally share with the world, “If I can, so can you!”
Anaya and team brainstormed on the issues around them and it took them no time to decide that ‘overcrowded autos’ was the issue they wanted to work on most urgently. “Some of us have endured the suffocation of being stuffed in an auto with numerous other students. While the rest of us have had friends who would come to school with untidy uniforms and shoes because of this problem,” Anaya said.
The more they delved deep into the issue, they started empathizing with the students who went through this unfair treatment. Anaya’s team consists of students from classes 6, 7 and 8. They aim to not stop only at the DFC to highlight this issue but to create a solution so that their juniors don’t undergo the same hardships traveling to and from school.
By Vaishnavi Mohan, School Transformation Lead, Mantra4Change