By Alkesh Sharma, IANS,
Chandigarh : Their wish list is as simple as it gets — chocolates, new clothes, shoes, birthday celebrations, a train joyride or simply boating on Sukhna Lake. Children at a slum here have put their dreams on paper and stashed it all away in a little ‘wish box’.
Joining hands with city-based NGO Yuvsatta, kids of Bapu Dham Colony, a slum rehabilitation area in Sector 26, have launched the unique Wish Box to realise their dreams.
“We are motivating children of 12 years and younger to write their wishes on paper and put them in the box. Through a draw system, the children will themselves choose the lucky ones every month and decide on how to fulfil their dreams,” Kavaljeet Kaur, volunteer of Yuvsatta, told IANS.
Nine-year-old Abhishek, a Class 4 student, said: “I have never travelled on a train. So I wished to have a train joyride. I cannot ask my parents for it but I hope that the Wish Box will fulfil my dream.”
The Wish Box is managed by a unique governing body of kids, christened ‘Bal Panchayat’ (children’ council), with a membership of over 300 children in the age group of 8 to 16 years.
Bal Panchayat, which is headed by 16-year-old Suman, a Class 10 student, was launched in Bapu Dham to solve various problems plaguing the area.
Parmod Sharma, coordinator of Yuvsatta, said: “After working for many years in the area, I realised that children can act as an effective catalyst of change if we give them an opportunity. This thought led to the formation of this one-of-its-kind council that you will not find anywhere in the country.”
“A 15-member strong body, with 50 percent women members, represents this panchayat. All of them are from a downtrodden background. They look after the problems of the area and offer solutions to seniors and even to the local administration,” Sharma said.
“We work according to Gandhian principles and believe in bringing real societal change by connecting to the grassroots,” he said.
The panchayat has various office- bearers like president, vice president, chairman, vice chairman and secretaries. They hold panchayat meetings at regular intervals and discuss different issues pertaining to the area.
Sharma said the Bal Panchayat will give a good exposure to the children. It is their first lesson in community participation, self-expression and understanding of democracy, he added.
Currently, they are working to solve the problem of water scarcity and to motivate people to stop wastage of the scarce commodity.
“We have identified 17 places in our colony where there are no taps and water continuously flows out of the points. We met the municipal councillor of the area and also wrote to the executive engineer about this,” Suman said.
“We will take up different issues like cleanliness and hygiene, girl child education every month and certainly make Bapu Dham a better place to live in. We will also bring more and more people under the umbrella of Bal Panchayat,” an elated Suman said.
Yuvsatta is also running a library named Kitab Ghar for the slum kids and brings out a quarterly wall newspaper, Jugnu, on issues of public concern in the area.
“Since the inception of Bal Panchayat, we have started feeling more confident. We will also work towards improving the law and order situation in our locality,” said Nagma, another member of Bal Panchayat.
(Alkesh Sharma can be contacted at [email protected])