Little Rural Change Makers – The Freedom To Be A Kid
BaliRam is one of a bunch of kids in Janwaar I call “The Adivasi Gang”. Adorable little rascals all of them 8-11 years old, a bit cheeky,very adventurous and ready to take off at a moment’s notice. All in love with their skateboards. They never come alone – Ramji, Vinay, Ramram, Brijesh, Gopal, Chottu. I love these boys. Whenever I get back to Janwaar on my motorbike they pour out open-hearted and smiling – ready for anything that might happen. We’ve got some kind of easy mutual understanding which is difficult to put in words.
They all come from very poor families. Many are malnourished, their clothes tattered. Hardly one of them has shoes. Once I took 11 of them on a five-day-trip to Delhi and beyond. All they took with them was one single plastic bag which held all their belongings. And it didn’t matter. They were perfectly happy and fine with it. Confident, content and comfortable.
I feel these kids are “rich”. Far richer than any rich city kid ever could be. Their richness is grounded in what most city kids don’t have and never will – experienced independence, closeness with nature and plenty of time – in a word: The freedom of being a kid.
The “Adivasi Gang” feels at home in nature. They know every single plant, tree and animal. And they know how to deal with nature – it’s a very essential part of their lives. They scuttle up trees in no time and swim in the ponds, lakes and pop-up rivers during the rains. They aren’t afraid of getting dirty or missing out on something. They’re pretty much fearless. Not afraid to fail. They feel imprisoned if they can’t enjoy the openness and vastness of their village.
They only have very basic things to play with like a tube, the branch of a tree or an empty bottle which does service as a cricket ball – but they still have a lot of fun and are capable of unself-consciously enjoying the simple freedom of being alive. They’re growing up very independently, mainly taking care of each other. They’re not over-protected and surrounded by nannies like the city kids.
If they fall or fail, they keep trying again and again until they do succeed. They’re very fast back on their feet and tears are rare. Among them there’s a very healthy sense of competition which means that they can compete and collaborate at the same time. They don’t feel any pressure – they are free in a very fundamental sense.
And from what I’ve seen they’re not the slightest bit envious of city kids. They don’t hanker after the latest brands and computer games. Maybe they’d love to have a warm blanket or an extra meal for a change but I honestly feel that they’re very happy with their lives as they are – not because they don’t know any better but because they can still value what little they have. They are very much at peace with themselves.
The “Adivasi Gang” bubbles with high spirits and curiosity. They love to hang out and enjoy doing nothing. I don’t feel they ever get bored. Their lives are in a very different way “pre-scheduled”. It’s not about rushing from appointment to appointment, from piano lessons to tennis lessons, from the ballet to the creativity courses. Baliram’s life is rather scheduled to remain in the poverty rut.
So the challenge I face in Janwaar is how to maintain this unbelievable crackling positive energy and channel it into a way forward out of poverty. And when I say out of poverty, I mean a decent life with the very basic amenities like electricity, sanitation, good learning environments, food and health care – I am not talking about high salaries, or a life of luxury and blind consumerism.
My dream is to let these kids be kids and and let them learn in such a way that they can live decent lives in their villages. And I feel this is possible with the “Adivasi Gang”.