Children scare me. Why and when this fear developed, I’m not 100% sure. I do find them cute, and I do care about kids, but the thought of the responsibility to raise a child tends to bring out the fear in me. Therefore, I typically avoid situations that involve being around kids when I can.
So when I learned that we were going to attend a youth center in India after a long and exhausting day of lifting bricks, the last ounce of my comfort zone was drained from me.
Sitting at the front of a room no bigger than my bedroom, 30 children ranging from two to 14, majority boys, only a handful of girls, all sitting crossed leggeged on the floor, personal space non-existent, just stared at the spectacle which was us.
Our guide translated the purpose of the youth center which focuses on better education programs, sex education, and instilling hope that these kids can create their own futures. As translations went back and forth, my eyes would wander the room. So many of these kids just waited for me to make eye contact so we could exchange a smile and a small hand wave.
After listening to the translation of the teacher for a while, my curiosity took over and I asked our guide to translate to the kids “Does anyone have any questions for us?” I just wanted to know what these little minds were thinking.
The first question translated back to us:
“Do you have child marriages in Canada?”
I was stunned! I wasn’t sure what to anticipate and right from the start, their questions just seemed so surreal. I just couldn’t believe what was on their minds. Throughout the hour, we were faced with more of the same sort of questions you wouldn’t expect from a group of children.
“Do children have to go to school? What happens if they don’t?”
“Do you have youth centers? What do they teach?”
“Do you have abortion? Do parents abort children of a certain sex?”
“What festivals do you celebrate?”
Both taboo and innocent questions were answered and translated for these kids. It started to hit me. These kids, full of song, curiosity, smiles, energy, and hope, struggle every day for their rights to just be kids.
They want to grow up to be police officers, doctors, engineers, teachers, soldiers, but they need to first find a way to avoid the typical reality that is life for many children in India: Marriage at the age of 10.
I initially feared being stuck in a room by a bunch of kids. Yet these children are scared of losing their rights, hope, freedom, and their youth.
This project is all about enabling these kids to unleash their potential by answering questions and providing them with access to information through the Internet and technology. We are here to teach them as much as we can in our short time here; but what they don’t realize is that they’ve also taught me so much about my own reality.
I can’t wait for the next time I get to be surrounded by these amazing, young and hopeful individuals.
DWC/Softchoice Volunteer Participant
India. February 11, 2015.