Youth lead inspiring change initiatives
Anas (name changed), a 23-year-old student with 5 siblings, recalls not knowing his rights as a citizen and lacking the confidence to share his views before joining Anubhav Shiksha Kendra, an experiental learning programme for youth. He is not alone. Despite having the largest youth population in the world, Indian youth often struggle to find spaces in which to build their self-confidence and break prejudices about them being perceived as troubled, restless, naive, etc. The impact of this lack of support is widespread and deeply relevant to every young person. Anas depended on others and felt unable to offer support to his siblings as they tried to find themselves and their place in society.
Given growing threats to freedom and attempts to homogenise society, now more than ever, the daunting task of claiming space for youth requires strong processes and the participation of ground-up collectives that can demand action. Anubhav Shiksha Kendra has risen to the challenge, with the aim of providing a foundation for youth empowerment, learning and activism. Since its inception in 1997, the programme has stayed true to its name, embodying experiential learning to tailor its activities, process and aims to the current needs of the youth.
Anas formally joined Anubhav Shiksha Kendra in 2016, after attending sessions on democracy and secularism where, bit by bit, he built up the courage to ask questions and strike up conversations with other members. Since then, Anas has stepped out of his comfort zone and attended film screenings, festivals, group building sessions and more events led by the programme. Through different forms of engagement, Anas developed multiple skills that, in his own words, have helped him ‘tackle any situation in life.’ Now, he has secured a job, learned to demand his rightful share of rations from his ration shopkeeper and used his voice to encourage others in his basti (informal settlement) to join this programme.
Anas’s strong belief in Anubhav Shiksha Kendra and its importance for youth stems from more than just the activities organised by this programme for young people. In its process design, Anubhav Shiksha Kendra leads by example; it is itself an image of a better future. For instance, empowerment is not just encouraged in sessions, but in giving young people leadership opportunities and platforms to voice their opinions about issues and in co-creating the programme together. The focus on developing the voice of the youth is embraced at every level, irrespective of class, gender or race, resulting in a programme that showcases its belief in the motto — those who experience issues are best qualified to solve them.
This is exactly the principle the youth from Mumbai’s Western Suburbs embodied when they decided to convene after Anubhav Shiksha Kendra sessions to organise and perform a street play, Dastak, which portrayed the daily social harassment girls in the group faced. They enthusiastically rehearsed, travelled to many bastis over the course of 2 months and performed the play 84 times. Not only did this help spread awareness, it led to the formation of Malvani Yuva Parishad, a youth group determined to improve their local community by creating youth spaces, promoting religious tolerance and much more. Its impact on individuals has also been a notable achievement: Amit (name changed), who used to catcall girls himself, was inspired by the play so much that he reflected on and decided to change his behaviour, and is today an active member of the youth collective.
Seeing youth like themselves in positions of influence has been an empowering experience for others around them. Reena (name changed), a member of Anubhav Shiksha Kendra, became an example for girls within the programme as she embraced leadership opportunities. Despite starting off as a shy person, Reena is now praised by her team for being enthusiastic and passionate, inspiring other girls to fight for their rights, especially after team efforts she anchored towards filing and following up on Right to Information (RTI) applications.
In exposure tours organised by Anubhav Shiksha Kendra around the country, members meet many activists, learn about social movements from those at the forefront and are introduced to powerful role models. By providing young people with examples of strong leadership, this programme encourages young people to keep acting for change and seek opportunities to impact society in one way or another.
Unfortunately, as a result of discriminatory systems, many marginalised youth— from adolescent girls to the urban poor to religious minorities — are difficult to reach out to, and often have lower participation rates. Anubhav Shiksha Kendra works to increase their involvement using innovative and inclusive methods and by breaking taboos in sessions. Team building activities, for example, are particularly successful in bringing together girls and boys who are influenced by communities averse to their intermingling, creating new bonds between the youth and encouraging them to challenge the status quo. Critical reflection also takes place after every event, encouraging the co-creation of better and more relevant sessions in the future and improved ways to tackle social issues. The overall process of inclusion of diverse voices, reflection and application of feedback, encourages young people to understand the power of their contributions and the need for social justice.
Through stories of development such as those of Anas and Reena, the ongoing achievements of Anubhav Shiksha Kendra are clear — young people are leaving more confident, more experienced and more ready to become agents of change in their communities. Whether members of Anubhav Shiksha Kendra decide to leave the programme to pursue their education or delve into activism via the creation of youth groups such as the Malvani Yuva Parishad, it is in young people’s independence and creativity that the progamme’s values of democracy and social justice live. Because of its youth-driven and -centric ideals, Anubhav Shiksha Kendra has remained relevant more than 20 years after its inception and will continue to adapt to any challenge that comes its way as a tight-knit platform brimming with passionate and educated young people. If they can’t change the world, no one can.
Isabel Canalejo, Dual BA student, Trinity College Dublin and Columbia University. Isabel interned with YUVA from 29 June–6 September 2020.