‘It’s not so much what children learn through play, but what they won’t learn if we don’t give them the chance to play. Many functional skills like literacy and arithmetic can be learned either through play or through instruction — the issue is the amount of stress on the child. However, many coping skills like compassion, self-regulation, self-confidence, the habit of active engagement, and the motivation to learn and be literate cannot be instructed. They can only be learned through self-directed experience (i.e. play)’.–Susan J. Oliver
Over the past year and half, effects of the coronavirus pandemic have been discussed and debated across several forums, platforms, organisations and contexts. An interesting observation is, these conversations anchor around impact on mental and physical health, on the travel and tourism industry, on the vaccine manufacturers and on the government policy actions required for managing these impacts. An oft ignored aspect is the repercussion of this pandemic on the future of this world — our children. While adults have cribbed and complained about how the past year has curtailed our freedom and restricted daily lives, it is also worth sparing a thought for these young ones who have had to say goodbye to their teachers, friends, daily school, coaching classes, extracurricular commitments and basically the world as they knew it for an event of apparent historical significance they don’t even understand fully. Most children didn’t even know what a virus was, how it transmitted, what a pandemic meant and why face shields and masks should be used before 2020. Their lives seemingly upended in the span of a few days as global lockdowns moved the world online and in-person interactions became a distinct memory.
A year in this situation, with children resigned to the new way of living and stuck inside their homes for a second summer vacation in as many years, YUVA decided to help in the best way they could — by organising a virtual summer camp. As novel as the idea sounds, the plan was simple — for 2 hours every day spread across 4 weekends, all children who chose to join from across several locations would be engaged in a myriad of activities which would be conducted virtually, free of cost. Like all things pandemic, an internet connection on a screen device and generic household items were the only prerequisites along with a curious mind and willingness to engage. The main motive behind conceptualising this summer camp was to re-introduce children to life as they knew it, to enable them to interact with other humans of their age and to get a feel of the fun and enjoyment they previously associated summer vacations with. All from the safety and hygiene of their own homes.
The organising team interspersed activity sessions with talks from social and welfare leaders, ensuring that the theme of ‘Darein nahi surakshit rahe’ (don’t be scared, be safe) rung clearly through all the sessions. The programme saw the registration of 100+ children with varying participation across the weekends. All activities were carried out over Google Meet. Several speakers reiterated the COVID-19 norms throughout the calls and the children were very receptive and echoing the general practices from having followed them over the past year.
Amusingly, these were some of the most heard lines across the sessions:
‘Teacher awaz nahi aa rahi, zor se bolo na’ (Teacher, I can’t hear you, could you speak louder?).
‘Teacher mera net kharab hai, camera on nahi kiya toh chalega na?’ (Teacher my internet signal is weak, hope it’s okay that my camera isn’t on).
‘Teacher aapko mera artwork/costume/work in progress dikh raha hai na? Kaisa banaya maine?’ (Teacher can you see my artwork/creation? How is it?).
‘Bacchon apna mike mute karo warna instructions nahi samjhega’ (Children, please mute your microphones, else you’ll miss the instructions).
‘Bacchon ek ek karke bolo, sabko chance milega’ (Children, please speak one at a time, you will all get a chance to speak).
And through all this the sense a bystander could clearly glean was the excitement and eagerness with which the children wanted to participate and interact. The first session was clay modelling, where the children learnt to build simple structures and beautify them, with some even using kneaded dough in case modelling clay wasn’t available. This was followed by a puppet show and puppet making workshop. The children almost exactly replicated the instructor’s puppet sample using simple household items. The next session was a magic show, which in typical fashion amazed and engaged the children, albeit being conducted virtually. The fourth activity was best-out-of-waste where the children learnt to make paper bags and pen stands from old newspapers and discarded containers. The bags were a good example of making a sustainable choice in our daily usage to impress upon the children the need to be environment friendly! Then came the most awaited session — a virtual fancy dress. It was touching yet unsurprising to see a lot of children role play coronavirus, with the crown shaped masks and message of social distancing. Another clear example of what kids see, kids do! Many also chose to be dressed as prominent freedom fighters, teachers and a girl even showcased ‘a housewife’. The willingness to be free, to go back to their erstwhile lives and to pay homage to those that they see around them daily was clearly visible. The last activity was a one minute talent show where children were asked to submit short clips of their chosen talent beforehand to coordinators and these were played to the group audience during the session. The keenness to have their clip played and receive feedback was palpable from the audience. The summer workshop concluded with a certificate distribution and short closing ceremony.
The summer camp not only allowed for children to express themselves and learn creatively, but also provided a space and a platform for them to interact with government officials and child protection decisions makers. Various government officials like the Corporator and CPC Ward 96 President Mr Haji Halim, Department of Women and Child Development (DWCD) Officer Ms. Shobha Shelar, District Child Protection Unit Ms. Prajakta Desai, Labour Officer Mr. Mahesh Patil, Childline Coordinator Mr. Vijay Kharat and Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) Supervisor and CPC Secretary Apeksha Sutar were present at different sessions and days of the summer camp and interacted with the children, sharing knowledge and also telling them to take care of themselves and be safe.
The theme ‘Darein nahi surakshit rahe’ was addressed during the inauguration of the summer camp. In the succeeding session, Childline Coordinator Vijay Kharat talked about child rights and the work of Childline, the 24×7 helpline for children in distress. On the occasion of International Anti Child Labour Day, Assistant Labour Commissioner Mahesh Patil interacted with children on child labour and how we can take ahead cases of this to relevant authorities. He also patiently answered the queries of children and showed them some messages by celebrities on stopping child labour. District Child Protection Officer (DCPO) Prajakta Desai addressed the children at the certificate distribution ceremony regarding child safety. The summer camp, thus, not only informed children of their rights and important information, but also made the government officials more sensitised and interested in the concerns children were sharing. Each of the guests expressed their gratitude to the organisers and were happy to be a part of the campaign.
Towards the end of the Summer Camp many questions came about the next summer, can this summer camp be continued, and so on. Amidst the vote of thanks we received a short message from one of our participants, ‘Hume sabse bada thank you aapko karna hai humara yeh summer vacation itna accha banane ke liye, nahi to hum bore ho jate chhuttiyo mein. Hume iss summer camp mein aa ke bohot maza aaya thank you’. (We (the participants) want to give a big thank you to you for making our summer vacation so good. If we wouldn’t have participated in this summer camp, we would have been bored during this vacation. We had lots of fun, thank you.)
While the vaccine for children is still being tested, and in-person meet ups are still frowned upon, this was a much needed breather to give children a feel of the summer they are missing out on. Be it the short games the coordinators were making them play as fillers during the sessions or the actual activities being conducted, the zeal was strong throughout! The summer camp also incorporated talks on world environment day, world day against child labour day and stressed the child helpline number (1098) throughout the sessions, laying emphasis on everyone’s role for child protection and welfare. It was heartening to see some of the children wax eloquent on the cons of child labour, why it must be banished, what each one of us can do to protect the environment and how COVID-related protocols must be followed at an individual level.
‘A child can teach an adult three things: to be happy for no reason, to always be busy with something, and to know how to demand with all his might that which he desires.’ ~ Paulo Coelho
Manisha Swain, intern — YUVA, with inputs from the YUVA team