As they say, “of all the books in the world, the best stories are found between the pages of passport.” Coming back to India with a purpose made me see my own country through a different lens. This time, I was making connections and seeing how the work I was doing in the Institute was connected not just to the schools but to the organizations that are working in the field of education as well.
When I joined UNESCO MGIEP, I did not expect that I will get attached to the work and people in such a short time. As much as I am excited to resume my studies, I am emotional too that I am leaving UNESCO MGIEP and all the people who made last 12 weeks the most amazing ones for me.
When I look back, I see, there was a lot that happened in the last three months and most of it happened in August. From the Youth Envoy Ms. Jayathma Wickramanayake’s visit to UNESCO MGIEP to Director General’s visit to Youth Townhall held at UNESCO New Delhi office to organizing the Capacity-Building Workshop for Educators on Preventing Violent Extremism through Education, August was filled with all the major events and some of the most memorable experiences of my life.
Youth Envoy Ms. Jayathma Wickramanayake’s visit to UNESCO MGIEP was her first visit to India and it was focused on taking part in a roundtable discussion with civil society youth organizations. The discussion was aimed at sharing first-hand experiences of various youth organizations, NGOs working with youth and women, and universities on issues such as youth in India, youth participation in the UN and the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals across the country. The discussion with people working at grassroots level provided a great deal of insights on the key concerns of youth of India and the places where the support is required for true representation of youth voices in the UN system and left the youth envoy impressed with amount of work being done in India to bring the youth to the forefront.
While trying to understand what ‘violent extremism’ is during the first two weeks, a quote by Mahatma Gandhi, ‘an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind’ was stuck in my head. At that moment, it did not make much sense to me but over the period of 12 weeks when I researched about the forms of extremism that existed in various nations and the reasons behind it, I found out that in most cases, ‘violence breeds violence’ held true. The group of people subjected to emotional or physical violence turn to violence against their enemies. This, then, led me to understand how the Libre curriculum proposed by UNESCO MGIEP can develop mindfulness, empathy, compassion, and critical thinking in the young children and help them take a step back, critically analyze a situation while keeping in mind various perspectives and then take a stance.
Working on the PVE workshop was another time when I felt how the right kind of educational practices can lead to developing more mindful and empathetic learners. The mindfulness exercises by Dr. Marilee Ludvik from San Diego State University made me question my own thinking processes and helped me realize how simple exercises like breathing in and out, mindful walking, empathetic listening and much more can bring the change in our thinking systems. Encountering this knowledge also helped me reflect on how I process the information and what changes I can bring in my thinking process in order to become more mindful, empathetic and compassionate being.
The workshop turned out to be a great success as teachers, principals and policymakers from 10 nations (Australia, Bangladesh, Cameroon, Colombia, Finland, India, Kenya, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Zambia) came together, talked about the forms of violent extremism in their countries and were familiarized with the Libre integrative curriculum. The concept of violent extremism was humanized by bringing in former extremists and people who have worked in conflicted areas. To provide the in-depth understanding of the Libre curriculum, the panel of experts included Dr. K. P. Mohanan (Professor), Dr. Marilee Ludvik (Professor) and Dr. Nandini Chatterjee (Neuroscientist) who demonstrated how the proposed curriculum will integrate 21st-century skills to the education system to develop peaceful and sustainable societies.
It was not just UNESCO MGIEP that was busy organizing events, UNESCO New Delhi office inaugurated its new premises and organized a Youth Townhall on Harnessing the Indian Youth Bulge for a True Dividend: Vision to action for 21st Century on August 31, 2017. Organized by UNESCO MGIEP jointly with The Logical Indian, the main focus of the youth town hall was on how education systems can play a key role in empowering young people to address the challenges of the 21st century.
Now, it is finally the time to say goodbye to India and all the beautiful people I met here and who made coming back to India an unforgettable experience.