Our Change Agent, 12-year-old Aarthi’s day begins at 7 AM with a high-pitched yell from her mother, pleading with her to get out of bed and get ready for school. Once her day begins, it is a mad rush, filled with excitement and activities. She runs to the little shop around the corner to buy milk, admitting that it is the only chore she does around with house. Then it is off to school, which is a 10 minute walk away.
School is at 8:30, which starts with a morning assembly. School for Aarthi is just the same as it was for all of us: one period gets over, another starts, and any free time she has is spent chatting with her friends or playing kho kho and kabaddi. Her favourite subjects are math, english and social science.
“I never liked math before, but now I have a good teacher so I understand it better, and now I like it. I also struggled initially because all the subjects are in English. But now I have caught up. Sometimes our teacher gives us phones where we can use apps to learn science and maths. In school, I fight a lot with my friends, but we also have fun times together.”
Finally the last bell rings, and she waves goodbye to her friends and heads off towards her house at 4:45 in the evening.
“When I return home, my grandmother will be waiting for me with some snacks. My mother is usually at work in an export clothes cleaning warehouse, so my grandmom cooks and takes care of the house. My grandfather at construction sites carrying cement. My father has not lived with us for three years after a big fight with my mother.”
She gets ready quickly and by 6 PM she is at Oasis India’s after-school classes, which are supported by Asian Aid. “I talk for a bit with my friends, and then start studying. Sometimes we find it hard to study and get distracted. I get yelled at a lot,” she giggles. “Seeing that we needed to be helped with concentration, our tutors include many activities and games. The use of smart class tools have been the best improvement, we get to read and watch many stories and videos. I find it easier to learn this way.”
I learnt to be more open if I had any problems. I can share with my tutor or mentor.
When you speak to Aarthi, it is her confidence and clear thinking that stands out. She is frank, and does not hesitate to say the difficult things. When asked what she would do differently in her community, pat comes her reply: I want to stop bullying. Bullying an eve teasing are so ingrained in this part of the world that most times we accept it as part of life. That Aarthi – at 12 – can see it and want to change it is testament to her empathy. An empathy that should not go untapped.
And that is why it is no surprise that she joined our new change agent group in her neighbourhood that was started three months ago. The meetings are held once a week, where about 15 boys and girls are being trained on what it means to be a change agent.
“We have seen what the older change agent group has done, they have done plays and rallies on human trafficking and child abuse. We learnt about the child helpline and how to differentiate between good touch-bad touch from them too. Now we are discussing various issues to address, and we hope our group is as effective as them. The issue that I have suggested is bullying. I see a lot of that happening and I feel sad when other children are treated badly.”
But Aarthi does not want to stop there. Keep prodding and it is obvious that she has a big heart that wants to make everyone’s life easier. She wants to stop alcoholism because she sees her friends’ fathers drinking and fighting at home. She wants to become a doctor so that she can give free treatment and prevent organ trafficking – a desire that grew when she saw on the news one person whose kidney was taken when he went to donate blood.
As the moon rises and Aarthi, now back home after an enthusiastic discussion with her change agent peers, settles in to watch some TV and eat her dinner, one can see hope for this community. Hope, because young kids like Aarthi are dreaming of all the wonderful things their community can be.