Mumbai: SOS Children’s of Villages works towards enabling children under care to become self-supporting and contributing members of society. For this, education and skills are important, but sound character is paramount. Character strength exhibits itself in a host of situations and contexts, contributing to an individual’s psychological and physiological well-being and functioning; hence, this is critical for the wholesome development of children and young adults. Character building sessions have, hence, been introduced to empower Mothers, co-workers and children.
During the session, Mr. Sumanta Kar, Secretary General, SOS Children’s Villages of India said, “Through character building we prepare our children and youth with 21st century skill sets and attributes that enable them to be become self-reliant and contributing members of society. These sessions are based on three pillars: Concern for Others, Concern for the Environment and Citizenship Concern. Implementation of the ‘learnt’ in actual life; creating an environment where elements of character building are applied on a daily basis, becoming a part of life; and consistent exchange between participants to share experiences, feedbacks, inputs, solutions, and much more, are essential, and, hence encouraged.”
Speaking of qualitative and quantitative impact of character building on children, Prof. Nandita Babu, Senior Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Delhi & Developmental Psychologist said, “To lead a life in sync with the individual’s community values, and to contribute to universal concerns for human rights and welfare, character development of the child is extremely important. Character development of the child mostly takes place within the family; therefore, every individual involved in the child’s life should be able to emulate a strong character that is considered of value societally, and globally.”
She added: “Effective character-building requires an intentional, proactive and comprehensive approach that promotes core values in all phases of family and community life. It is extremely important for adults to practice and become role models before starting to impart values to children. Children are constructive learners, therefore, to develop character, children need opportunities for observing the same, before implementing.”
Stating her experience, SOS Mother Soniya, said “Character building is an important component of wholesome child development, and a caregiver is a vital part of a child’s journey. Hence, sessions pertaining to character building are crucial for Mothers and co-workers. Twenty-first century skill sets demand attributes and qualities like: Perspective Taking and Empathy, Helpfulness, Gratitude and Hope, Humility and Respect, Honesty and Self-Regulation. If these are cemented in caregivers, they can be able imparters. Character building also helps enhance mental wellbeing, through which all-round wellbeing is secured, empowering individuals for better challenge management.
During the session, the Bal Panchayat initiative of the Family Strengthening Programme was also introduced. The Bal Panchayat or Children’s Parliament is a group of about 20 children or more, who engage themselves to find solutions to pressing social challenges. Each Bal Panchayat has its own leader and council, who identify and address challenges being faced by their respective community. The members are trained on a wide variety of subjects, in order to equip them with the skill sets needed to implement their responsibilities.
Raja, ex-President, Bal Panchayat, former Balpanchayat Member, recalled the rich learning experience he had during his time as President, “One of the most important things one learns is to acquire a sense of responsibility towards the community by addressing pressing social challenges and designing concerned innovative solutions, ensuring good citizenship.
The confidence with which one approaches concerned authorities in position to take action, where needed, is enhanced manifold. The journey empowered me with 21st century skill sets, including communication, social and life skills. Decision making power, public speaking and facilitating awareness generation on a wide variety of subjects were some of the many other skills inculcated.”
Being the leader of the Bal Panchayat, Raja, along with his other friends, mobilised children and their parents to encourage education and preventing school drop-out rate, which is now zero in the cluster; another challenge: the cluster is situated on the banks of the river Ganga; depending on the situation of the village, floods can increase the spread of vector-borne diseases. During the post-flood situation, Raja took the initiative of promoting good sanitation practices among children. They also started a cleanliness drive in the community.
Baby Devi is an active SHG member of Abhinandan, Ratauli cluster, Begusarai. Her daughter Roshni is a member of the Laxmibai Bal Panchayat and is now in class 12. This Bal Panchayat focusses on the education of children, helping buy education material. “My daughter once initiated a drive, where everyone contributed what they could towards procuring necessary education material. This was to raise the same for those who just couldn’t afford it, thereby encouraging children and parents to continue education, so essential for wholesome child development.”
It was further concluded that apart from caregivers, educators should also consider incorporating character education into the curriculum, creating discussion opportunities about respect, honesty and responsibility while taking actions to ensure that the character traits we want children to develop are showcased by us, to begin with.