The students of Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) Primary School in Delhi’s Ashok Vihar were elated to learn that their appeal to the local administration about their unsanitary surroundings finally bore fruit in the form of action. The process began when Bal Raksha Bharat, in association with Cities Forum, developed an initiative – ‘Children Reshaping Cities’ to impart learning on the basics of urban planning and development to children in classes 3rd to 12th. A module within the program, titled ‘Learning Mind-Mapping and Urban Elements from Personal Experiences’, sensitized and oriented children about different scales of urban settlements (towns, cities, metropolis, etc.), urban design elements for mental mapping, understanding planning lexicon (like wards and neighbourhoods), commute-mapping, differentiating between public and private spaces in their neighbourhood, and discussing neighbourhood challenges through drawing, mapping, and letter-writing.
Children of Sawan Park School writing to the Chief Health Officer
The module consisted of simple and lucid material about mapping, accessibility, and inclusive planning practices. It helped in educating the children about their position as citizens and their overall role in urban development and neighbourhood planning. This module was implemented from June to July 2022 in five MCD schools (in classes 3rd to 5th). It led to various discussions among the children and teachers about the problems and issues that they observed within their neighbourhoods, wards, and the overall city, followed by a collective willingness for finding solutions and expanding the discussion with those in the administration. As a result, the 211 children of Sawan Park School, collectively wrote a letter to the health officer (on 22nd August 2022) and handed it over to the local sanitary inspector to raise the issue of the unsanitary conditions giving rise to mosquito breeding in their local park. The administration promptly took notice of the problem and arranged for the park to be fogged and sprayed on the following day. Talking with the teachers that helped students in guiding them to write the letter, it was remarked that there was a significant rise in awareness among the students in raising concerns about their surroundings to the local administration as well as newfound confidence and belief that their initiative can result in a rapid response and a concrete action. The park, which received a daily footfall of about 80-100 persons, became a safe space for leisure activities without the looming dangers of mosquito-carried diseases like malaria, dengue, chikungunya, etc. which have seasonal outbreaks in the city every year. On a neighbourhood scale, a population of some 300 households (nearly 1,500 people) was also positively affected by the outcome, shielding them from the diseases that ail thousands across the city every year.
Children handing the letter to the local Sanitary Inspector, Primary Health Center (PHC)
In addition to the above outcome, the children have also become aware of many elements of the local administrative processes. Firstly, they now know the office/personnel to contact if a local issue needs resolving. Secondly, they are now knowledgeable about the equipment needed to rid a space of a mosquito infestation and can consequently advise their peers to raise similar issues in their respective localities. Lastly, they are now aware of the people who actually carry out the spraying and fogging process and can contact them directly if the local administration is unable to do so.
Children observing their locality being sprayed with mosquito repellents
In conclusion, teaching children about urban planning and their role and rights as citizens led to a positive change in their place of leisure. It also made them aware of the importance of communal spaces like parks and playgrounds. Therefore, we can ascertain from this experience that if more and more children are educated about their surroundings and cities, the more willing they would be to participate in raising their voices for bringing positive changes to their well-being.
Children and teachers with a municipal sanitary worker at Sawan Park