9 a.m. in Purba Chintamonipur, Sunderbans. Piti has just come home from his morning tuition and before it is time to get dressed for school, he slides through the hole in the fence and runs towards my hut with a beaming face. Reaching my veranda, he slows down and takes off his rubber slippers.
“Hello”. We smile at each other. “How are you?”
Oh! I am surprised to hear Piti practice English conversation. “I’m fine. How are you?”
Parents send their children to learn English from me but I am also here to learn about myself, about life and about the contribution I can make towards human development. It is in that spirit that I am with the children. I am present with all that I am. The half German-half Bengali “aunty” or “pishimoni” from Austria, Europe.
Village children first came to me with an intense desire to draw. I gave them paper and crayons and a space to create their own artworks with no interference or judgement from my side. When they hold up their drawing to show me, I usually smile and praise or ask them whether they are happy with it. I must say, it is a great success for me that the children have stopped asking me what they should draw or how. They are becoming naturally creative again. My presence is my present. Spontaneity is the gift of a child.
Piti joins me for some morning exercise. I stretch and bend, swing my legs and turn my ankles. As we pay attention to our hands and fingers, we put them together and they start to move. Our hands dance, clap and suddenly our fists make a boxing movement. As if our minds were connected, we look around. We find everything we need: my thick cooking glove, a string and Piti asks for a plastic bottle - I don’t know what for - but I point to the bag of plastic garbage, he finds one and runs off to fill it with water, I don’t know why, but a few moments later he is back and everything is fixed. We take turns boxing a swinging water bottle, making sounds and laughing. Filming our boxing skills adds to the fun.
I brought a game called Mikado with me from Austria and never thought how much fun and excitement it would bring. It is very simple - a batch of sticks to pick up one by one trying to avoid another stick moving. The game obviously also opens doors for discussion, argument and a chance to practice fair play. I let the children make new rules if all players agree.
Then there is my harmonium. Children naturally enjoy music, but they rarely get the opportunity to experience their own musicality. Here children are allowed to relate to the instrument, the sounds resulting from their touch.
The Happy Child Centre is my learning environment about social patterns in this village. I have not been able to fix regular opening hours or structure my teachings. Children arrive whenever the moment allows. Instead of going by the clock, I practice living in the moment.
My greatest success
Success is a moment of joy and satisfaction. It is to feel a child’s enthusiasm and to look into shining eyes. Success is to get in touch with my inner child and to love myself today the way I would have needed it yesterday.
“I love you, but not your behaviour”- when I told PK to leave because of his disruptive behaviour I managed to remain friendly and at the same time firm. I called it a holiday for him while it was time for me to reflect. What does the boy need? What do I need? How can we build up a trustful and respectful relationship? Success is harmony. Do I need to accept disharmony first?
Integration. Mentally challenged Mollika finally has a place for group experience and a learning environment with children. So far she was excluded from any kind of social life. Now people know that I am friends with her. Mollika surprises me with her love for books and an urge to learn. She picked up “hello” and “goodbye” long before other children did. She is a sunshine at heart and a teacher for me in communication beyond words.
Children don’t usually join in cooking at home but they actually love it and are good at it. They cut carefully, they are familiar with steps like washing and peeling, they intuitively organise themselves as to who does what. I love cooking with children! The children feel happy and enjoy the flavours of fresh fruits and vegetables. We recently planted seeds of papaya.
The Happy Child Centre is essentially about discovering and fulfilling needs - human needs. Every child is like a young plant and happiness is the sunshine that allows it to grow. For adults, this place holds the potential of healing old pain.
Attitude is a small thing that makes a big difference
My main job is to create an environment that is nourishing, inspiring, and safe. Here children open up and instinctively imbibe whatever life offers. I do not overprotect the children. They are allowed to use scissors and if there is a cut, I have plasters to offer.
I am quite amazed and pleased that children understand my principles of cleanliness and tidiness. We do not throw paper cuttings or food wrapping on the grass (as it is commonly practiced here), we compost organic waste, and we clear away after one game before starting a new one.
I don’t use these while talking to the children- “Parbe na, porbe, bokbo, marbo!” (You won’t manage, you will fall, will scold and will brat).
Happiness is at the centre of our being. Happiness is a guiding intelligence, but mostly educators use fear to manipulate children into their own belief system. I have noticed children being curious, wanting to explore something and being told off. In fact, adults are the ones who need the Happy Child Centre in order to question their own mind patterns.
My Centre has been founded on the ground of organic farmers. Just as they study the requirements of a plant, its interaction with other plants and creatures, conditions of soil and climate, I study and observe the lives of villagers so as to offer a natural fertiliser to their young ones. I see how harmful the use of pesticides is on the field. In the same way, I understand that I cannot kill a negative thought or fight against destructive behaviour. I need to give it a place and time to dissolve into love!