At Children on the Edge we consider the children we help as stakeholders in their own future with their own rights and not passive recipients of aid, services and provision. A significant part of realising this, is to ensure their meaningful participation in our projects.
This process goes beyond tick box surveys and formulaic child stories. It can range from encouraging children to evaluate the positives and negatives of our work and its impact on them and the wider community, through to gaining their perspectives on their teachers and on all decisions effecting them. It also focusses on ensuring that the most vulnerable children are heard, as well as those who are able, confident and competent at expressing themselves.
This time last year we visited our project in Bangladesh where we did some participatory interviewing and activities with the children. We were glad to see a regular newsletter, with a readership of 1,500 being produced by the children, enabling ownership of the project and enabling them to communicate about their progress and achievements.
At this stage they were just beginning to form child councils, a forum for children to express their opinions about the project and represent those of their friends. A year on and our project partners have been working hard to further establish these groups. Meeting fortnightly, each child council member represents a group of students who they develop relationship with so they can reflect their views clearly. They work to bring out issues that some children might like to express, but are too afraid or shy to talk about.
Many problems and views have already been brought to light, last year the children expressed how they would like benches in the schools and education up to Grade 5. Benches are being bought, and we are working hard to find funding to increase the grade years. In more recent meetings, it emerged that a student from Amotolirchora school was made to go to a beach area to earn money, but if he failed to come home with enough he was beaten by his parents. Another child had admitted that he was scared to study, as he struggles to understand anything in the class room.
If it weren’t for the children being encouraged to have a voice, these issues would not emerge. The child councils are gradually communicating to all 600 children on the project that their opinions and feelings are valued, and will be acted upon, that they are not just beneficiaries, but are owning and designing the project.
There is still a way to go with this process. Even the children on the council can be shy about communicating their ideas, and the staff are starting to encourage them by using stories, dramas and play. They have also spent time educating the groups on child rights.
Within the schools themselves, teachers work hard to ensure that the most vulnerable children are heard. One teacher describes how “We praise the shy students about everything they do. We give them the chance to participate more times than the other children. In a dance we let them be the ones to do the dance. Each shy child we help to make friends with a more talkative child. The more talkative child encourages the shy child”.
Rachel Bentley is visiting the project this week, so watch this space, as well as Facebook and Twitter for a further update on the project.
Find out more about the project in Bangladesh
Child participation is part of our wider rights approach, read about how this shapes our work
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