Balsena, which means the Children’s Collective, is the first of its kind in Gujarat. Balsena is an independent organisation where Shaishav acts as a facilitator. Our role is to act as a catalyst and provide a platform to children where they can experience the power of collective strength, take up issues that they face, satisfy their emotional needs, develop empathy for other children and derive support for each other. This in turn will make them more self-reliant and confident. We believe that if children evolve their own understanding of issues such as child labour, education, gender biases and communal prejudices, they themselves can become change makers in society.
The objectives of the Balsena program are as follows:
- To bridge the gap of inequality and promote unity and solidarity between children.
- To bring about qualitative changes in children such as growth in confidence, sensitivity and ability to speak their views.
- To empower children by developing their leadership qualities and life skills so they can contribute in decision making and problem solving.
- To provide life skills such as decision making and to increase their economic independence through a saving .
- To increase the levels of awareness about child rights among children and the community.
- To encourage children’s participation by providing a platform where they can raise issues related to child rights.
- To strengthen the collective by increasing the membership of Balsena.
- To involve the parents and the community in the programme activites.
Children’s right to participation is inherent in all of Shaishav’s activities. In the schools(now we call it Balghar) where we intervene and in the Community Education Centres, we have formed Balsamitis (Children’s Committees) which are actively involved in planning, organising and reporting on all their activities. At a residential camp, members from the Balsamitis from the Community Education Centres in collaboration with the Shaishav team, decided to form a larger children’s group linking children associated with the various Shaishav programmes. The rules of the Balsena, its detali (“high-five”) greeting, logo, flag, song and uniform, which is a pink scarf, were all finalised at this camp. With the aim of encouraging solidarity and bridging inequality in society, Shaishav has brought children from private schools to interact with children of municipal schools through various activities under its^ programs. When the children meet regularly, their friendship develops. They learn about each other and many different situations in society. They forget their class differences and are united. In this way children from the private schools were also included in the collective. Balsena was formally inaugurated on 12th January 2003 by veteran social activist Elaben Bhatt, founder of the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA).
Children can become members of Balsena by paying an entry fee of Rs. 10 and an annual fee of Rs. 11. The members also have to sign a written agreement of the member rules developed by the children. Every school or community where Shaishav works has a Balsena team. At present there are 54 such teams with a membership of more than a 3500 members. Each team elects a captain, a vice captain and two core members who constitute the Balsena Council of total 164 members. An annual get together of the Council elects a president and a vice president annually to represent the collective. The Council members give written reports from the activities to the Shaishav team and at the all Balsena level. In each Shaishav program there is a special person appointed to support Balsena activities apart from one person for overall co-ordination.
Circle Point Activities
The Shaishav team visits every week six different gathering places in Bhavnagar with the mobile van to initiate activities. These circle points are located in areas which are communally sensitive or face caste tensions. The philosophy behind this activity is Saathe Ramiye-Saathe Rahiye (play together-stay together). By interacting with each other, the children can build good friendships and respect differences. The activities focus on recreation, creativity, life skills and value education. Regularly, 40 to 50 children are attending each of these centres. When the mobile van is not present, the youth from the local areas gather children in their neighbourhood to conduct their activities independently. Each of these circle points has a Balsena team.
The Bachat Bank is a children’s micro-finance initiative attached to Balsena, but it is open to all children associated with the Community Education Centers and the Circle Points. The children are given a sealed box and a card and the minimum saving is Rs. 5 per week. The amount given is registered on the child’s card and by Shaishav. The money is deposited in a regular bank account in the name of Balsena. At present more then 450 children have saved about 2.5 lakhs money. The savings consists of money given by parents or from children’s earnings and pocket expenses. The Bank was set up to encourage independent decision making regarding money spending among children. Time and resource management is also included in the savings program. Shaishav wants to expand and regularize the bank and to enable the children to manage it independently in the long run.
Children’s Initiated Activities
Children initiated activities are a central part of Balsena. The Balsena Council organises a monthly Maitri Shibir (Friendship camp) which is a four hours event. The camps are held where usually about 200-250 participate. Each event has a theme, for instance “friendship” including friendship with books or friendship with the environment . The Balsena Council also organises Sunday Programs which range from making rakhi (friendship-bands) to quiz competitions, and festival celebrations. In addition, each Balsena team has a monthly meeting and organise a program independently. A Bulletin Board from each team publishes a monthly newsletter/update on their activities.
Work with Adolescent Girls
Balsena aims to give a special space to girls where they can grow without restrictions. At the municipal and private schools which have Balsena teams, Shaishav conducts training for all the adolescent girls, called Kishorimela. The training focuses on changes in the body during puberty, sexual abuse and personal safety. Adolescent girls from Balsena teams in different geographical areas in Bhavnagar have been selected to participate in biweekly training in the same topics. This core team forms teams of adolescent girls in their areas to whom they give training. The girls are part of the Girls International Forum (GIF), an international network focusing on the rights and situation of adolescent girls.5 girls of these Kishorimandals have participated at Girls International Forum which was held at USA in 2006.We were the only team from India which participated in it.
Children who are actively and regularly participating in Balsena are given intensive training at residential camps on topics such as child rights, life skills, leadership development and teambuilding through games, role-playing, stories, songs, films, group discussions, and exercises. We also conduct separate trainings for the Council members and for children involved in special tasks, such as the Bulletin Boards.
Once a year, Shaishav organizes a State Level Convention to promote networking among children and organizations and to spread the message of Balsena. In February 2005 more than 2200 children from 15 districts of Gujarat, belonging to 35 organisations participated. The participants included street children, child labourers, riot-affected or earthquake affected children, children living in institutions, children from remote rural, tribal or desert areas, slum children as well as privileged children going to leading private schools. An outcome of this convention was a decision made by children to visit each other. In past Shaishav has experienced that when children go out on exposure visits like this, it leaves unforgettable impressions on them. Hence we have decided to organise an exposure visit for children every year to different places to learn about each other .In the year 2006 we organized a State Consultation where selected child representatives from different organizations participated. These were selected from the previous year’s organisations. In 2007 we organized a State consultation of Adolescent girls where about 90 girls participated from 17 organisations. Girls from our kishorimandals gave the training to the participant girls. We will also invite children from other organisations and areas to come to Shaishav and meet and live with our children.
Balsena children are already becoming friends by coming together for various activities and to build strong bonds of friendship, we would like to initiate a programme called Baldoot (Child Messenger) as part which children from two different backgrounds, such as rich and poor or from two different castes or religions, will go and stay with each other on weekends. According to Indian tradition, when people share food with each other, they become one. By living with each other and sharing food they will learn about customs of each other and it will ultimately bridge the gap of inequality.
Involving the Community
Since we started our work, Shaishav has collaborated closely with the communities where we intervene. To involve the society on a larger scale, Shaishav has initiated the formation of a Bal Dost Manch (Collective of Friends of Children). This is a citizen’s platform of parents, community leaders, local corporations and industrialists with area specific branches in the city. The aim of the collective is to identify and solve issues of child rights, particularly related to education. The Manch works towards the improvement of the education infrastructure, services and facilities for children of their area. The Manch also takes up difficulties faced by the teachers in municipal schools so that they can become more effective in their work. Moreover, the members provide administrative, financial and logistic support for the pre-primary education activities and the Community Education Centres and offer their skills and knowledge. Finally, the Manch sensitises the parents to the importance of education and assists in the enrolment of children in school. We now want to put emphasise on including the parents of the children who are part of Balsena in the Baldost Manch, to increase their awareness of their children’s views and aspirations and to encourage them to contribute with their knowledge and skills. Shaishav envisions the children, who have been part of Balsena, joining Tarunsena when they become youths and finally, involve in the Bal Dost Manch as adults. After a period of time, the Manch can take over more responsibility from Shaishav in the facilitation of Balsena and Tarunsena, which will ensure the long term sustainability of these collectives.
- Unity and solidarity between Balsena children is demonstrated.
- The children show greater confidence, sensitivity and ability to speak their views.
- The children starts organize their own activities independently.
- The Concept of Balsena and Child Participation is mainstreamed and spread in other parts of State, Country and Internationally.
- Balsena takes up active part in raising issues in larger societal matters
- The children take an active part in decision making and problem solving in their communities.
- Child rights awareness among children and community is increasing.
- Child rights issues are raised in the communities by Balsena children.
- Membership of Balsena is increasing.
- Membership of the Bachat Bank is increasing.
The parents of the Balsena children take active part in the program activities.