David’s Experience

Shaishav through the eyes of a visitor from England

Falgun and Parul’s initiative took a deeply held ideal and applied it in practice at just the right time and place. The ideals of Gandhiji have never been more needed than now, as India becomes a major world power. And where better to express this than in the lives of children, not only in India, but all over the world. If we want a new and more just world, we must empower the rising generation to help influence the change.

I first came to Gujarat in 1987 to set up a community link on behalf of Loughborough, Leicestershire, England. Many Gujarati people had moved there from East Africa.

I stayed with VPSS in Valod (Surat District), and then with Sarjan in Ahmedabad, and learned a lot from Fulchandbhai Purwar about working with poor children to enable them to realise and develop their creativity.

While travelling around Gujarat, I stayed at Lok Bharati Rural University, and then took a bus into Bhavnagar, where I was introduced to Manbhai Bhatt at Shishuvihar.

As a result of this meeting, we chose Bhavnagar as our link, and people from Loughborough have visited every year since then – large and small parties, some young people of Gujarati ancestry and many of English ancestry. Ages have ranged from 3 to 77. We have also had many visitors from Gujarat to our town.

I met many children in Ahmedabad and Bhavnagar, and came to realise what a difference it makes to your attitude to poor children, beggar children and working children if you get to know them and count them among your friends. Western people are rightly horrified at the plight of many children in India, but often we don’t respect the children; we don’t understand how resourceful they can be, how intelligent, charming and courageous. And – often – happy too, in spite of everything.

Parul and Phalgun spent several years researching the lives of working children in Bhavnagar, and their Gandhian ideals taught them that respect for the children must be the starting point. From the time  Shaishav was launched, respect for children, whatever their circumstances, has been the underlying motive in everything they have done.

Parul and Falgun have tremendous skills in relationships, both with the children and with their staff. They have built up a strong, dedicated and effective team, within which young people from as far away as Europe and the United States have been able to learn about what Indian children have to offer.

And above all they have valued and developed the personal resources of the children themselves, giving them the space to have fun and be creative, helping them to find confidence, building on their courage, empowering them to take charge of their own lives against disadvantage and exploitation. The children of Shaishav are engaged in the task of winning for children in Bhavnagar and the rest of Gujarat, in India and the rest of the world, their human rights as children.

David Paterson