After writing to the local Public Health officials and getting their neighbourhood fogged and sprayed to prevent a mosquito infestation, the conscientious children from Sawan Park’s MCD Primary School in Delhi are out to make a difference again. This time their mission is to turn neighbourhoods waste-free. This students’ initiative was one of the direct results of the ‘Children Reshaping Cities’ programme by Bal Raksha Bharat (globally recognised as Save the Children) and Cities Forum.

The pilot of the programme, a module titled “Learning Mind-Mapping and Urban Elements from Personal Experiences”, aimed to teach children about their city and neighbourhood, including the basics of urban planning and development. It included various lessons such as Kevin Lynch’s (urban planner and celebrated author) five elements of urban design, identifying challenges through neighbourhood mapping, walkability, shared and private spaces, etc. that enabled the children to observe their city from a planner’s perspective. The children, after observing their neighbourhood and the school surroundings littered with garbage, decided to raise awareness among the local residents about maintaining cleanliness and proper waste-disposal practices. They also highlighted the issue of choked drains and overflowing bins and emphasised on the importance of using bio-degradable materials instead of plastic to curb pollution.

The children prepared special invitations for the officials of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) from Ward Number 66 (Sawan Park) to join them in their initiative which were wholeheartedly accepted. On October 21, 2022, 30 girls and 20 boys began a rally, accompanied by their teachers, school principal, officials from the MCD and the members of the School Management Committee (SMC). The rally, beginning at the MCD School in the morning, ended at the Sawan Park extension slums. Children from Class 4 and 5 made placards and posters with slogans such as swachhta ko apnana hai, beemari ko dur bhagana hai (adopt cleanliness, chase away the diseases), ghar mein na maidaan mein, kuda kude daan mein (not in homes or in the open, garbage should be in bins), etc. In addition to this, the messages were also played through a loudspeaker to maximise reach. As a result, the rally drew the attention of many locals who enquired further about the messages and lauded the children’s efforts on the matter. On their way, the children also pinned their hand-written messages at the common garbage disposal sites to remind the local residents of their responsibilities to keep their surroundings clean.

Throughout the rally, the MCD officials walked with the children in their support to promulgate their message more effectively and to ensure their safety during the rally. They were impressed by the children’s enthusiasm on the matter and vowed to offer any support they could, to realize their ideal neighbourhoods. As the children were made aware of their role in their cities as not mere observers but also as stakeholders, they became very keen on taking action to improve upon whatever deficiencies they observed. The support received from the local authorities further strengthened their resolve in achieving their ideal versions of their neighbourhoods. Post rally, the students and the teachers were congratulated by the MCD officials and the local residents for their enthusiasm and participation in improving their city and neighbourhood.

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