STRAW'S COMPASSIONATE CLASSROOMS
Creature Companions|June 2020
Teaching Children Kindness & Empathy Towards All Creatures Great and Small
Ipsita Sarkar*

“Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.”

-Nelson Mandela

With great power, comes great responsibility and that is true about education as well. It can change people. It can change mindsets and habits. Hence, all the more essential to use this tool wisely!

There is grammar to teach the basic rules of ‘language’; equations and formulae to make you think about Maths and Sciences. Drawings sow the seeds for ‘architecture’ while rehearsals and notations hone your musical skills. Eventually, sharpening these skills and talents make you a better professional. But do they shape you as better human beings, kinder people? Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t! What if there were degrees like an MA in Kindness, BA in Compassion or a Ph.D. in Empathy? Would these be saleable? But aren’t children naturally born with these innate values? Then what happens along the journey of becoming an adult? Where do these values disappear sometimes in a bid to become more ‘accomplished’ and ‘successful’ adults?

Just like the other subjects, it is education that can make a difference here again! And that is what STRAW (Stray Relief and Animal Welfare) is doing…creating lesson plans and workshops to encourage children and college students to be compassionate towards animals, the environment, and humans.

STRAW, a Delhi-based animal welfare organization, was started by the husband-wife team of Vasanthi and Dinesh Kumar, whose mission was to build a happier world for voiceless creatures. While Dinesh grew up with a variety of pets around him, Vasanthi was absolutely wary of animals in her childhood and pursued a corporate career in PR. But then she decided to give it up all to start STRAW in 2008. Today, she is a proud humane educator!

Later, they joined hands with CBSE and other State Education Boards, as part of their Compassionate Classrooms programme. They have been providing content to textbooks and teacher manuals on kindness towards animals, care for the environment, and human values.

The idea was to boost the values of empathy and sensitivity among children towards animals specifically and the environment at large.

Vasanthi Kumar, the founder of STRAW tells us about its foundation idea, “Children love animals. It comes naturally to them. It’s only the adults who veer them away by saying things like ‘kutha katega’ (dogs will bite), ‘cheeti mar gayee’ (the ant is dead) when a child falls down, etc. So when children are taught to be kind and compassionate to animals, they will grow up to be compassionate citizens of tomorrow.”

With the advent of Covid-19, news of animals that had been confined and not noticed for the longest time, running, walking, waddling on the streets started happening in parallel to news of health disasters across the globe. The oft-ignored topic of environment-related issues due to human activities started getting revived. The rampancy of forest destruction, wildlife crimes, and pollution-all to boost the economy was linked with the birth and spread of Corona.

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