“Through every session, I try to inculcate a set value system, such as leadership building, community empowerment, or life skills. “—Vijay, Trainer, Play for Peace India
Vijay is a Play for Peace trainer who works with one of the most ostracized societies in India—the Dalit. The word Dalit means suppressed, and Dalit children face prejudice and hate every single day. Even after 71 years of Indian Independence, the Dalit community’s situation is still the same. Because of discrimination, school drop-out rates are incredibly high. When Vijay graduated from school, he realized that in 40 years only two other people from his community had managed to graduate. That motivated him to take initiative and promote education in his community. He opened several small educational centers for Dalit children with the objective of teaching them and reintegrating them into the regular school system so they could the education needed to follow their dreams. When he was trained in the Play for Peace method, he saw the opportunity to use it to empower Dalit youth and give them the confidence to change their fate.
As a member of the Dalit community, Vijay understands their everyday struggles and fears. Therefore, two central themes of Play for Peace—inclusion and acceptance—really resonate. As a result of bringing Play for Peace to children in the community, he sees faith and transformation in them: Dalit youth are now facilitators of Play for Peace games, they’ve returned to school, and they now engage in many productive endeavors. Vijay also hosts educational sessions where values and struggles of Dalit heroes such as Baba Saheb Ambedkar, Jyotiba Phule, and Savitri Bai Phule are taught to children.
“Social exclusion and a lack of education and job opportunities has pushed people into antisocial and violent activities. The physical space I created for them at local centers is very important, as children come here and find connection, acceptance, and growth opportunities. If children drop out of school with nowhere to go, chances are high that they will get in trouble. But they can change it if they are given the opportunity,” Vijay explains. “One of the biggest accomplishments in my community is that families are sending their daughters to the centers to learn. It is not easy for them to trust anyone when it comes to their daughters, because they are the most vulnerable. But because I’m from the community myself, they trust me.”
Vijay believes in creating an atmosphere that is hospitable and safe, and where children can fully express their emotions. Through his five years with Play for Peace, he has educated more than 800 children, and through practice peace sessions he has helped them develop higher self-esteem and shed their inhibitions. He has seen children who once participated in crime and violence change their lives for the better. These children now aspire to build a healthier and more productive society. As a result, Vijay aspires to set up schools based on the Play for Peace belief system in order to create a happy and prejudice-free society.
Recently Vijay received a mini grant from the Pollination Project to open a library in one of his centers filled with literature by Dalit authors. The objective is to engage children and youth in reading by providing stories from a Dalit perspective. “We just opened the library on July 19, and we already have 40 kids coming in on a regular basis to read. It’s amazing to see how the kids get so excited about reading and learning. Education gives them the opportunity to make a better life for themselves and to become role models for others.”
True leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders.