Do you want your child to learn how to be socially responsible?
To be more aware of social issues, be able to think of ways to achieve a better way of life, and take the appropriate action?
Enter the Design for Change (DFC) School Challenge.
Organised in Singapore by social enterprise SoCh in Action (an abbreviation for social change in action), all components of the programme are designed to empower 8-14 year olds to make a positive change in society. Now in its fourth year, some 45 schools, and 1200 students have gone through the DFC programme.
Madhu Verma, Founder of SoCh, says, “The interesting thing is that we begin by asking the children what bothers them, and then get them to go out and fix it themselves. By enabling children to take charge of the issues that affect them, we are inculcating a life-long habit where children assume responsibility instead of waiting to be told what to do.”
I had a chance to speak with Madhu to find out more about the DFC Challenge. Here are snippets of our conversation…
1. What inspired you to start this movement?
I believe that social change and connecting to society should be a way of life. There are many simple things that one can do, and it doesn’t mean you have to build houses or plant trees. Even small little action steps can be taken to bring about positive change.
I’m a mother. My son was 9 years old when I started this. I drew inspiration from my desire to help my child be more socially conscious, and learn to give back. I found out that when a child is around 8-9 years old, it is prime time for them to understand and explore this concept of giving back.
I also felt that there was a gap. There were many programmes for youths to make a difference, but nobody was asking the child these questions: What issues bother you, and how can you make a difference?
In the Singapore education system, we tend to celebrate the smartest child. But we don’t really celebrate the one who’s the most kind, empathetic, and generous.
2. How exactly do you guide the children to contribute to society?
We meet with the students in a series of workshops, in which we provide tools for the students to perform and do their project.
1) We inspire them by sharing stories, connecting them to society/issues, helping them identify causes they can relate to.
2) We provide them with the tools to implement their ideas. It’s based on a design-thinking process – that is employed through creative thinking and problem-solving activities.
3) We empower them through the process, and as a result they are able to have a real social impact in their community.
After these workshops, they are ready to implement their project. They submit it, and at the end of the year, there is an annual event, where these projects are showcased in Singapore. The event serves as a celebration of their work and ideas.
When I started working with children, it was an amazing journey. I saw that this platform actually presents an opportunity for them to act on something that is close to their hearts, and empowers them to go out to do it.
3. What are some of the more interesting projects you’ve come across?
There are many different social causes. Some are concerned about genetically modified food, or other environmental issues.
One particular child (from Clementi Primary) was bothered about how teachers and parents “make a monster out of PSLE.” And because they make a monster out of it, it becomes a monster for us! (Those were his exact words.)
This boy went on to craft a message: that PSLE is not a monster. And that we can have better attitudes towards it.
At the end of the day, while we can’t really measure the impact he made with that project, we saw how much this student himself actually changed.
It’s all about the attitude.
There was another project on showing respect for elderly cleaners. Often, we don’t know the names of these people who clean our tables every day. We barely acknowledge their work, and they are generally not respected in the community. Through this project, students became more aware of these cleaners and more started clearing their own plates after a meal.
So, it’s about stopping and thinking about the world around you. When we gives children an avenue to think, and not just be told by others what to do, they actually start to own the problem it and be empowered by a spirit of “I can”.
The DFC programme crosses socio-economic and racial barriers, and is tailored for every child.
SoCh will be offering holiday programmes at the end of this year for the first time. If you’d like to be updated, please email Madhu at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Do also watch out for the Be the Change Exposition 2013 that happens in November.
I’m heartened that are such programmes available to help our kids grow in an area that is easily overlooked. Yet at the same time, I’m also sorely aware that social change and responsibility begins with us parents, and our children will first and foremost learn from our own attitudes and behaviour.
Do you have a heart for a special cause? How would you rope your children in to contribute towards this cause?