Learning values through music: Children from various Mission Education centres perform at the launch ceremony of Amani Project in India

“I didn't know it would be so exciting. I made so many new friends and we sang together, played games related to music and worked together. The workshop was a fun learning place. Music brought us together,” shares Chhavi, a student at a Mission Education centre in Delhi.

Chhavi and 300 other children are part of the ongoing Amani Project that combines learning theory from the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence with music therapy and music-making. After a successful venture in the USA, South Africa, Tanzania, and Bagamoyo, the Amani Project was initiated in India by Children in Harmony in collaboration with Smile Foundation.

Music is therapeutic and a powerful force for bringing people together into a community. The Amani Project uses the power of making music together to build a lifetime of empathy between children around the world.

Inspired by life changing impact music has on people, the project aspires to instill emotional intelligence and value of empathy among children through music. The vision of the project is that each person is powerful and should have access to his, her, their dreams. Hundreds of children across different countries have participated in the project which has helped in breaking barriers – physical, mental, emotional and social.

When children are given the chance to make music, they express themselves by creating an emotional common ground with others. Children in Harmony has partnered with the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence to weave their program into its music-making curriculum to integrate emotional intelligence into the children's everyday lives. The Amani Project uses their Mood Meter methodology, to teach children not only music theory but also how to regulate their emotions to create a fertile ground for collaboration. Students learn a common vocabulary to identify, comprehend and manage their emotions. Emotionally intelligent learning environments are foundational to helping children and adults lead productive, healthy, and fulfilling lives. Once kids complete the Amani project, they can continue to build their music making skills together, with their newfound emotional intelligence as the guide.

The project focuses on music theory, music practice and its association with emotional intelligence training. It also facilitates a host of other effects, such as:

Helps children express themselves

It allows children to express their angst and negativity in a constructive manner, providing them with an outlet through which they can present their real-self. Music creates a space for them where they feel safe and are able to actually comprehend their feelings, able to make sense of their emotions and gauge their responses to different situations.


Maintains peace and harmony

The reverberation of notes allows children to connect on a plane of consciousness that is far removed from the reality they are facing. The fluidity of music allows them to immerse themselves in the beat, the rhythm, the tonality and the tempo. It allows them to work in harmony with each other while playing and performing. This enables them to become one identity and a part of something that is bigger than them Through the reverberating medium of music, children are able to collectively engage with each other on an abstract level and connect on a different plane of consciousness with the objective of gaining insight and perspective into each other's life.

Inculcates leadership skills

Music therapy and composition allows children to learn, play and compose basic musical concepts. The idea is designed to create a broad ambit of empathy builders in the community, enable children to make and co-create music collectively, engage the community in activities related to empathy and inculcate skills of leadership in children. It allows for the creation of peer educators who can further the concept of music therapy, harmony and learning.

Enhances confidence

Through musical therapy various activities are designed and pursued, focused on learning and creating music in a collective manner.

These include writing empathy songs with a friend, making musical instruments and performing for the community. The expected outcomes of such initiatives include enhancement of peer learning skills and confidence among children, creation of community change agents and engagement with communities to build long-term empathy and wider participation.

Breaks socio-cultural boundaries

Music also helps the children improve their articulation. They are able give their thoughts a structure, which enables them to communicate with the world in a better manner. It allows for the development of their social, cognitive and behavioral skills.

The children of today will become the youth, the parents, the leaders of tomorrow. If humane values are instilled as a foundation in their early years, through practised experiential learning, these children, transitioning into youth, will possess the emotional intelligence, empathy, critical thinking skills, gender sensitization, appreciation and celebration of diversity, self-regulation, and knowledge required to prevent them from causing damage or harm to themselves, their community and the world in which they live. An early focus on Personal, Social and Emotional Learning provides the crucial preparation and foundation for the children to prosper as youth, and indeed in later life.

 

Along with making music together, the children also attended sessions on team work, confidence building and leadership skills


Second innings for the three friends became the first chance at empowerment for hundreds of youth

At an age when most start contemplating a life of retirement, three 55-year-olds have taken on a mission to give back to society by devoting themselves to providing mentoring and training to young women and men in the slums of Bengaluru, Karnataka.

The three friends, MK Ranganath, Sathyanarayan and Veeraiah, have known each other from childhood and have stood by each other through life's small and big struggles for over fifty years. The inspiring trio hail from a village on the outskirts of Bengaluru, where they had first-hand experience of braving against the odds and remember the hardships, failures and achievements that have made them what they are today.

"Opportunities were limited those days. We are the sons of farmers, and we, literally, grew up in the fields. We moved to the city to get college education and find a job. For years we worked at very low wages but learnt on the job and climbed up the growth ladder. Things are different today with intense competition and a very fast pace. Companies look for fully-trained young people and no one has the patience to train you on the job. Youth who grow up in our villages do not have access to training and vocational education – how will they stand a chance against the city?" says Ranganath.

Ranganath, with Sathyanarayan and Veeraiah, has been associated with the Social Welfare and Rural Development Society (SWARDS), a community-based organisation, working for the welfare of communities from villages like theirs.

When Smile Foundation approached SWARDS for starting a skill training and livelihood project for youth through its Smile Twin e-Learning Programme (STeP), the three friends were the first to volunteer.

Ranganath works as a Computer instructor at the STeP centre, Veeraiah is the English language instructor, and Sathyanarayan is the project coordinator. Along with a dedicated support team, the three have successfully churned out four batches of trained youth over the past two years.

Talking about the journey, Sathyanarayan shares, “It was difficult at the beginning to enrol youth for the project. We went from door-to-door, organised mobilisation activities and awareness meetings. Finally, we identified the most deserving youth and inducted them to the first batch of trainees. Once these trainees qualified and got jobs, their friends, neighbours, started turning up for enrolment.”

The STeP centre is currently catering to youth from the urban villages of Anajanapura, Amtruthnagar, Gollahalli, Avalhalli, Harinagar, Chunchungahtta, Yelchenhalli, Ruahuvanhalli, Ayappanagar, Sreenidhi Layout, Kothnur Dinne, and New Bank Colony in South Bengaluru.


MK Ranganath in action guiding the STeP students through a computer training session

Once enrolled, the youth are then trained in market-oriented job skills such as English Proficiency, Computer Education, Retail Management, and Personality Development. In addition to a highly relevant curriculum developed by industry experts, the trainees are also given practical exposure through visits to probable workplaces at retail outlets, corporate offices and factory outlets, and career counselling by corporate employees. Furthermore, the youth are placed as per their interest and aptitude at reputed local as well as multinational firms, BPOs and retail chains.

The trio have not just been mentors but also friends to the young trainees, guiding them as they begin their professional journey.

More than 400 young men and women have graduated from the centre so far. Most of them are now employed with some of the leading retail and service sector brands, while others are pursuing higher education that they had to give up earlier.

“At our age now, we do not have many dreams of our own, but we are living the dreams of all these young people. The love and respect that they have for us is the biggest achievement of our lives. As they land a job it is not uncommon to see their parents with tears of joy in their eyes. The youth are our future and nation's biggest asset. We must all work together to enable and empower them,” Veeraiah summarizes.

The old champions with the young champions - the current batch of youth trainees at the STeP centre where Ranganath, Sathyanarayan and Veeraiah teach


Girls enjoy the nutritious “ladoo” specially created by Chef Vikas Khanna, to combat anaemia

Imagine a district 'flowing with milk' and known for its dairy production. Now add to that the statistics of extremely low nutrition among women in the community. It sounds ironic but the reality is that access to nutrition among girls and women isn't just about availability but is linked to a complex set of factors.

Banaskantha is one among the thirty-three districts of Gujarat, a state in western India with Asia's largest dairy cooperative under the brand name of AMUL. The district ranks first in the country in milk production but as per Govt. of Gujarat census 2011, it is low on most of the development indicators. The district, home to a majority of tribal population, is divided into 14 blocks. One of the blocks is Amirgarh which has high prevalence of anaemia and malnutrition among girls.

A baseline study by Smile Foundation revealed that malnutrition and the various diseases associated with it, are a major contributing factor behind girls dropping out of school thus affecting the literacy rates. The study, assessing the nutritional status of adolescent girls (13 to 19 years) in the region, brought to light that 78% of adolescent girls are anaemic (varying from mild to severe), with 50% girls being moderately anaemic and about 13% being severely anaemic. Only 17.6% were attending school, with most respondents (49%) dropping out of school after Class 6 or 8. The study further revealed that around 84% of the respondents have never consumed any multi-vitamin or iron folic acid supplements, and most of them having no awareness of anaemia or ever having checked their anaemic status.


The survey highlighted that girls lacked awareness about nutritional needs and had a low risk perception about anemia, creating a causal link that prevented the community as a whole to access developmental gains and an overall improvement in the standard of living.

Creating a context driven intervention

Based on these findings, a pilot project on nutrition enhancement for addressing the hidden hunger among girls, titled “Sampoorna”, was initiated by Smile Foundation with support from PepsiCo Foundation. The project has been designed for a cluster of 10 villages of Amirgarh block of Banaskantha to reduce anemia and improve livelihood opportunities among 1000 adolescent girls. The project is to improve awareness among adolescent girls and encourage weekly consumption of Iron Folic Acid and local food grains that are of high nutrition value, resulting in reduction in iron deficiency. The implementation also leverages government schemes for provision of nutritional supplements to the community. This at a broader level expands choices for the adolescent girls to break the cycle of poor health and nutrition.

Engaging through activities and conversations

Sensitization being an important part of the project, a host of awareness activities are conducted, like the formation of Kishori Clubs which provide a safe space for the girls to meet every month for joyful learning and promoting regular consumption of nutritious food, weekly intake of IFA tablets and maintaining healthy habits including exercise.

To make the meetings more inviting, hygienically prepared healthy dry snacks made from locally available ingredients have been introduced. Village level mega-cookery events that create a district and state level visibility around importance of nutrition for girls between the age group of 13 to 19 years are held. Knowledge building of the girls through social behavioral change communication (SBCC), life-skill education as well as vocational skill development based on local livelihood opportunities for the targeted adolescent girls is also an important aspect of the project.

"It is important to bring a change to mindsets - resolving the problem of malnutrition, encouraging girls to go to school and educating the general masses are now our prime targets" shares Nirmala Mishra, the project lead from Smile Foundation.

An awareness session on healthy eating in progress

Representatives from Smile Foundation, PepsiCo Foundation & Chef Vikas Khanna proudly present the Sampoorna project

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