I find it hard to talk about what the IWitness experience in India was like for me.
On 25 November 2018, Mumbai, a metropolis of 20 million inhabitants, welcomed us. The horns of crazy motorcycles and the speed of tuk-tuks immediately brought us back to reality through the contrast with what we are used to in Switzerland.
We stayed for the night and then we were ready to go again. A short flight took us to Aurangabad, our final destination, also in the state of Maharashtra, the most industrialised state in India with over 200 million inhabitants.
Only the first contact with our Indian guides of UNICEF India made me realise the scope of the Child Early Development project, funded by the IKEA Foundation.
The project was created to assist children and mothers through different types of activities:
- Non-formal preschool education
- Home visits
- Mothers meetings
- Family fairs
These activities are aimed at preschool children, mothers of infants and whole families respectively. The aim is to support both mothers and their children in adopting a correct diet and in developing their first motor and cognitive skills through simple games and activities similar to those carried out in nursery schools in the west.
Up to this point, I was pleasantly surprised by the project and I found it interesting and useful, but without too much emotional involvement. At first sight, as I said, it was something very similar to a western kindergarten to me. The thing was that I didn’t know everything yet.
During the field visits of the following days the reality that came before us was impressive and moving. The need for the project stems from a much deeper need for simple educational support. We learned from our UNICEF companions that at one year of age, in many communities, children are considered self-sufficient and already too old to receive affection and attention from parents.
The type of assistance provided is therefore also socio-emotional. The educators, called Anganwadi Workers, show mothers how to take care of their children from an emotional point of view, with cuddles, songs, nursery rhymes and simple games.
This side of the project touched me really deeply. I have always known that I have taken for granted many things in my life, such as having a home, a safe place to grow and learn, but I did not think I had taken for granted in all these years the affection and attention of my parents. Things that allowed me to become the man I am today.
The project involves thousands of brave local women, involves a huge amount of planning and implementation—and makes me proud of what the IKEA Foundation in collaboration with UNICEF is doing in India. The strength of this huge project lies in the fact that it gives back to the new generation of Indians the childhood that all children deserve to live.
I find this a great message of hope for the future and a fundamental pillar for building a more just and peaceful global society.