Sometime in 2009, I was briefly involved in the initial field visits in the scoping study for the three-year research project, Critically analysing risk communication pathways: Lessons from youth-centred disaster risk reduction approaches in El Salvador and the Philippines, led by IDS-UK (with partial funding from my employer-organization). The research (which can be accessed here) found that children can be effective agents (i.e. risk communicators) for DRR. This strengthened among others the programming rationale of child-centred organizations implementing ‘child-centred’ DRR initiatives. And whoever heard (other than child-centred organizations and areas they cover) of children and young people actually dabbling in DRR? Hence the plan to disseminate policy implications of the study in a national forum which unfortunately did not push through.
Just recently, an evaluation of a DRR project which targeted school children brought out the same theme – that children and young people are effective change agents/risk communicators. And just like the findings of the IDS-UK study, this role is constrained by unenlightened adults (or, adults who have traditional views of children i.e. as being passive participants and learners). (The corollary of this is there is always a supportive adult in a child’s attainment of his or her dream.)
Many of the school children (high school students) relative to their teachers (who received the same capacity building interventions) became more astute and sensitive to their environment, to the extent of demanding, in a speech at a national DRR Congress (which was part of the project activities), for change to happen (i.e. individuals and entities to adopt DRR) “now.”
In another setting, in an FGD (for the evaluation) with a group of students, it happened that the acting school principal slipped into the room to observe. At the time, the students were providing their insights as to how their community is doing relative to DRR, their predominant feedback being they expected more from their community leaders. When the FGD wrapped up and the students have left, the acting principal approached me and explained that “children are like that. They want things to happen now. They’re not aware that reality is much more complicated; that it takes time for things to change.” Etcetera.
The thing about research and evaluation is that ethics dictate that you keep your views to yourself while doing interviews and facilitation of group discussions, which is logical – I mean why do an interview if it’s debate you want? So I acknowledged his reaction, asked for more depth as to his particular view, and thanked him for his thoughts.
But my personal bias is that the “can do” attitude and “now” perspective of children sits in well with the global call for change to happen “now” because it just might be that “tomorrow will be too late”. Perhaps the perceived “weakness” of children which is “they’re not aware that reality is much more complicated” is in the case of DRR actually a strength in that the higher your level of awareness, the greater also is your fear and you can become paralyzed or too cautious but children unencumbered with these anxieties are a lot more bold, if adults let them; that children’s “disregard” of time serves DRR well because lacking the concept of tomorrow, today is always the best day to do (as if it’s you’re last). It is this attitude and perspective which many children who’ve grown up have “lost”. We hold on to our comfort zones which of course is the anathema of change.
Back to the project, it is unfortunate that our schools fail to recognize and support the courage and spunk that children naturally start life with; that these attributes are chopped off or trimmed down as children go through years of study in these schools; that finally after years of schooling children are molded into what society wants of them: to be like everyone else.