By Adya Sarin for KidSpirit's Education Issue.
It’s important to be humane and not simply a human. The only difference (literally) is the “e,” and that missing “e” is empathy.
Empathy is something that we lack in today’s world. People aren’t ready to notice everyone around them, and often forget to help somebody in need. At our school, we try to break this problem that has now become a norm. We believe that everyone is a citizen leader and will leave the school to be a good person, not in the world but for the world. The process that embeds this spirit in us is known as citizenship.
From doing seva (service) for the environment around us to partnering with an organization that helps specially-abled children and gives them opportunities that they wouldn't normally get, Riverside helps us build a more open-minded society. (Seva means helping people around us and doing simple things for people such as cleaning, washing, and sweeping.)
I for one have been a part of a lot of citizenship programs and experienced life from others’ perspectives. But so far my most memorable and learning-filled journey was in grade three. I had just joined the new keystage (grades three through seven) and had no idea what this new grade held for me. The main idea of grade three’s citizenship program is to eliminate hunger (goal two of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals). We as a class partnered with Akshaya Patra, an NGO that serves midday meals to children in municipal schools.
The teachers got us hooked on this idea by taking us to visit the Akshaya Patra factory, where we saw how they made the food. It was great, but the story that stayed in my heart was soon after that, when we went with a food truck to eat the Akshaya Patra food with children in a nearby municipal school. The municipal school was very different from our school; I honestly didn’t feel like eating there, but I guess that was my finicky and picky side talking. I still remember feeling like a spoiled kid when I saw the children eagerly eating the food they got. I saw them running to stand in line and not even leaving a single grain of rice on their plates.
When I sat down to eat with them, I felt slightly taken aback by what I saw, thinking, “It’s just daal and rice, roti, and vegetables — big deal!” But as I ate, I found myself not only filled with food but filled with gratitude for what I had. I was also filled with guilt for all the food I waste at home, how carelessly I leave my plate on the table half-filled. This experience helped encourage me to look around and give what I don't need, and taught me that there is a fine line between need and want. I have been given everything I need, and I get what I want whenever I want. But when I actually looked at the world around me, I realized that not everyone has all the privileges I have.
Now I feel like I have added the empathetic “e” to my own life. Feeling for others was just a start as Riverside helped me grow. Now I’ve consciously tried to stop making fusses at every drop of a hat. This concept of giving without getting was new and strange to me at that time, but honestly, I don't know if anything has ever impacted me in a stronger, more meaningful way.
When she wrote this piece, Adya was a 12-year-old student at the Riverside School in Ahmedabad, India. You can normally find her reading a book or dancing. One of her favorite pastimes is playing with animals (especially her cat).