Vijayaragavan Gopal

Name: Vijayaragavan Gopal
Organization: Shanti Ashram
Location: India

Please explain how has the organization implemented the Learning to Live Together Programme in systematic ways. (1000 words)

Learning to Live Together was a call that resonated with us at Shanti Ashram as it directly echoed Mahatma Gandhi’s vision of Sarvodaya: progress of all. This shared vision thus inspired Shanti Ashram to be engaged in: • conceptual work leading to the LTLT resource • piloting of the programme in South Asia and • systematic implementation of the Learning to Live Together Programme (LTLT) across India • building of models and resources that can be shared world-wide Shanti Ashram has been integral to the systemic implementation of the Learning to Live Together (LTLT) Programme since its inception in 2006. Since being the organization that piloted the programme in India under the framework of the South Asia Ethics Workshop for Children and Youth in 2006, past its official launch in 2008, Shanti Ashram has continuously applied Learning to Live Together in its different areas of work, especially as an integral part of all of its youth activities and projects for children and youth (Annexure 2). We have been involved in the development process in the areas of design, pedagogical approaches, the activity repository and the learning modules, making a significant contribution to the ultimate form of the Learning to Live Together Program and its main manual ( Annexure 3 : Shanti Ashram-LTLT programme archives). In the decade years from 2006 to today, Shanti Ashram has been an active part of bringing forward the ethos of LTLT throughout the country. By partnering with Arigatou International towards a joint mission of fostering a generation of peacemakers, we have built an active community of 149 facilitators who have delivered ethics education to children, impacting an annual average of 25,700 children and youth across the country. By 2010, we not only trained LTLT facilitators but also an expanded pool of active and dedicated facilitator trainers, including national trainers operating in 17 states and 4 international trainers ( Annexure 1 ) . This impact and scale was achieved through partnerships with 128 organisations across religious communities, government and private organizations, educational institutions, Gandhian platforms, UN agencies, and media organizations. Such deep collaborations have led to a national network of knowledge sharing, advocacy platforms, and workshops dedicated to the holistic development of children. The spirit of LTLT has worked its way not just into classrooms but also into field visits, national and international observances, and special occasions and celebrations ( Annexure 5). This community has now gone on to actively catalyse a shift in the way ethics are thought of in this pluralistic global society. Through the Shanti Ashram-led network, LTLT has helped children across India aspire towards the following goals: – Better understand, respect and appreciate people from their own, and different cultures and religions – Nurture a sense of global community – Increase capacity to make ethical decisions and nurture their spirituality – Participate actively with a sense of inclusion – Have strengthened abilities to make positive, transformative contributions to society While the spirit of LTLT is best captured in classrooms and workshops, it remains true that Shanti Ashram has led the movement that has brought the ethos of the programme to about 250,000 children since 2006 ( Annexure 5). At a glance: – Part of LTLT implementation since 2006 – Impact: 149 facilitators + 250,000 children – 128 organisational partnerships to catalyse nation-wide network

How has the organization used the Ethics Education Framework to further mutual understanding and respect among people in their local contexts? (600 words)

Shanti Ashram has used the LTLT Ethics Education Framework and pedagogical approach in a multitude of programmes and initiatives. Whether they are workshops for children and youth, training workshops for young adults, advocacy programs, campaigns, celebrations, field visits and observances, we have made sure that an element of ethics education is incorporated and internalized. All our efforts have been focused on ensuring that the ethics education framework is accepted not only at an organizational level but also at the individual level, becoming part of the ethos of children and youth. Through this, we believe, we can nurture ethical and responsible leadership for the positive transformation of the communities, and to foster interfaith learning and solidarity. The good practice booklet that is now being compiled (and is in its final stages) is an example of a successful implementation of the Learning to Live Together Program. The good practice at Shanti Ashram has been possible because of four critical factors: • Alignment of institutional commitment to children and a shared vision • Sustained engagement with the Ethics education programme at Arigatou International, creating a pool of trainers with enhanced capacity to work at different levels • In-house integration of new learning, trainers’ capacities and resource materials into existing programmes of Shanti Ashram for vulnerable children • Expanded space for child participation along with investment in child-led creative ideation There has been a strategic organizational decision to integrate ethics education at the core of all children- and youth-related activities at Shanti Ashram. The process and results of this booklet have provided the ground to develop holistic programs that respond to the educational and spiritual needs of children and youth both at the state as well as national levels. By adopting the LTLT Ethics Education Framework, Shanti Ashram has focused on the following takeaways to promote mutual understanding and respect amongst our audience: – Participatory and collaborative learning opportunities and actions – Context sensitivity – Critical thinking – Critical consciousness – Interconnectedness – Self-driven learning – Collective actions – Imagination – Role-modelling – Safe learning environments At a glance: – Multiple programmes/initiatives targeting both organisational and individual level change – Good Practice Booklet – Integrating ethics education into all children- and youth-related programmes – Focusing on key takeaways including sensitivity, critical consciousness, interconnectedness and collective actions

Explain how the implementation of the Learning to Live Together Programme has been sensitive to the local context. (600 words)

LTLT Training and the adaptation of the resource for application in multiple contexts has been a major achievement in India. Some examples of adaptation are listed below and gives glimpses of the transformative experiences in India. Oli Initiative Students participating in Shanti Ashram workshops have often been exposed to poverty, violence, and other global issues. The Oli initiative is often the culmination of a three-day workshop, where children are given Rs. 50 ( Approximately USD1) to identify a pressing need, visualize a potential problem, and utilize this grant to implement a simple solution or goodwill gesture as a response. Through Oli (Tamil for ‘light’), we look to spark their emerging passion for ethical behaviour. Super Congress, 2009 Between August 6th and 12th 2009, more than 600 children between the ages of 13 and 18 from 23 countries gathered at Shanti Ashram. A mix of international and local facilitators conducted a LTLT workshop and participants, divided by age, were encouraged to interact and understand commonalities and differences. By facilitating conversations around caste, religion, immigrant crises, cultural discrimination, and race, both locally relevant as well as globally pressing issues were reflected upon. The role plays allowed participants to express ways to resolve conflict and catalyse change. The event saw the involvement of not just the organisers and participants, but also governmental agencies, NGOs, private corporations, and a wide variety of individuals. Tamil Nadu Consultation on Children and HIV/AIDS, Day of Prayer and Action for Children (DPAC), 2010 On the occasion of Day of Prayer and Action for Children and Indian Children’s Day Celebrations, Shanti Ashram created significant country-wide impact by organizing interfaith visits and learning campaigns as well as facilitating sessions on ethics education. The ‘Peace Begins with Me’ kiosk from the LTLT manual served as a key resource for the facilitators, who sought to offer an introspection-based learning experience. On another occasion, Shanti Ashram organised a state-wide event, the Tamil Nadu Consultation on HIV/AIDS, which brought together 306 children from 23 districts. An experiential learning programme using the LTLT framework was offered to both children and parents to help participants understand the lives of children and families affected by HIV/AIDS. While multiple modules from the LTLT manual were used extensively, the Personal Experience Sharing activity helped children listen deeply to stories and experience the difficulties of children affected by HIV in their local contexts. Solution Exchange Lab 2015 Shanti Ashram inaugurated the Solution Exchange Lab in 2015 inspired by the Gandhian vision of Sarvodaya. Fifty children from ten villages were identified to participate in the first phase, allowing the spirit of change making and the LTLT ethos to impact those from non-urban environments as well. The Lab encourages children to build and pilot their own solutions, thereby empowering them to be agents of social change. Through a period of continuous engagement, the following solutions were implemented through the Lab by various cohorts with the aid of a facilitator. S. No Problem identified Solutions presented by children 1 Wastage water management and critical thinking Making kitchen garden 2 Nutrition deficiency and rights to health Providing de-worming and Vitamin A tablets 3 Unhygienic and unsanitary conditions Conducting awareness program through performing arts and rally 4 Unclean and unsafe environment Shramadhan and tree planting 5 High risk behaviour Conducting a session for the prevention of high risk behaviour the Ondru Seruvom Children Interactive and experiential methodologies from LTLT were used during the Lab to develop innovative and critical thinking in participants, nurture non-violent behaviour and empower children to become agents of change. LTLT provided a way for the children to encounter, nurture and examine values with their peers from different backgrounds, and to apply what they learned to the real challenges in their daily lives. At a glance: – Oli initiative: Small grants to children to engage with pressing social problems – Super Congress: LTLT training for 600 children from 23 countries – TN Consultation on HIV/AIDS: State-wide programme for parent/children using LTLT to sensitise about HIV-affected youth – DPAC: Country-wide interfaith visits, learning programmes – Solution Exchange Lab: 50 children from 10 villages encouraged to implement change making models

How have the programs implemented impacted your organization, children and facilitators?

A qualitative study on the impact of the Learning to Live Together Program throughout Shanti Ashram programs was undertaken in 2015, entitled ‘Systematic Implementation, Monitoring and Evaluation of Learning to Live Together in India.’ The impact across various project goal levels was assessed using qualitative research methods in three areas: the development of children’s critical thinking to be equipped to make ethical decisions; children’s relations with others, and children’s spirituality. The findings are very briefly summarized below. Development of children’s critical thinking: Findings suggest that the programme contributed to developing children’s critical thinking by challenging their own stereotypes and views. The programme increased children’s capacity to make well-grounded decisions based on ethical reflection and critical thinking. Study findings suggest that the program significantly influenced children’s capacity to propose solutions to conflicts and situations that affect them directly or their communities. As one participant explained, “Going into a mosque and learning about Islam, from a Hindu perspective, was one of the most incredible and life-changing experiences. It is impossible for me to explain the feeling, but so many of my stereotypes were broken down, and so many of my questions were answered.” Children’s relations with each other: Findings in this area suggest that the program increased children’s willingness to share with others, learn from one another, and work with others. Children reported significant changes in this area, going from apologizing for thinking differently when they are in a group of people whose beliefs and ideas are different to theirs, to sharing their ideas and beliefs without imposing them. Comments like this one demonstrate the change: “Before this experience I had barely met anyone of a different religion or culture. This program broke down all the stereotypes I had and created unity among us as peers.” Below is a participant testimonial. Ten years ago, a boy participated in the LTLT programme. Today, he is a doctor and volunteers his time for the underprivileged. He credits LTLT for giving direction to his social commitment. “I walked into Shanti Ashram as an unassuming middle school student in 2006, a child participant in the South Asian Ethics Workshop, wide-eyed, curious, wanting to excel and showcase my talent in all forums. Only later did I learn that this pilot workshop was the beginning of a phenomenal global ethics education drive: Learning to Live Together. Back then, society, poverty and hardship were all topics that I could not relate to. But that four-day workshop impacted me for the long run. Today, as a young Indian I feel the impact it caused has matured over time and has nurtured me to what I have become — a doctor in community medicine and public health who is proud to identify himself as a volunteer in working for the needy and underprivileged. In 2012, Shanti Ashram, along with its partnering organizations, established the India Poverty Solutions initiative, where children find solutions for ending child poverty. Along with the core team, I worked tirelessly to ensure it reached as many people as possible, including them in the war against inequality. We used piggy banks to encourage children to save and start societal contributions early, food banks and greeting cards. All funds collected were used to grant scholarships and conduct medical screenings. I was with this movement throughout. I had experienced that when thoughts and words synchronize and inspire action, a new beginning beckons and positive change become a reality. It all began with a school student who attended an ethics education workshop. The synthesis from thought to action, from inspiration to reality, and from a lesson to a way of life that we call “Learning to Live Together” nurtured within me spirituality. I owe it all to Shanti Ashram for bestowing in me Gandhian values, universal brotherhood, inter-religious understanding, peace and respect for all faiths and walks of life.” This facilitator testimonial speaks of how exposure to LTLT changed her outlook on volunteering and social change, one that has gone on to impact the spirit of Shanti Ashram as she volunteers to verify scholarship applications and actively participates in other projects. “Since 2010, I have been volunteering at Shanti Ashram. In early 2012, I participated in the two-day LTLT Basic Training Workshop. Later that year, I got an opportunity to participate in the one-week LTLT training program. I completed my basic courses and went on to become a facilitator after gaining experience. I also attended the four day Community of Practice workshop, where special trainers from Arigatou International came to enrich our facilitation with some significant inputs. I strongly feel that Learning to Live Together has positively impacted the quality of volunteering. If you do not respect, reconcile and empathies with the participants and beneficiaries in any social action, the work will not be spiritual. The participation of volunteers in LTLT always evokes the right attitude towards social action. I have introduced five volunteers here. I was very hesitant during my initial volunteering days at the Ashram. But my four days at the LTLT program really opened me up. All the learning’s were a hugely transformative experience for this timid girl. It instilled a deep sense of care and love for my fellow beings irrespective of their faiths and other differences. No education has ever taught me this.” At a glance: – Children’s critical thinking – Children’s relationships with others – Testimonials from participant & facilitator

How has the implementation of the Learning to Live Together Programme helped nurture interfaith and/or intercultural learning towards bridging divides in society? (600 words)

Events: Every year, Shanti Ashram takes the onus of encouraging schools to dedicate a day towards intercultural and interfaith cooperation. Furthermore, the Run for Unity event brought together 3000 children from across 15 schools, and began with interfaith prayers. The need for education for peace was emphasized, referring back to the South Asia Workshop on Ethics Education for Children and Youth that was held previously at Shanti Ashram. Children’s spirituality: Testimonies and stories from children indicated that their spirituality was fostered, as shown in their increased capacity to relate to others, to share, and to manage their emotions. As one testimonial records, “I am from a very poor background. My parents worked hard to make me study in a good school. There I have friends from various backgrounds and due to my circle of friends I have changed and I usually argue with my parents about everything. After attending the sessions and visiting the villages I regretted my mistake and went home and said sorry to my parents.” At a glance: – Events: day for intercultural/interfaith cooperation + Run for Unity for 3000 children from 15 schools – Children’s spirituality: qualitative testimonials collected across 12 years of LTLT implementation Vision of Pluralism : It is this vision of pluralism, harmony, brotherhood and mutual respect, inherent in the ethos of India that inspired the implementation of Learning to Live Together: An Interfaith and Intercultural Programme for Ethics Education (LTLT) in India by Shanti Ashram. Developed by Arigatou International, UNESCO, and UNICEF, and promoted worldwide by the Global Network of Religions for Children (GNRC), this initiative has gifted the world’s children a global resource for education and practice that empowers children to develop their spirituality – embracing ethical values, learning to live in solidarity with people of different religions and civilizations, and building faith in the Divine Presence. Responsive to the cultural landscape: Through the implementation of LTLT Programme in India, Shanti Ashram seeks, while remaining responsive to the cultural landscape and the sensitivities of the local populace, to strengthen and re-inforce the cultural strands of universalism and the breadth of heart that truly looks at the other as oneself. Shanti Ashram’s vision, to nurture compassion in children and to foster a generation of people who bring the gift of peace to the world, resonated with Arigatou International, leading to a joint commitment to deliver ethics education for children. Leadership contribution The leadership contribution to building peace worldwide began with Shanti Ashram’s founder, Dr. M. Aram. The historic signing of the Nagaland Peace Accord, the role he played as moderator of Religions for Peace and the convening voice he became for the Gandhian institutions in resolving contemporary challenges has been an inspiration to Shanti Ashram and the partnership platform it has built over 3 decades. Meaningful interventions in the area of peace education and building social cohesion, particularly with the engagement of children and young people, continue at the Ashram to this day. In line with this, over the past two decades, the Ashram has partnered with Arigatou International and implemented the Ethics Education Program for Children, contributed innovated grassroots solutions to the End Child Poverty Program, engaged country-wide partners at GNRC and successfully observed the Day of Prayer and Action. Interfaith collaboration: The cause of children’s progress and human flourishing has always been central to the way faith communities visualize their thinking and action. This collaboration takes many forms in the Ashram and includes: advocating for children’s needs and rights, theological reflections, inter-sectoral programmes, interfaith dialogue on areas of mutual interest, listening to children, community service initiatives and interfaith prayers.

Please give some examples to show your resourcefulness, creativity and synergy in working with different stakeholders to implement and sustain ethics education programs. (600 words)

Shanti Ashram has implemented LTLT programmes in India for the last twelve years (since 2006). Over this time, the LTLT programme has reached about 250,000 children. Shanti Ashram has also been responsible for the training of 149 facilitators who now continue to take the ethos of LTLT to larger audiences. This impact could only have been possible with a balance of resourcefulness and creativity. As a Gandhian organisation with a demonstrated commitment to working for vulnerable children for the last three decades, the LTLT framework was a natural extension of our work. We see children as key actors in peace building and adopting interfaith approaches as essential to working for communities that reflect as much diversity as they do today. Synergy is best demonstrated by the network of organisations that Shanti Ashram has been able to catalyse, with over 200 organisations coming together to partner and collaborate. These organisations include Gandhian organisations, faith-based organised, academic institutions and development organisations across the country, allowing for multi-sector discussions, inter-disciplinarity, and the possibility of implementing programmes on scale. It is no easy task to cater to 70,000 children every year, a mission that Shanti Ashram has achieved over the last many years. While the older programmes focused on the age group between 3 and 18, the inauguration of the International Center for Child and Public Health allows us to target children younger than 3 years old as well. The life cycle approach has given us new learnings over the years, and these inform the implementation of LTLT programmes as well. No mission of this scale would be possible without a dependable team dedicated to the cause. Shanti Ashram has dedicated young volunteers from three programme divisions (Bala Shanti Programme, Youth Leadership Programme, Sustainable Development Programme), who fuel the creativity and strength behind our work. Our skilled and experienced staff team has been the backbone of the successful implementation of the LTLT programmes. Availability of in-house expertise at every stage, from conceptual work to field implementation, is a valuable resource we bring to Arigatou International and the International Interfaith Ethics Education programme. At a glance: – Commitment to vulnerable children for over 30 years – Over 200 partner organisations nationally – About 70,000 children impacted annually from birth to age 18 – Inauguration of International Center for Child and Public Health – Young volunteers + skilled, experienced staff to provide in-house expertise

How have you supported child and youth-led actions / projects based on the Learning to Live Together Programme?

Participants of the LTLT programs initiated a number of community-centred projects through Shanti Ashram. Many of these programs have become self-sustaining and ongoing programs. These includes: • Food Bank Initiative • Making a Kitchen Garden • Conducting Awareness Program through Performing Arts • Shramadhan and Tree Planting • Conducting HIV awareness programmes • Volunteering in government-run shelters for girl children • Creating awareness of the food chain and providing children with opportunities for interaction with local farmers. In keeping with the vision and spirit of LTLT framework, Shanti Ashram has remained dedicated to mainstreaming ethics education. Towards this end, we have created synergies between the LTLT programme and many of our pre-existing programmes such as: • 2009 Super Congress (brought together 500 children from 20 countries, jointly organised with a lay Catholic movement) • (since) 2009 Day of Prayer and Action for Children (across India) • 2010 Every Child Matters campaign that verified birth certificates of over 20,000 children • 2011 Kovai Progress Card on Child Health which reached out to over 100 partner schools • 2013 Poverty Solutions India • 2015 Solutions Exchange Lab • 2013-15 CSR Workshops • 2015 Strengthening Families • 2016 Teacher Training Programs, the Bala Shanti Program Such integration has allowed for mainstreaming of ethics education and strengthening of child participation. In addition, it has also catalyzed the sharing of the core values of LTLT (respect, responsibility, empathy, reconciliation) to a wider audience. Both in the programmes specifically catering to LTLT as well as those were ethics education was introduced as a core takeaway, students were encouraged to internalise the need for LTLT and supported in their efforts to create change in their communities. At a glance: – Multiple self-sustaining on-going programmes including food bank, tree planting, HIV awareness – Incorporation of LTLT in pre-existing programmes such as Poverty Solutions India and Teacher Training – Ethos of LTLT introduced as core takeaway of every Shanti Ashram programme
Scroll to Top