All these images of coins floating around the Child and Youth Finance Internal office during the build up to Global Money Week has reminded me that just like the same coin has two different sides, each situation we encounter can illicit two types of responses. Through my varied history of working with children and youth in different organizations, I have realized that you can either respond to a situation reflexively or reflectively. Just like the spelling and sound of these words their meaning appears similar initially only to turn out to have different results.
In 1994 Childline India Foundation ( a 24hr telephone emergency response service for children in need) received a call from Savitoi's (12 years old) neighbors in Mumbai, India. They were concerned as they saw that she was repeatedly covered in bruises and what looked like cigarette burns all over her arms. Our team immediately dispatched the police and a social worker to assess the situation. We found that her parents had taken her out of school as they couldn't afford to send her and her brothers and sisters. They had sent her to live with a family in Mumbai on an agreement that she would perform domestic duties in return for them paying for her to return to school. Unfortunately, Savitoi wasn't sent back to school, she was forced to work full-time as the family's domestic worker while constantly being physically and emotionally abused. The day that the next-door neighbors called Childline India was the day after Savitoi had 'stolen' a tea bag from cupboard.
Childline India Foundation's team of police and social workers immediately took Savitoi away from her captors and returned her to her family. The officials went on to ensure that they received welfare to enable Savitoi to return to school. Currently she is completing her high school education.
My second story begins with a girl named Surekha (11 years old). Much like Savitoi, Surekha's family could no longer afford to send her and her siblings to school as well as put food on the table. Childline India Foundation received an anonymous call informing us that Surekha was going to be taken out of school and most probably sent away to live with another family to work as a child laborer. When Surekha arrived on our radar we had recently established Meljol: Hum Bachchon Ka, an educational organization that aims to teach children about equal rights, opportunities and respect for all. The two organizations worked in conjunction to convince Surekha's parents to keep her in school.
Through Meljol Surekha learned that she can become an active participant in breaking the stereotypes and barriers of hierarchy and prejudice that led to her and millions of children's situations. After completing school Surekha enrolled to become a teacher and has been working in a career she is passionate about ever since. This confident, ambitious and thriving young woman was not only fortunate enough to escape a future of child labor and worsening poverty but she is now inspiring and helping her siblings and family members to stay in school and to become independent and educated young adults.
Fortunately, we were able to help both Savitoi and Surekha out of seemingly hopeless situations. However, it is interesting to see how our slightly different responses to similar situations have resulted in quite vastly different results.
My response to Savitoi was reflexive. It was reactionary, short term and although it helped her, it ignored her sisters, friends, and neighbors. However, Surekha was lucky enough to be involved as an active participant in a response that not only helped her out of immediate situation but which contributes towards solving the root cause of the problem. Surekha was a part of a reflective response.
A reflective response uses the initial problem as a catalyst to ensure that the issue doesn't happen again. A reflective response finds out that the root cause of Surekha's problem wasn't poverty but the lack of a systematic and institutional response to her parent's continuation of the poverty cycle.
In light of this root cause of child labor and vulnerable youth, I have let reflection adapt my responses to problems evolve from rehabilitation to prevention. This has resulted in a continuum of organizations helping children and youth from Child Helpline International to Meljol, to Aflatoun (where we teach children and youth their economic rights, responsibilities and financial skills), to Child and Youth Finance International (where we connect a global network of countries, financial authorities, (I)NGOs and educational providers and experts who are all working towards financial literacy and inclusion).
Just like the two sides of the same coin have different images, the two responses to the same situation will have different solutions -- not necessarily wrong or right, just different. During Global Money Week I can't wait to hear about the way in which our children and youth respond to their lessons and activities around savings, planning and budgeting and entrepreneurship -- reflexively or reflectively.
Names mentioned in this post have been changed.