Empathic Experience

Dhruvika ParikhSeptember 12, 2022CitizenshipAwesome Moments

Artwork by Iryna Tsisaruk, age 14

From being a clueless person about citizenship to being an empathic and ethical citizen of this world, my journey has been a bumpy ride.

When I transfered to my current school, Riverside, I found that there were a lot of new terms they used that had never been implemented in my life before. These included conglom, coming together just like one big family to discuss our personal lives; FIDS (feel, imagine, do, and share), a process which helps you shape your final goal or output; and citizenship, taking up the initiative to be a responsible citizen by giving back to this world. I remember being intrigued by the term citizenship. It felt exciting, different, and something like love at first sight: magical.

I asked one of my classmates, Aaradhya, about citizenship. I still remember how my question put a smile on her face, and she answered, “Citizenship is about owning up to being a citizen of this world and trying to give back as much as we get. It's okay if you don’t understand; at first, I didn’t, but gradually you will.”

I patiently waited for the 4th session, and it was time. The teachers told us to assemble, better known in our parlance as conglomerate, on the floor. They began talking about the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set by the United Nations, which define what we want to improve worldwide. The SDG we had chosen for the year was hunger. We watched a video on how children in rural areas face famines and don’t have the appropriate amount of food to eat. It was touching. I returned home and reflected; while I was eating, I remembered that skinny, feeble child who ate from the garbage to survive and fell sick due to the germs in the waste. That day I didn’t waste a single morsel of grain.

After a few more sessions on citizenship, we co-created a ‘Hunger Experience’ with our teachers. We all had the same mindset that, if we stepped into the shoes of children who don’t get proper meals, we would be able to understand them better, giving us the motivation to create a difference.

The next day was the Hunger Experience, which meant no food from 8:00 am till 3:00 pm. It sounds easy, but trust me, it was exasperating. By the 3rd period of the day, just after sports, we all started to get ravenous. On top of that, we had to put up with the sun’s heat directly on our heads, making us even more hungry. We did a lot of writing that day, but not one of us had the energy to solve an easy multiplication sum or recite our multiplication tables from 12 to 15. Everyone just had one thought: food. Even if someone disliked a particular food, they were ready to eat a plate full of it. While trying to complete a worksheet, I had no energy to solve the word problems and just wrote "Food" in answer to all the questions.

The worst part was seeing other people eating – it was pure torture. At the end of the day, our homeroom teacher held out a banana and a few biscuits, and we all started pushing each other just to go and get something so minor. Our teacher then proceeded to give all of us a banana and a few biscuits. We tried imagining what those children who were possibly even younger than us could be going through by not getting their deserved rights. We remembered when we wasted food or ignored someone asking for alms on the street. We all felt that heavy emotion of guilt. I couldn’t even imagine being in that older woman's or young girl’s position. What would I be? Tired, exhausted, or just helpless? To make up for our ignorance, we all vowed to help those students who don’t get enough food. While we may not see immediate effects, these small steps will make an impactful difference in the long run.

Before knowing how we could help, we needed to understand what was needed. So we partnered with an NGO, Akshaya Patra, which provides meals to children studying in municipal schools. We met children the same age as us studying in a municipal school and compared their height and weight to ours, along with the number of meals they ate in a day. The difference was vast. For two and a half weeks, we accumulated around 1,100 kgs of Dal for those children by asking people in our community and putting up posters in chat rooms.

Each of us contributed to the 1,100 kilograms of Dal. This is what it means to be a citizen, helping with slight changes for the bigger picture. Over this whole period, I realized how a small thing such as not eating food for six hours could lead to more empathy for children facing hunger and drive people to create change. Being in somebody else’s shoes helps us experience the pain and struggles they go through. At the end of this, I recalled what my classmate said, and I finally understood. Citizenship isn’t something that can be explained by words but rather an emotional connection with yourself and others.

Dhruvika Parikh is a 12-year-old from Ahmedabad, India. Dhruvika is interested in coding, dancing, history, geography, science, crafts, and acquiring new skills.