03
Jul

Youth Circles make a difference in DC

Tulika Narayan & Srividhya Venkataraman joined AID in the 1990s as students in College Park and Clemson respectively.  As they moved on in life, they stayed involved and valued what they learned through AID.  As parents, they sought to help their children to think proactively and collectively about issues affecting the community and their own role in creating a more just society.  They started a group called Youth Circles. 

Why did you start Youth Circles?

Tulika: I always wanted the kids to get more engaged in the community that they live in and to contribute to the community that they are part of.  Following the recent election, the kids got engaged in very important topics such as diversity, racism, and refugees.

Srividhya Venkataraman and Tulika Narayan initiated Youth Circles, a youth group engaged in community service in the Washington, DC metro area.

When Srividhya moved to the region we realized that both of us wanted to do this.  Having her involved was important; it is hard to do this by oneself.  My kids, Aarohi and Arjun were interested, her kids Dhruv and Kabir were interested.  So there we go!  We reached out to our friends’ kids, our kids’ friends, in AID and beyond.

We intentionally wanted to keep it broader than India, broader than AID.  Our kids are growing up here, they need to connect with issues related to the local community, African American community, environment, climate change, which are also global issues.

How did Youth Circles grow out of AID? 
Srividhya: Because of our experience in AID which gave us a platform to learn and look at things in a different way, I thought it would be a good idea to provide a similar platform but for a more global perspective, to make that more inclusive and diverse and easily relatable to kids who are living here.
Tulika: One of the most fundamental things that AID does is to create responsible individuals.  Why am I doing this? Because I as a volunteer have gained awareness through AID.  Issues are connected and through Youth Circles we are ready to explore wherever they take us.  And sometimes a broader perspective in the world might lead you to a different solution even for India.
Just as importantly, as AID volunteers we all need to engage locally.  It is not enough to be deeply aware of problems and ready to help people in India if we ignore the problems that are immediately in our backyards.

 

What do the kids do in Youth Circles?

The kids have talked to activists working in various fields, and started probing into issues. It is a learning process, with some opportunities for service along the way.
We started with the topic of Bhopal, and talked about the contamination of the water, people’s rights, environmental issues.
We brought up the water crisis in Flint Michigan.  Something like this can happen anywhere, it is not something far away.  We have to engage here, help and be aware of our own rights and work with people who don’t have enough access to information about what rights they actually have.  For example, refugees.  Some of the kids are very young, so their level of engagement will be different.

What role do parents play?

Tulika: The kids direct what they want to do. As adults we help them explore the issues that interested them, and see that they stay with a cause, not just to get credit for school but to go deep and find out more about it. We would not just go to a food bank, pack the food and feel good but dig deeper as to why these problems exist.

It has been valuable to get exposure to people like Matthew Spikes, Medha Patkar, who have been working in the trenches addressing these kinds of problems. 30+ years of engagement on one issue, is the kind of engagement that sets a good example. Everyone can’t do everything. The activities of youth circles, help the kids get familiar with various issues and through this they may discover the topic in which they want to engage.

Srividhya: My main goal was to basically provide a space where kids can come together and talk about issues of relevance and talk about what they can build together.

The task for us was to provide the platform and build that community.  Our experience has been extremely positive, both for the kids and for the adults involved.  It benefits us as parents in that it provides us new hope. We sit together and hear kids talk, kids show empathy and courage to do something.   It strengthens you as a parent and as a facilitator as well.  As a parent I might have been able to have these conversations with my own kids, but as a facilitator I see that we are not alone, there are more who share these concerns and we need a space for these kids to articulate, question, learn and act on their concerns.
How can kids get involved? 
Be a Young Changemaker – sign up here. If you want to join a youth group, mention that in the comments.

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