What it means to grow up with adversity and thrive

New book captures the lives of 20 young graduates of ‘Dream a Dream’ who beat the odds of vulnerable backgrounds and are even leading their communities

GN Bureau | November 9, 2022

#development   #youth   #Society  
Manja Devendra
Manja Devendra

When We Thrive, Our World Thrives: Stories of Young People Growing Up With Adversity
By Dr. Connie K. Chung with Vishal Talreja
Notion Press, 311 pages, Rs 499 (paperback)/Rs 210 (Kindle)

Here is an extensively researched book that brings forth inspiring stories of young people chalking out their unique pathways, even after adverse childhood experiences, to thrive in their lives. ‘When We Thrive, Our World Thrives: Stories of Young People Growing Up With Adversity’ (Notion Press) by Dr. Connie K. Chung with Vishal Talreja, brings the spotlight back on positive youth development and best practices needed for life skills.

This book captures the lives of 20 young people who even from the most vulnerable backgrounds could thrive and lead their communities, for the benefit of our shared future. It is about the graduates of ‘Dream a Dream’. It centres on moving, personal stories of young people and what it means to grow up with adversity and thrive. It weaves in research about positive youth development and best practices of the globally recognised life skills programme developed by Dream a Dream; it also chronicles Dream a Dream’s growth and development as an organisation. It shares stories of hope that with proper support from caring adults, young people from even the most vulnerable backgrounds can thrive and lead their communities, for the benefit of our shared future.

Since 1999, Dream a Dream has gained the attention of Indian and global communities as a leading education non-profit that is cracking the code on how to support young people with backgrounds of adversity to thrive, realise their potential, and become leaders who will shape our collective future. Currently, Dream a Dream works directly with 10,000 young people each year through two innovation labs – After School Life Skills Programme and Career Connect Programme. Dream a Dream’s award winning life skills approach, developed in these programmes, is designed to give young people, aged 8 to 22, a nurturing environment in which to heal, grow, and develop the skills needed to thrive in an increasingly fast changing world. This approach is now being integrated across public schools in India through government partnerships. Dream a Dream has shared its innovative model with over 3 million young people by bringing its professional development program to over 35,000 educators in six Indian states.

Dr. Chung, EdD, is a Foster America Fellow. She has written, co-edited, or contributed to six books and numerous papers about learning and teaching to thrive in the 21st century and how people and communities can create positive change together. Talreja co-founded Dream a Dream along with 11 others. He is an Ashoka Fellow, an Eisenhower Fellow, A Kamalnayan Bajaj (Aspen) Fellow and a Salzburg Global Fellow. He is also a Board Member at Goonj.

Here is an excerpt from the book, reproduced with the permission of the publishers:

"Everyone is a Changemaker at Dream a Dream": Manja Devendra

Manja Devendra is a 24-year-old young man, with glasses, and a quiet and thoughtful bearing. At the time of our interview in 2019, he was working at Dream a Dream as the Teacher Development Programme Data Manager. He was gathering data for research using Dream a Dream's Life Skills Assessment Scale for children by going out to visit programmes and conduct observations. He had received a bachelor's degree in business. He was working on earning a master's degree in business as well, with the goal of teaching business students at college. He was teaching accounting and business studies during his weekends, offering his services for free to students.

He has a vision for teaching differently than how he was taught and wanted to incorporate stories and practical and experiential learning into his teaching. This vision came from his experience as a participant and as a staff member at Dream a Dream. Dream a Dream, in turn, grew in its scope and vision in part, from its openness to learn from others, including partners around the world, like PYE (Partners for Youth Empowerment) and Drs. Fiona Kennedy and David Pearson, as detailed in previous chapters. This chapter builds on those ideas and explains how Dream a Dream nurtures an environment where positive change takes place not just in people but in its own culture, in part by inviting experts - whether a professional rugby player from England or gender reconciliation trainers from South Africa – to introduce new ideas and skills to its participants and staff.

Manja was able to earn his degrees because of Dream a Dream's financial and other support; Dream a Dream funded his higher education for three years, with 10,000 rupees ($131 USD) per year. He contrasts his experience with that of his older and younger sisters, who both graduated from the 10th standard, but did not further their education due to a lack of support. His older sister is married and his younger sister works at a local food chain store.

Manja has been with Dream a Dream for 10 years, since he was 14 years old, playing rugby with the After School Life Skills Programme in the eighth standard. He was a programme participant for four years, including two years in the Career Connect Centre (CCC), when he was 17 and 18 years old. He took the basic English and computer classes at the CCC. He joined the staff of Dream a Dream when he was 18 years old, first as a life skills facilitator for the Football After School Life Skills Programme. The part time job suited him well as he attended college for four years. In 2016, when he completed college, he transitioned to a fulltime job with the Teacher Development Programme at Dream a Dream.

He enjoyed playing rugby with Dream a Dream, particularly as it gave him the opportunity to travel and play out of the state, Karnataka. Furthermore, he says Dream a Dream changed him, by making him more social and open to experiences. Before becoming a Dream a Dream participant, he would go straight home after school; he did not talk to anyone, much less play with them. He did not listen to anyone, and he said that he did not respect anyone, including his mother. "My family did not create the space to interact with others, make friends, or learn new things," Manja remembered. His father, a flower seller, had been a heavy drinker and passed away when Manja was five years old, likely from liver disease caused by drinking. With only a limited formal education like her husband who only studied until the fourth standard in Tamil Nadu, his mother worked in the garment industry to support herself and her children from then on, leaving little time and energy for her children. But she treated her children the best she could, even if they could only afford just three daily meals of rice most of the time. Manja is the first in his family to graduate not only from secondary school but also go to university and obtain a graduate degree.

He did not interact with a lot of other peers, including girls, before joining Dream a Dream's rugby programme; his normal routine would include going to school, returning immediately home, and playing games at home. At the beginning, he did not mingle with other rugby team members, but would step back from interacting with them. But he warmed up to others as he experienced Dream a Dream's accepting environment. Manja remembers that while he would be scolded for making mistakes at school, with the rugby programme, the coaches and others would continue to encourage him and be positive, even if he kept on making mistakes for the first two months. "That changed a lot in me," Manja said. He continued his efforts as his coaches and teammates encouraged him to play and learn. As he started to learn new skills, with the opportunity to play outside and learn more about himself during the reflection sessions that accompanied the rugby after school life skills programme, he gained more confidence. He began to open up to others, learning to communicate better, including how to have good and healthy conversations.

Rugby also presented him and his classmates with many opportunities to manage collaboration and conflict with each other. For example, he remembers an incident that happened when he was cycling back from a game with Dream a Dream participants. He tipped over into a ditch, full of dirty water. Manja felt embarrassed when he fell, but his friends just joked about it and supported him by telling him about similar incidents that had happened to them and the injuries they had received. Instead of being embarrassed by his fall, he felt encouraged. Manja and his friends got through all the injuries and difficulties they faced in rugby with a similar attitude of good- natured support for each other.

He received recognition not only from his teammates but from others. In the eighth standard, he was selected to represent Karnataka in the national youth rugby team and travelled to Delhi to play. It was a big honour as he was just one of three young people selected from a hundred. Manja was featured on TV and newspaper articles. When he returned to school, his principal called him and two other students to speak about their experience in front of their 600 school mates. Manja did so, in spite of his fear and nerves, and he was rewarded with applause and congratulations from his peers. "It was a proud moment in my life," he recalled, to be recognised in such a positive way.

In general, Manja reflected that Dream a Dream programmes, throughout his participation until he was 18 years old, taught him about positive and professional behaviours, creativity, career awareness, and understanding about people, including understanding children's behaviour, including what are often understood by adults as "misbehaviours." He learned to manage stress and not shout at others in anger in ways that his sisters, who were not part of Dream a Dream, did not. His coach, Adam Whittington, a professional rugby player from England, helped him to look back at incidents of anger that took place on the field. As Manja reflected on what triggered his anger, he would practice thinking before acting and talking. "Whatever I learned during the game, I learned to use it in my life," Manja noted. He says that now, when he works with programme participants, others appreciate him for his empathy, his listening skills, and his supportive efforts. These were all skills that he says he did not possess before his participation with Dream a Dream.

Dream a Dream’s Rugby Program was offered in partnership with the Karnataka Rugby Union (KRU) which in 2008-2009 was in its early years and mostly consisted of volunteer players. These players (Indian and from other countries) typically worked in Multi-National Corporations based in Bangalore and were looking for avenues to continue to play Rugby in Bangalore. Adam was one such person. Players like Adam played Rugby with the KRU to stay engaged with the sport. They also volunteered for the Rugby programme that the Karnataka Rugby Union was running for youth at Dream a Dream.

Rugby also helped him to earn a scholarship for college; when he went to his college and showed them his national certificate in rugby and that he had represented Karnataka as a sportsperson at the national level, the college rewarded him with a 50% scholarship. With Dream a Dream's 10,000 rupee ($131 USD) scholarship, along with the scholarship for rugby, he was able to pay for college, something he would otherwise have not been able to afford, given his family's financial situation.



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