Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Thursday, November 17, 2011

UCD: A Celebration of Childhood

By Apon
Photo: E R Ronny

There're two kinds of people reading this article: the ones living in an age of epiphanies and the others who only remember it in flashes of memories, with sepia coloured scenes like from that of an old and dusty book. This article is for both of you. For some of you the world is larger, warmer and more colourful than it is for others. Sometimes you grow up and forget how every day used to be a brand new adventure. Apparently, that time in your life was your childhood... “The paradise lost”.

Eventually you become stronger, faster, smarter. You realise that the world is cold, dark and harsh, that behind every smile is a hidden agenda, and that “there is no rest for the wicked” and “money doesn't grow on trees”. This conversion happens to all of us. The world of experience will undoubtedly devour the world of innocence. It is destined that our knowledge will make us cynical, that our cleverness will make us hard and unkind. But until that time, there are a few precious moments that demand to be cherished as they take the edge off from the cruelty of reality. But you see, not every child gets to experience one.

According to UNICEF, there were approximately 2.2 billion children in the world in 2010, among whom one billion were living in poverty. 22,000 children die each day due to poverty. And they “die quietly in some of the poorest villages on earth, far removed from the scrutiny and the conscience of the world. Being meek and weak in life makes these dying multitudes even more invisible in death.”

Those who are fortunate enough to survive are forcefully absorbed into the working world. There they are abused and exploited for petty gains. There their futures are ground down and scattered to the wind and their hopes and dreams dry up like moisture in the desert. Seeing all these heartless acts, the United Nations once found the heart to conjure up an universal celebration of childhood, on November 20th, 1954.

This is not to be confused with International Children's Day which is on the 1st of June. Only two special days for children still seems far too few.

This annual celebration of the young and innocent has since then been acknowledged by 69 countries, where every year an effort is made to promote mutual exchange and understanding among children and to initiate action to benefit and promote the welfare of the world's children. In 2000 world leaders outlined the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) - which range from halving extreme poverty to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education; all to be accomplished within the target date of 2015.

Though the Goals are for all humankind, they are primarily about children. UNICEF notes that six of the eight goals relate directly to children and meeting the last two will also make critical improvements in their lives. UCD was also chosen as the day to celebrate childhood.

Universal Children's Day is preceded by International Men's Day on November 19 creating a 48 hour celebration of men and children respectively during which time the positive roles men play in children's lives are recognised.

The celebration, however, is relatively recent in Bangladesh, where the first official observation was held in 2007 by the JAAGO foundation. Hate them or love them, it is the reality that JAAGO has monopolised the initiative and is currently the largest (if not the only) organised attempt to promote the cause. But it is still sad to see that where in other countries the celebration is part of the national agenda and is carried out with immense government support (and actually feels like a festival!) the event in our country feels relatively weak, even in Dhaka. It is almost non-existent outside the capital.

In a country like ours it is utterly futile to merely complain about society's inadequacies and expect the top brass to actually respond. Frankly, they have other stuff to worry about, like plotting for power, water boundaries, land transit, metro railways and ingrown toenails. Goodie goodie projects like the UCD are always at the bottom of the barrel. The government may not help to create a children's day for us (even though they can), but why should that stop you from celebrating it? Any changes that need to be made in this country need to start from the root level. The change needs to start from the people! And if the change is to make life better for the children of our nation, who in their right mind will stand against it?

A little initiative is all it takes. Perhaps we can start out small, like treating our little family members to the things they like the most. Then perhaps we can extend the generosity to the children of our friends and relatives, maybe even to the begging child on the street. Perhaps we can give the little flower seller by the road a hundred taka unconditionally, the same hundred taka you may have given to a JAAGO volunteer. If you are connected to a school, perhaps try giving the children a day off, or host fun activities for them. Perhaps, if everyone contributes, these small ideas will converge and combine into a full fledged national festival! So, good folk of Bangladesh, let us rise up and devote this 20th of November to return the smiles that were once lost. Let us go forth and make a better future for all the children of the nation.



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