The Transformative Power of Changemaking: Priyaswara’s Changemaker Journey

After adopting an alternative perspective on children’s rights, Priyaswara became an advocate for neglected youth voices. Through this journey of transforming the lives of others, she has also experienced her own transformation – one that includes self-discovery and learning new skills.
Source: Ashoka India

This story was written by Priyaswara and edited for length and clarity. 

Meet the Changemaker: Priyaswara 

When young people advocate for change, it often comes from good intentions. Every action taken has an effect – one that has the ability to resonate with people in many different ways. 

I am Prabhavshali (which means “impactful” in Hindi) Priyaswara Bharti, and I am from a village in Bihar, India. With a group of students, we started an initiative called Bihar Youth for Child Rights (BYCR). Through this initiative, we work directly within communities to create awareness around and advocate for child rights by conducting events online and offline.

Finding my Passion for Children’s Rights 

When I was younger, I noticed many things that seemed odd to me, but I was not yet able to differentiate right from wrong. I attended my friends’ marriages at very early ages, and I witnessed my relatives’ children working to earn money starting at the ages of 12 to 14. I  heard stories about how mothers struggled to raise young girls without the support and love of their family members and husbands. Even now, many of my peers feel ashamed after leaving school due to insurmountable pressure to get married at a young age. Attending weddings may seem fun in the beginning and knowing that someone has the opportunity to earn money is an inspiration for others. Yet, these experiences can be dangerous, as some women and young girls find themselves in abusive relationships and are often unable to share or ask for help due to fear and shame.  These experiences, however, remain the norm and, as a consequence, the notion of “children’s rights” seems inconceivable. 

I was raised differently than other children. When I was young, my family and I went to Patna, the capital of Bihar, for a treatment my father needed after an unfortunate accident. His treatment took 3 years. But as it is said, for whatever happens, something good always comes from it. During the treatment period, my parents decided to permanently relocate our family to Patna for a better future for me and my siblings. Today, we all still live and study in Patna. In school, I am active, attentive, and focused. I am a friend to everyone, talk a lot, and like to connect with new people. 

However, lots of children don’t have this opportunity. Many live extremely difficult lives, facing health issues, food crises, and neglect from their parents. Many of these situations could be prevented. I see adults neglecting and sidelining their children’s rights when their participation is needed outside of school. I want parents to give their children the freedom they deserve, and not limit them to their rooms or houses. Children should have the freedom to explore themselves and do what they want, discover their hidden talents, and learn how to use those talents for the good of all and themselves, too. I am raising my voice to stand against these problems I see in schools, colleges, families, and societies.

Rising to Respond  

Children’s rights and youth participation are two things I am very passionate about. When I was younger, I was unaware of this. 2013 was the first time that I formally learned about child rights, after participating in a workshop on National Child Policy led by representatives from UNICEF and Kilkari, a maternal and child health service launched by the Indian government. Afterward, I began to think differently about my surroundings, differentiating between good and bad, right and wrong.

I shared my learnings with my parents, teachers, and friends, but I was surprised to find that neither my friends nor my teachers or parents knew about these rights. For me, this was the first time I realized that children and young people, including myself, had little knowledge about our rights and had little to do with the policies and decision-making processes that affect our daily lives. It’s like living in an eggshell under the protection of adults and not getting to explore the world by ourselves. How will young people like me grow up and prepare for our futures? This was the basic idea that led me to create the Bihar Youth for Child Rights (BYCR): a platform by and for children and young people.

My idea was to create an inclusive platform for children and young people of various backgrounds – those who are underprivileged, privileged, educated, uneducated, LGBTQIA+, or disabled in some capacity. With my team of friends, we started to organize activities that could be hosted online and in person. One event was a talk on Children’s Rights throughout various marginalized areas of Patna. On Menstrual Hygiene Day, we coordinated a public exhibition called “Painting on Periods” where 50-300 people attended.

To successfully organize these events, our team provided a six-month-long training to almost 60 students in different slum areas of Patna, such as Lohanipur and Kamal Nehru Nagar. Through partnering with other NGOs such as UNICEF, Kilkari, and a few others, we led a campaign called ’TOGETHER AGAINST CHILD LABOUR’ in districts across Bihar and interacted with nearly 150 rescued child laborers. We heard their stories while emboldening them with the idea that they have a right to education.

During the pandemic, education was at risk unlike ever before. So, we established an “EDUCATION MATTERS” campaign. With the help of local volunteers working in these communities, we reached about 300 children who did not have access to digital learning during the pandemic and provided them with school kits, masks, paper, pens, pencils, and sharpens, so they can self-study at home.

Overcoming Challenges and Shifting Mindsets with a Team 

I have learned that it is important to continue working in the field. Things rarely occur suddenly and most things require sustained effort, struggle, hard work, focus, attentiveness, and persistence, no matter how difficult the path is.

We have faced many challenges as a team. When we first began, I noticed that children were not being taken seriously by adults. My team and I also struggled financially. There was also a lack of information or participation around the issues we were advocating for, especially when organizing public events on taboo subject matters, such as periods.

However, we continued to train each other and share knowledge as a team. We decided to plan our activities in such a way that required zero monetary investment. We also started to share our work with local NGOs who are also working in Patna, such as UNICEF Bihar.

I also have several family responsibilities that sometimes come between this work, but I must do this work because I like to do it. So, I manage to do both. I depend on bringing together like-minded people from my network, such as friends and groups in the surrounding area. Most members of my organization are students and children and they do not have a lot of time or even permission from their parents to be involved with social initiatives. That is why we host both offline and online platforms on the weekends, like a WhatsApp group to connect members. We set no limitations on children and young people so that they can still study and do their work, then invest their free time and talent for creating awareness on an issue they care about from wherever they are.

Similar to educating and engaging with our members, it can also be difficult to find team leaders with the same mindset. Just like me, everyone has their own work and needs permission from their parents. So, we need to make parents first understand f why this work matters. The most rewarding part for my team is when the family supports their child to join us. With their help, you can achieve any of your goals.

One of the most supportive and inspirational people I’ve met is Nipurnh, who works a UNICEF. She always provides our team with guidance, and we have not met many adults like her. She taught us to work with parents, because with their support and guidance, we can shift mindsets across Patna.

Lessons Learned Along the Way 

Interacting with the public is one of the most important things I’ve learned in this journey. We are learning how to speak and communicate with the community. We build a network and understand their dynamics, like an algorithm.

As a team, we are always working together, exploring new ideas and developing new skills every day. The whole journey is like a surprise because every day is new and fruitful. I learn something new every day, whether it is small or big. I am practicing how to be a leader and a changemaker. I am learning more about myself and others because we share things with each other and are always there for each other, no matter if we are happy or sad.

I am a busy bee – I like to keep myself busy, which helps me maintain the continuity and consistency of my work. If I want to do something, I just do it. I never stop living my dreams due to fear. I do my work with full effort and dedication, and things will always come together.

My Dream for the Future 

In five years, I see myself and BYCR as a platform that is reachable for every child and young person. We want children to raise their voices and place their demands on a national level. On our platform, we want to help young people to find solutions for problems they face together. This platform will also provide free, quality education for every child.

By recognizing the changemakers in local communities, we want everyone to embrace their changemaker ability. We want this process to be easy, appreciated, validated, and full of opportunities. We want people to be able to quickly find changemakers and we want changemakers to take over their communities for the good of others.

I believe not a single child’s life should be left behind. Access to a good education and good health must be a reality for every child. A lack of resources is no excuse. No decision about us should be made without us. Our participation means everything.