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Monday, March 19, 2018

In search of commitment and empathy

Celine Osukwu is the founder of the Divine Foundation for Disabled Persons. Read her story below. 

My name is Celine Osukwu. I was born in Ihioma, a rural community in eastern part of Nigeria during a civil war. I was very sick when I was a baby. When I was about three years old I developed a disability. My mother was supportive, she did not yield to the pressure and advise to do away with me. I encountered challenges while growing up: I was denied admission in schools because I was a disabled child. It was the first time I started feeling unloved. I started having the feeling that I was different from other children. I felt like committing suicide. I went on hunger strike. I had sleepless nights. My highly supportive mother, though she was illiterate went in search of solutions. She went seeking for help and I was later accepted into the school. On completion of my secondary school education my mother could not afford the fund for my university education. I wasted two years sitting at home but always crying. I could not learn any trade, I insisted I must go to school. My mother was also in pains but kept on counseling and assuring me

True to my mother's assurance I made it: I currently hold Masters degree from a London university, Bachelors degree from a university in Nigeria as well as a Diploma in Development Leadership from Canada. My life experience is strongly instrumental to my choice of career and work. I am a social worker. Since late 1990s I started working for the improvement of human lives. I encounter stigma at work places especially at interview levels but when given opportunities I have always proved that I can. I break stereotypes that says persons with disabilities cannot work. In my work places I perform more than colleagues who are not living with disabilities.

The story of Divine Foundation for Disabled Persons is a story of putting my effort to actions aimed at assisting improve the conditions of persons with disabilities especially the women. Because of the challenges I encountered as a girl-child growing up with a disability, I resolved to try harder to improve myself so as to be able to speak out for myself and for other marginalized persons. I see nothing worth living for in this life except touching lives of others, salvage the vulnerable and marginalized from oppression and suppression. I formed and registered the Divine Foundation for Disabled Persons in 2009 from my savings. I got technical assistance for the registration from my boss the President of Committee for the Defenece of Human Rights-- the second place where I have worked in Nigeria.

So far the Foundation has helped empower many Nigerian women living with disabilities. We provide inspirational / motivational talks, skills, financial assistance, linkages, advocacy, sensitization / educational researches, etc on issues of disabilities. We partner with organizations within and outside Nigeria to address disability inclusion and empowerment of PWDs.

Changing mindsets of the public towards persons with disabilities is like passing a camel through the eye of a needle. Societies are filled with stereotypes / beliefs that PWDs cannot do things other persons do. It is worse with the third world counties. Even among our activist community, other activists who have been working with me on other issues comfortably will suddenly relegate me to the background because I am living with a disability. Again according to one of the philosophers, man by nature is a selfish animal. In job performance employers, no doubt are satisfied with my services and would comfortably and reliably give me more responsibilities but in issues like representing the organization outside the office, they think a disabled staff is not a good image of the organization. In issues like giving award / promotion / getting credit of job well done, employers would not remember the PWD who is brain behind the success of the organization. They would sharply deviate and give the credit to themselves in their selfish belief that they are doing a PWD favour by giving her / him job. These are some of my experiences. Well, addressing them has been a herculean task because confrontation has always been the best but sometimes the management hide the information from me. I am outspoken and would ask questions which may change their plan. Sometimes confrontation does not work because it may put me at logger head with my boss, that may not be healthy for me at work and would also affect my productivity and success of the organization. When the success if the organization is in jeopardy, lives of target groups will not be changed as desired. So because of my ambition to touch lives for good I suffer certain marginalization while targeting to deliver services.

The world needs commitment and empathy in following up provisions in policies / instruments that offer opportunities for inclusion. It is one thing to draft a convention or policy like the UN CRPD for state parties to append signatures and then a bigger and more important thing to ensure that state parties implement the provisions of the convention or policy in their localities. I said empathy in addition to commitment because until the draft of UN CRPD in 2006, no policy document of international standard has mentioned the needs of PWDs. Not even the MDGs drafted in 2000. It appears that the world lack fellow feeling for PWDs. Policy makers  often forget PWDs  when making policies. For instance in my recent research on Disability, HIV/AIDS and Gender in my last academic course. All the policy documents on HIV/AIDS made no mention of or consider PWDs. 

In 2016 I was honored with an invitation to attend an opening of the Black History month in a program organized by Committee for the Defence of Human Rights in conjunction with the American Embassy here in Nigeria. Persons from the Embassy and other civil society organizations were also present. Speakers spoke on topics which included human rights of women and their active participation in governance. This was handled by a woman. During Question & Answer time I was given opportunity. I asked question around women with disabilities and how to ensure their participation in civic activities in Nigeria. She told me to always ponder before asking for some things. Her answer was that issues concerning persons with disabilities and their participation in governance should not be asked in gathering like this one.

I have recorded so many success stories, such as empowering some women with disabilities financially to take care of immediate challenges, get skills, solve hunger issue. I was part of the journey of a Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace recently took place in the violent torn Northern part of Nigeria. I brought in the perspective of disability to the work of the team. We visited highly placed church leaders, government officials, traditional leaders and victims (IDPs) to hear their stories, UNHCR, UN WOMEN, etc.  In each point of visit I brought in the 'voice' of women with disabilities, sensitizing the team and the hosts the plights of PWDs, implications of excluding them and why they should not be forgotten by societies. I am also part of reporting to UN committee on human rights of the human rights situation of PWDs in Nigeria. The report will be sent to UN prior to the forth coming UPR where Nigeria will be reviewed. I have spoken in programs where I inspired and motivated women and men with disabilities to live life of dignity other that begging on the streets.

Monday, March 12, 2018

The Accountant turned Author

Archana Sarat is the author of Birds of Prey, a moving book that talks about a significant issue - Child Sexual Abuse. Besides being an author, she also works as a teacher and writes op-ed styled pieces for a range of publications. Here is our conversation with her.

Can you tell us a little about yourself, your growing years, education and work?
As a cherished daughter of traditional Tamil parents, I grew up in a warm, cosy and protected environment in Chennai. I followed my father’s footsteps and completed my chartered accountancy at the age of 21. However, I found the practical side of chartered accountancy did not give me the fulfillment that the academic part of it did.

Was there a conscious decision to step into writing? Did you envisionmuch of what you are doing now, or was it an organic process that grew asyou walked into it?
I have always been writing, right from my childhood years, and I have also always shared my work with anybody who would be interested to read it. I had my articles and poetry published in the school journal and college journal. I also wrote the script for a few plays during this period. However, I started writing seriously when I was a new mother in a strange city without a job or any friends. Writing gave me the solace that I needed. My initial articles and stories were about marriage, motherhood, Mumbai and the Arabian Sea. I sent out these pieces and many of them were published. During this period, I also wrote various financial articles, which were published in the leading newspapers and magazines. Still I hadn’t considered writing as a career. I was intent on getting a degree in art from the JJ School of Arts, a vision that I still cherish. However, all these publishing credits had launched me on my writing journey and I started dreaming of publishing a novel. It was another 8 years before that dream came true.

Let's talk about Birds of Prey. What was your thought process behindcreating the novel? Could you also weigh in on how you personally evolvedas a writer while working on the piece?
Before writing Birds of Prey, I had written two non-fiction books and three novels. However, they all remained as first drafts. A first draft is just like a jotting in a journal – raw and unpublishable. Birds of Prey was my first book that I took to completion. I had Neil Gaiman’s quote taped to the wall in front of me: “You have to finish things — that’s what you learn from, you learn by finishing things.” Birds of Prey gave me confidence. Writing further books does not seem daunting any more.

Coming to your work as a writer, you talk about difficult themes like marital rape. Can you tell us a bit about some of your key milestones in this space?
I strongly believe that we can convey important social messages through the medium of fiction. Birds of Prey was an attempt to give voice to the society’s silence on the abuse of children within the supposedly safe confines of home. During a recent visit to a coffee plantation in Coorg, I was shocked to see that the hourly wages for men and women were still different, though legislations proscribing this have been around for quite some time. I wrote a piece of flash fiction based on this incident and it was widely circulated online. Many of those who read this were oblivious to this practice and were shocked to know about it. Fiction can be used effectively to convey the truth. I have a long way to go in this.

You've broken quite a few stereotypes in taking on some of the restrictions culture and society has put upon women. Can you share some thoughts on this with us?
Birds of Prey is a dark, psychological crime thriller. The immediate reaction that I received from friends and family was a shocked surprise as to why I hadn’t written in a more ‘womanly’ genre, like romance or chick-lit. When women are the victims of most crimes in society, isn’t it natural that we are better armed to write crime when compared to men? Womenare attuned and equipped with sensitivity and sensibility to express the issues surrounding a crime.In my opinion, the only restriction for a woman is the one she puts on herself; all others can, and must, be shattered by her.
Interestingly, as much as women are out there breaking glass ceilingsand are phenomenal writers and authors, they are not given as much respectas men - lit fests are still peppered with more men, our book storespresent men's books more prominently than women's books. How have younavigated the route as a woman in an otherwise male-dominated world?

Initially, the thought did come across as to whether I should position myself with a male alias name, especially since I was writing thrillers. However, I couldn’t think of myself as anyone else. Add to this, the fact that some of the greatest mystery thriller writers in the world are women – Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, P.D. James, Ruth Rendell and so on – and that made me rethink. Closer home, we have the likes of Anita Nair, Ambai, K.R. Meera, Kalpana Swaminathan etc. It is true that litfests and bookstores are peppered with more men authors than women. The recent incident of Vir Sanghvi mansplaining a woman author at JLF comes to my mind. As Shonda Rhimes says, a woman needs to work twice as hard and twice as long to achieve what a man can. I told myself that I would even do that, if that is what it takes!

What have some of your key challenges been, and how have you addressed /dealt with them?
My biggest challenge has always been finding the space, time and peace to write. A man working from home is accorded a different respect compared to a woman working from home. Though I have a study completely devoted to my work and although it has a door that I shut, neither family nor outsiders respect it. So, I have trained myself to work in all surroundings. Still,there are days when the words don’t come easily, and I need solitude and silence. Those days, either I run away from home or lock myself in the bathroom with my laptop.

What inspires you?
I stumbled upon this poem by George Banks during my school years. From then, this has been my inspiration.
I live for those who love me,
For those who know me true,
For the heaven that lies above me
And awaits my spirit too;
For the cause that lacks assistance,
For the wrong that needs resistance,
For the future in the distance
And the good that I can do.

(By the way, I typed that out from memory. Please excuse any slight changes in the poem. This was the form that I read when I was ten and the words have embedded themselves into my head.)

Monday, March 5, 2018

A Story of Tribal People in Satna

Guest Post By Mridul Upadhyay

Photograph Credits: Suresh Singh, Ekta Parishad
What's the best thing offered to you to eat, as a mode of gesture, when you visited someone's home?

For me it was 'clove', a spice, and it was offered to me by an old tribal woman in an Indian rural village. I don't know why it was offered instead of anything else. Maybe it was one of the costliest or most special things available in the house to offer or it's their culture to offer such things to the guests, or may be something else which I am unable to think of, because of my different upbringing. But I got to know later that it was not grown or collected, rather purchased by family from the market.

Surprisingly, the East India company brought clove from its native home in Indonesia to company's spices gardens in Tamil Nadu in 1800 AD. Then how offering it became a part of tribal family's mode of hospitality?  Agree that it is a good spice and there is a probability of it being used for a long time in India due to our efficient see trade, but, it's just that 'clove'.

Such demand and supply based globalization has also had negative effect on these minorities by affecting their choices to grow, eat and get things in market. Previously, they used to grow and have 7-8 grain meal, but now they are growing, getting and eating rice and wheat based staple food mostly, which also has led many families to malnutrition.

Previously, I used to think that I have been raised up in a lower middle class family and have been to many villages, so I know the poverty. But this village was different for many reasons. It was not just poverty. First thing was tribal population, second was people who had been displaced for 'development' and of course poverty at last.

This village is called 'Kakra' and is in Maihar block of Satna District of Madhya Pradesh.
In this village, the people settled when displaced during construction of a big dam two-decades ago. Currently, some 70
families have made their huts, kuccha houses and farms here. They have got power connection after years but fetching water is still a big issue. Now, because of construction of highway and some cement factories, the land price has increased here. So, the administration, maybe in pressure of businessmen or maybe acting from a thought of 'more development', is trying to displace them again: not letting these tribal people stay at this land as these people don't hold the property right on this land. People got shifted here with whatever they could, 20 years ago, now again you want to displace them for development!

These people, once landowners, had got money when their lands were supposed to be submerged in the water of the dam. People spent most of it in transporting whatever they had. For some, they didn't know what to do with so much money and couldn't reinvest it mindfully. Soon they lost the money and land both. Some on ground activists suggest that it would have been better if some royalties according to the area of the land is also setup for livelihood of the family.

India has over 105 million tribal people which constitute 8.6% of India’s total population. Tribal people were the native inhabitants of the land in India, before Aryans settled approximately 5000 years ago by sending tribal people to deep jungles.

Meeting tribal people is completely different reality to think about. Am I able to think for them? They are not even someone whose culture and practices I'm aware of or have been reading extensively. If I leave what I have read, a bit of history, they are as unknown to me as the people of Benin in South Africa. They were the original inhabitants of the land and I could be someone like 'Muslims for a conservative Hindu' for them. I felt like having empathy, rather sympathy, first time with Muslims, when someone told me, 'aap Arya (Aryans) hain and ye Anarya (Non Aryans)'. Many conservative Hindus think that Muslims didn’t do good when they got settled and ruled in India, then why Hindus forget that they did similar with tribal. Peace!

There are strange incidents weaved to this perspective. At a place, even after getting elected as the Gram Pradhan (Sarpanch), the ST women was stopped from hoisting the flag in village on the Independence Day, by the 'so-called' upper class people. The reason might be of being a low caste or Anaary, both status given to them by Hindus.

The struggle is not just getting empowered, standing in the election, winning it and working in the position, it doesn't end even after being the term over. The ST PRI women Sarpanch once getting elected is not able to win again when seat is not kept reserved in the next elections because of rotational basis reservation, then she's left to work in the fields of rich cultivators, Zamindars and Feudal Lords, etc again.

On the other hand, a rich and Hindu upper-class person is ruling the gram panchayat at the place of an illiterate Gond ST, whom they had adopted as their uncle and kept as puppet head of the gram panchayat because the gram panchayat seat was reserved for ST this time.

This is how class, religion and culture of majority is affecting almost everything related to these tribal people.

Aryans brought their religion which was called Hinduism later. And while making Indian constitution in 1949, tribal people were subsumed in Hindu religion. Previous social interaction with Hindu religion had diffused caste system in tribal people and constitutional process increased such forced interaction. Tribal people had been living in small groups with their local governance and rules, so there is no political unity for them to challenge strong national parties.

In the words of Santosh ji, a social worker, 'They read in secular government run schools, taught communist philosophy sometimes in workshops, approached by Christian missionaries and then at home they are tribal. They are confused of what religion/philosophy to follow. They are never trained in keeping their culture alive, which is perfect in their own imperfections. They are forgetting their rituals, festivals, traditional food and practices and following the majority around them.’

‘There is no political unity for them. There was Gondwana Samiti active till few years ago, now only national parties run the shows here. They include them in Hindus for religious vote bank politics and put them in caste system which was never a part of tribal culture. Being at lower caste level is again discriminatory for them. They include Gonds as Thakurs (middle caste Hindus) because they had Gondwana empire previously and Kols as lower caste Hindus. They also use this difference to make these two tribal communities to fight against each other. Rest, if I'm Hindu, I hesitate from eating non-vegetarian. This is happening with many of us and leading to malnutrition in us."

In the constitution, India gave freedom of worship and following religion but what if the minority is getting influenced by majority religion and culture, in an unprotected environment for them. It might not sound like atrocity crimes or genocide but it's slow, systematic and unnoticed death of diverse cultures.

These are the poorest of the poor and the most marginalized of the marginalized. Can one answer if they ask why and whom to vote in election? Who cares for such minorities of just 70 families in those rural villages? What are we doing on the name of globalization, development, economy, super power, consumerism and personal comfort? Are the developed not developing by crushing not only the dreams but lives of ‘so called undeveloped’? Have we really setup our priority perfectly and thoughtfully? Overwhelmed by all these thoughts, I kept that clove in the pocket of my shirt, close to my heart.

Mridul Upadhyay is a student of Development Leadership at Indian School of Development Management. He has been working on several UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at community, national and international levels through ground projects, activism, training and policy advocacy for last 9 years. Currently, he is the Asia Coordinator at UNOY Peacebuilders and a trustee at Youth for Peace International. 

Monday, February 26, 2018

Irrelevant. But Relevant.


The Irrelevant Project began with the simple, yet challenging vision of reducing negative stereotypes

in multiple learning realms. Working to enable children to resist the script of biases by developing awareness and critical thinking in them, through the medium of fiction, the team has just about begun their work in the space of creating insightful literature. 
Could you start by telling us a bit about yourselves, your growing years, education and work?
Meghna - I grew up in Assam and had a very quintessential childhood - large play areas of green, potluck dinners, and Famous Five. I remember very keen on tasting a treacle tart because it seemed like something plucked straight out of heaven! My first encounter with conditioning came from when I first started dating and this boy made a lot of fun of my upper lip hair. It bothered me so much that I forced myself to go through the painful threading, after having lied to my parents about it. On retrospect, I realized that I became very steeped into bowing down to norms from my teenage years. My parents and I also realize now that some of the rules while growing up, while they ensured my safety also did limit my growth as an independent identity ( women can’t go out, dress a certain way, what if someone attacks/molests you?).
I took up engineering and am probably the world’s most redundant engineer. Those days were terrible. I never went back to even collect my graduation certificate. After preparing for an MBA (and also leaving that), I decided to change fields and become a teacher with the Akanksha foundation. I was not a great teacher in my first year. The children made me cry! But someone took the time one day to teach me how to plan a lesson plan and since then, I not only loved lesson planning, I saw the children enjoying the learning. It’s funny because my probation period was increased in the first year because of poor children management and then because of lesson planning, I suddenly saw a change in my own self esteem as a teacher too! I only mention this because I realize how important it is to give time to someone who is struggling because it makes a hell of a difference. What they do after speaking to me is their prerogative and sometimes these conversations have failed for me, but most of the times I ended up making great friends and all the people I helped actually did help me back. Soon after Akanksha I joined YIF where Allie and I met. Allie is a conversationalist who takes out time to listen to everyone, come what may. I remember crossing her room and she asking me, hey, come over and let’s talk and it was so simple and stark that I did go in and we’ve remained who we are since then.
Currently I work with Dost education as the director of curriculum and content strategy. TIP is my/our other full time job.
Alishya - I was born in Mumbai, but spent my schooling years in Bahrain. Reading was an instrumental part of growing up. My parents both teach and so access to reading and imagination was seen as important, rather than an activity kept for playtime. My favorites characters were always rebellious, and forever in pursuit of the questions they had (Alice, Matilda, Anne of green gables) since I hated following rules, and I certainly did not like school because of how much we had to cram and submit on paper as proof of being a ‘good student’ 

Back in Bangalore after school, I was encouraged to pursue a degree in commerce and finance to find stability (and a job) which I detested but I did learn to become comfortable with numbers, and understand how they work in the world. I also spent two years in an auditing firm in Hyderabad where I felt trapped, without purpose but also exposed to various forms of sexism in the workplace. After 2012 and the speaking up of the brutal gendered violence women face in their everyday life, I began a photo campaign in Hyderabad on sexual violence which wasn’t very successful at all, but I did speak to 500 people, and it did teach me a lot about culture and the silence of oppression. After this, I got through YIF [Like Meg, I narrowly escaped a fatal expected route of an MBA] and realized that I was in the wrong classroom my whole life. I continued another year of studying by enrolling in an experimental new master’s program in liberal studies at Ashoka University which allowed me to focus on literature and gender studies. Currently, I work as a teaching fellow at Ashoka where I assist with course of literature, gender and sexuality and film studies. I hope to pursue a Phd sometime in the future in order to bring direction and new tools of inquiry to TIP as we grow.

What is the story of your TIP? How did the initiative come about?
Meghna - I seriously think I was a sexist. And not only catered to sexist beliefs, I wanted people to follow them. It infuriates me now when I look back and realize that I could have avoided so much harm if I was taught to unsee. At 25 when I met feminists at YIF I was initially pretty appalled. But then there was an emotional upheaval and suddenly I couldn’t unsee anymore and I really desperately wanted no more ‘Meghna’s’ in the world anymore. Allie has always been a feminist and seeing a potential powerful movement we had the possibility to create if we worked together, we created TIP. We started with workshops and realized that stories had amazing power to change mindsets which is when we shifted to designing stories. It took us a lot of time to get these stories out. We did a lot of research; we wanted the stories to be less moralistic, and more adventurous, we wanted child protagonists because we wanted children to know that they, themselves, were enough. Soon, we had 5 stories - Bibloo the precocious child who hates his uncle pinching his cheeks, Anvesha the curious kid who loved asking questions like - Why can we not wear short skirts in the temple. We had Annie and Arjun - siblings who are perplexed with the chores assigned at home to them ( gendered), Nila and Najam who dream careers that are diametrically opposite to their gender and finally Mohit, a fat kid who learns that his body size has nothing to do with his talents. In order to support and foster a sustained engagement with the theme of the books, we’ve also created activities and information in the form of worksheets that can be given to the educators/parents/child influencers.

What are some of the key work areas / activities at TIP?
Currently it is about stories and making sure that we expand the definition of the stories by providing worksheets/activities that foster sustain engagement with the themes of the books. Hopefully we will work towards creating workshops and we would love to meet people who would want to co-learn and collaborate with them.

You work in the domain of shifting mindsets towards a violence free, gender equal, free-of-stereotype and inclusive society, which means you work to address some rather deeply ingrained views and issues. Could you take us through some insights on any challenges you've encountered and how you address them?

Alishya - The biggest challenge is to understand the ways in which culture affects how children learn, and to investigate what are the various ways in which information is transmitted to children. Other challenges are as simple as seeing gendered classroom dynamics. To address this, we began with observing the kinds of differences that arose between boys and girls, and how they behaved. Then in our sessions, we see it imperative to encourage the girls to speak individually. Visualizing possibilities for oneself and looking at role models also allow girls to develop confidence. In one of our workshops, giving examples of women in professions in one of that have been historically dominated by men has been a great way for children to speak about the challenges they face in pursuit of their dreams as well. A large part of the problem is that children aren’t encouraged to think for themselves. As adults, our prejudice and biases congeal into our ways which we go on to teach young children without questioning anything. Instead of parading as mindset shifters (which is undeniably a cool term) it is also that we let go of our preconceived notions before we enter a space of learning with children and adults.

As a movement, what do you feel the world needs in its efforts towards  gender equality? What is preventing that from happening or being available?

Alishya - The more I think about equality, the more confused I become. Violence isn’t going to go anywhere, and I think that’s a function of how we live and speak. But it is in the project of being conscious about our identities, actions and our work that we may be able to build practices that provide resistance to structures that enable inequalities. For example, access to knowledge in society is something Meghna and I think about seriously. What does it mean to have various models of education, where one school has greater access to resources and finance than the other? Who is likely to have more opportunities? Another important point that we have to factor in harks back to what Meghna has replied in q.2. What makes the rules and why do we follow them? Culture is responsible for how and what we learn about ourselves and ‘the Other’ One has to only read articles online, or political messages during rallying to see that hate becomes a tool in different contexts through which we learn about people who are not ‘us’

Can you share any anecdotes and success stories from your work so far?
Meghna - W received this email from a 15 year old, and it moved me so much.
Hi. My name is X. I am fifteen years old.
Writing to you was a spontaneous decision. I came across your books today. They were lying on my bed and I had no idea where they came from (I have concluded that my brother bought them), but they oddly intrigued me. I fell in love with the cover illustration of 'Nila and Najam' and I read it and now I have some very important things that I need to convey to you.
The book made me cry. Firstly, thank you so much. I don't know? Thank you? Just... thank you. Oh my god thank you.
In the book 'Nila and Najam', thank you for portraying a boy who wants to be a teacher. It's not just that he wants to be a teacher. The way he puts it out there is so... soft. And passionate. And soft. I don't know how to describe it. Do you get what I mean? There are not enough fictional male characters in Indian fiction who are portrayed as being soft and poetic and fluffy and SOFT in their aspirations. Thank you for breaking this certain gender role.
Secondly, this next thing is more of a personal feeling, but I wanted to write about it anyway. There is a certain part in the book where Najam says that he wants to narrate to his students stories from all over the world. Stories about people, animals, and seas. And he wants to ask his students what they think about the people, animals, and seas. At this point, I think my mind just took it from an extremely unconventional, poetic point of view, and I teared up. The part about stories about people and seas really resonated with me. I don't know how to describe it. And I am in love with the idea of spontaneity, and running around on empty streets at 3 am, and the madness that is poets, and leaving this place behind (if that helps explain why that certain part made me feel so deeply).
I might never get to know what Najam's future students think about the people and the animals and the seas, but I hope they go wild with their imagination. I hope they go so wild that they're out of breath. I hope that Najam is the reason that one day they find themselves a little drunk on people, and poetry, and places they've never been to, and the feeling of feeling infinite, and this messy thing called life.
Another little thing that made me cry and hug the book really, really hard and fall in love with you guys in the tiniest ways possible is this: in the acknowledgements, when you say that you hope that through these stories the child comes to find that their life is not defined by narrow boxes, you don't refer to the children with he/him and she/her pronouns and leave it at that. Thank you so much for being inclusive of they/them pronouns. Thank you. It's funny because the thought in itself is making me tear up, but THANK YOU. I don't know how to word the way it made me feel but asdfghjkl thank you so much I don't know how to express my gratitude. I rarely come across textbooks, and teachers, and many students around me using that certain pronoun in place of his/her. I can't blame them no matter how much I'd like to because it's not their fault. I know something that they don't because they've never been taught that gender is a spectrum and that they/them is a gender-neutral pronoun and that there are 7 billion genders in this world. I don't have the right to get mad at them. The education system needs to teach students about things like this but no thanks for overlooking all of it.

And a book about how important consent is? And "fat is not a bad word"? And that little illustration that reads, "I wanted to erase this but ma'am said it is okay to colour outside the lines"? And star-and-rose blankets for a boy (for once)? I love you so much and the writers made me tear up so often I dislike them so much for that and I don't know just thank you I love you. “

It was unbelievable that this 15 year old teenager resonated with our content!