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Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Bal Shanti Utsav – Children’s Peace Festival -  was organized by  The All India Council of Christian Women – Women and Gender Justice wing of the National Council of Churches in India on the occasion of the 60th Anniversary of the Fellowship of Least Coin Movement on 21st September 2016, International Day of Prayer for Peace. According to Rev Dr Roger Gaikwad, General Secretary of National Council of Churches in India “Children are practitioners of peace. However their contributions in making peace are not always recognized by society. It is very important for us to acknowledge children’s contributions to peace and also nurture a spirituality of justice and peace among children." The Bal Shanti Utsav – ‘Children’s Peace Festival’  is one such endeavor of the NCCI for ecumenical and spiritual formation of children to build inclusive just communities.

The Fellowship of Least Coin  is a world-wide ecumenical movement of prayer for peace, justice and reconciliation. Through this movement Christian women around the world seek fellowship with one other and are reminded to live a reconciled and forgiving life with others. Every time women and children  pray for peace, justice, healing, and reconciliation they offer the least coin. These coins are later sent to ICFLC (International Committee of Fellowship of Least Coin) which supports women's initiatives of peace around the world. This prayer movement emphasizes the praxis dimension of prayer reflected in action. This prayer movement is not confined to  women only;  any one can participate. The pioneer of this Movement was Mrs Shanti Solomon, a legendary woman leader from India who also is the founding mother of All India Council of Christian Women which unites Christian women in India from Orthodox and Reformed traditions  and the Asian Church women's conference  that unities Asian women Church Leaders.

According to Moumita Biswas- Executive Secretary of All India Council of Christian Women – “In order to carry on the legacy of this praxis oriented prayer movement FLC we need to nurture  our children to be peace makers and understand the power and strength of prayer . FLC movement breaks the barrier between the rich and the poor, the vulnerable and the powerful and deconstructs the power of ‘Mammon’. FLC has its  its Biblical foundation on widows mite . This movement emphasizes the power of prayer and the power of the least coin where even the most economically poor person can also contribute to bring hope, heal those in pain and broken communities  and transform lives of many .

98 children from Dalit, Adivasi and other vulnerable backgrounds from 'Girls and Boys Methodist Hostel' in Nagpur and also children from Sunday Schools participated in this 'Children’s Peace Festival'. They shared their understanding of peace and heard the story of Shanti Solomon and the history of FLC. Mrs Preeti shared the story of Shanti Solomon and the power of prayer when reflected in action. Women’s Fellowship Leaders and Children were felicitated with mud pots to collect offerings to be sent to  the International Committee of Fellowship of Least Coin through NCCI.

According to Sharon Immanuel, “Peace means my right to  go to School just like my brother. Peace at home means mum gives me the same amount of food as my brother receives.” The children also shared - Peace means love and sharing food with my friends who are hungry – just in the way Jesus shared food with others. Peace with our own body means saying no to drugs, alcohol and cigarettes. Peace in community means keeping our neighborhood and rivers clean and being friends with our neighbors of other faiths. Peace with nature means everyone hearing songs of  the birds  and taking care of our trees. Peace means to smile happily and without fear playing with our friends. Asha shared “Peace in school means teacher will not beat if I am slow in my studies.” 

The children splashed colours of peace as they drew and painted their notions of peace .The paintings are a great resource of understanding spirituality and articulating children’s theology .  The paintings will also be used as advocacy materials to promote the 365 Days  Zero Tolerance to Gender Based Violence Campaign of  NCCI, and to promote  Rights to Life and Dignity of Children in India  and Child Protection Policies .

An alarming concern which the children shared during this program and presentations was that they are aware of eve teasing and other forms of abuse on children . They even thought physical and corporal punishment in school is normal phenomenon.  As per Government of India's commissioned survey, 65% of schoolchildren reported facing corporal punishment beatings by teachers. Lack of awareness on child protection policies and implementation of such polices make the situation worse. Parents and relatives, persons known to the child or in a position of trust and responsibility were mostly found to be the perpetrators of child abuse in the country The report further revealed that two out of every three children have been physically abused . 53% of children in India face sexual abuse. According to  Rev. Saroj Timothy " Our children in this country are raised in a culture of violence and they think its a normal phenomenon . Children's Peace Festival not only provided space for children to share their understanding of peace and how they practice peace but is an eye opener for us regarding the need to create awareness  about rights to life in and dignity of children and promote child protection polices .The  Church can play a prophetic  role in this regard. Fellowship of Least Coin Movement unites us in prayer and enables us to renew our commitment to build communities of justice and peace ."
Blessing the Neem Tree- Praying to Make Peace with Nature 

Reported by -Moumita Biswas - 
Executive Secretary 
All India Council of Christian Women 
Women and Gender Justice Wing of NCC India