In a vibrant and inspiring gathering, a «Trainer of Trainers Workshop» unfolded in the heart of India. From 21 to 25 August 2023, Coimbatore played host to this event at the Shanti Ashram headquarters. The workshop, attended by 20 participants hailing from diverse organizations, including teachers, faith actors, and community workers, delved into the importance of nurturing the spiritual development of children in the early years, highlighting its pivotal role in violence prevention.
This was the third Training of Trainers workshop dedicated to the Toolkit “Nurturing the Spiritual Development of Children in the Early Years,” and the first of its kind held in India. This occasion brought together various organizations committed to enhancing early childhood experiences and nurturing children’s spiritual development. Participants included representatives from Shanti Ashram, partner schools of Shanti Ashram in the surrounding area, Avinashi Lingam University, INEB, Sarvodaya, and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India.
The workshop shed light on the often-overlooked field of early childhood education in India. The rising awareness of its significance, prompted by increased legislation and advocacy, is slowly transforming the way the early years are perceived in the country as the foundation for lifelong health and capacities.
During the workshop, participants explored the nine booklets that constitute the «Toolkit: Nurturing the Spiritual Development of Children in the Early Years.» The Convention on the Rights of the Child, with its emphasis on Article 27, underlining every child’s right to spiritual development, was a key discussion point.
Participants also embarked on a series of interfaith visits, which included visits to a Catholic church, a Hindu temple, a Sikh Gurdwara, a Jain temple, and a Mosque. These experiences encouraged reflection on the diverse ways spirituality is nurtured through religion and the common values shared by all faiths, as well as by those not practicing a specific religious or spiritual tradition.
Perhaps one of the most profound revelations of the workshop was the realization that spirituality transcends religious boundaries, extending its relevance to both religious and non-religious individuals. Participants also furthered their understanding of the various forms of violence affecting children and how community and interconnectedness are essential components for nurturing children’s spiritual development in the early years, as well as being elements that are central to many religious and spiritual traditions.
Participants stated that the workshop offered a much-needed space for reflection, reinvigorating the work they do for children in the early years. One participant shared, «[I learned to] pay attention to children, respect their wishes, not use violence towards them, and be compassionate towards others.» Another highlighted the workshop’s impact on their professional growth, stating, «It helped in upgrading my facilitating skills; I learned to plan the sessions and design training workshops.»
Dr. Kezevino Aram, President of Shanti Ashram and Vice Chair of Arigatou International’s Advisory Group, led a compelling session on the realities affecting children in India. Dr. Aram underlined India’s staggering population of 1.36 billion, with 22% living below the poverty line. In a society marked by growing inequality and social divisions, 60% of Indian children lack access to a strong start in life.
Dr. Aram emphasized that evidence-based practices are essential to children’s well-being. The delay in incorporating evidence-based approaches directly impacts children’s health and development. She emphasized that not only in India but globally, the spiritual development of children has historically and unfortunately been under-prioritized and misunderstood.
As the workshop drew to a close, participants committed to conducting workshops and introductory sessions on the Toolkit with parents, caregivers, and teachers within their organizations. Others committed to continuing their efforts to create safe environments for children and raise awareness about the urgency of ending violence against them. The Shanti Ashram team plan to integrate the Toolkit into their existing curriculum on early childhood development within their Bala Shanti Kendras (ECD Centres) across Coimbatore to reach 176 children from disadvantaged contexts.
The workshop’s facilitators, including Deepa Kumaradevan, Head of the Bala Shanti Kendras; Vijayaragavan Gopal, Head of the Youth Leadership Programme; and Pavithra Rajagopalan, Montessori Teacher Trainer & ECD Expert, all from Shanti Ashram, played a vital role. They were joined by Bethany Gum, Global Coordinator of the Toolkit, and Program Officer, and Maria Lucia Uribe, Executive Director, representing Arigatou International – Geneva. We extend our heartfelt appreciation to Shanti Ashram for their invaluable support in organizing this workshop. We also extend our gratitude to all the passionate participants whose enthusiastic engagement made this event a resounding success.