How was it to be an International Teacher Ambassador for Empathy?
When was the first time I heard the word ‘Empathy’ (समानुभूति)?
I am trying to go back to as far as possible. But I kind of feel stuck in 2013 and can’t go beyond it. 2013 was the year when I had first started my fellowship at Teach For Nepal (TFN). I won’t say that I might not have heard of it before, I might have but my mind might not have registered it because I hadn’t found someone actually embracing it as a value before I was a part of the training at TFN. As I know the value of empathy now, I feel the need that empathy should be a part of the teaching-learning process as early as possible, but as a child, I didn’t get that opportunity. In brief, I had to learn the value of empathy the hard way, and since I have realized empathy as my value, I want this to be introduced to the children early on in their lives.
One of the reasons that prompted me to start ‘My Emotions Matter’ was the same value. With time, I have come to understand that though it is quite easy to define empathy as that is to step into the shoes of another person, the most common one, it is really difficult to actually embody it. The most difficult of all is to actually impart it to the other person through facilitation. As a teacher, you don’t just define empathy but you also embody it and then inspire the students to take it from you and make it a part of their lives. In the last couple of years, I am well acquainted with the struggle that goes in and out of the classroom when it comes to fostering empathy. So I am well aware of the importance of a good support system.
The call to become one of the International Teacher Ambassadors from Empathy Week came at a time when the world was suffering because of the coronavirus pandemic. With the schools on lockdown, the need for the students to learn empathy was even more but the possibilities were bleak. Since I had already known the significance of collaborative effort, I was already convinced of the benefits of being a part of a larger team that was working on building an #EmpathicGeneration. So joining the team was a no-brainer for me. I had hoped that the knowledge I had gained would become helpful for the team while at the same time, I was also eager to learn from the experts and other empathetic individuals how they are working on this so that I could reap the benefits and use it in my work here at Nepal.
As expected, the Empathy Week team as well as all the other international teacher ambassadors were a great team to share my authentic self with. The monthly meetings, sharing of each other's hopes, dreams, and challenges brought us closer. Everyone was grounded and made each other feel comfortable. Though all the international teacher ambassadors came from different backgrounds and were working in different contexts, they all had one common goal and were/are striving for it; that is to foster empathy one school at a time.
The most meaningful of all was when the movies and the lesson plans were shared by the team. It was a moment of sheer joy. As an ambassador, I wanted more students to get the benefit of it. I wanted more schools to know about it. But, I also knew it wasn’t possible if I didn’t ask for help. I shared that with my teammates and one of my teammates Mahima Poddar happily offered her help. We tried to get in touch with as many public schools as possible. Given the crisis the nation was in, we had to look into several factors and one of them was we could only serve those schools that had at least some form of virtual learning medium. We were able to get four schools on board. All thanks to Mahima for all the phone calls that she had to make to bring those four schools into the process. We thought now we were all set to go but then realized the technical arrangements that we were yet to make and also the translations we were yet to complete. Since the stories were in English we had to translate all of them into Nepali. Other than that the whole process was a roller coaster ride of running from one challenge to another. The details of what we did and how it went are all recorded in this case study.
But as we look back all of them was just worth it. The most important of all was when the students from one of the schools, Nandi Secondary School won the Global Empathy Award with their empathy action project related to caste discrimination in Nepal. For me and Mahima, the highlight among all was that the students had heard the word ‘empathy’ for the first time and they had not just understood the definition but also embodied it in their practices and we could see that in their project as well. You will understand what I mean if you watch their project.
Among all, Empathy Week also gave me two fantastic mentors Katherine Train and Lidewij Niezink with whom I am taking a year-long Empathic Intervision Facilitator certification training on empathy. So even if my journey as an ambassador has come to an end, I see a prospect of connection and development towards the work that I am really passionate about and to live the value that I have always embodied by improving on it every single day.
All in all, my year-long journey as an ambassador for Empathy Week was like baking a cake; heating, sifting, preparing, beating, and then baking. Finally, the students from Nepal winning the award was just like the cherry on the top of the cake that we had baked. Now, eagerly waiting for the award that Ed Kirwan has already posted. :D