"Children need the most amount of sensitive attention, care, guidance, and love during the first 7 years of their life. I became a Teacher for Early Childhood Development because of the fact that I understood this need that spoke to my heart the most. I have had a lonely childhood you see. My family, though supportive in terms of attending to my basic needs, did not quite understand the need to provide me with sensitive attention when I was growing up. I struggled with my emotions and remember wishing that my parents knew how important a healthy and emotionally nurturing environment was important for us, the kids. They fought a lot. The conflicts in the household affected my mood, emotions, sense of self-worth and the way I tried to relate to the world. I used to put on a brave and happy face but I was always hurting inside. It was difficult. Childhood was difficult." Leeda started her story with a display of great self-awareness as she shared her motivation for her calling. There was something deeply soulful about the way she talked about children. You could almost notice the inner child in her peeking through those bright, twinkling eyes that smiled all the time but touched the onlooker with a depth that spoke of the experience of rising out of crushing pain. "This woman has more of a story than she probably knows", I reflected. I waited for her to continue.
"I feel deeply about the importance of giving children a happy childhood. I do what I can for them in my humble capacity. From delivering free Early Childhood Parenting workshops, teaching children at our Religious Education Center to teaching kids including a specially-abled child Nusrat, I live my purpose and find time to contribute to the lives of as many children as possible. I also teach underprivileged students through a program developed by the British Council and Times of India Group. It is called Teach India Program. I prefer not to wait for tomorrow and do what I can with the resources I have at the moment. I believe we always have enough to give back. It is just a matter of realizing what you have in order to know what you can give back to society." Leeda beamed as she spoke about her passion for her purpose. I probed further. "Leeda, tell me more about the Religious Education Center. What do you teach there?"
"We are Afghans belonging to the Ismaili Community. We have our own Religious Education Center where we grow up learning about our religion and the values from our tradition. I teach children some of the values and also bring in my early childhood development knowledge. When I was a kid, I remember one teacher at the Center. Her name is Ambreen. She was my role model. There was a time when due to some family reasons, I was forced to drop out of the Religious Education Center. I was really upset. I wanted to study. The values taught there really helped me. Especially because I felt lonely as a kid and was seeking answers. One day, I was praying after I was made to drop out. And I fell asleep. In my prayers, I received the message that I was supposed to talk to my teacher Ambreen. The next morning, I went to the Center and asked to see her. I spoke with her and then she somehow convinced my family to let me re-enroll at the Center!" Leeda narrated almost breathlessly, clearly enjoying her trip down memory lane. I could already find an interesting angle to Leeda's story. She was beautifully integrating knowledge for empowerment through conscious parenting in early childhood with a value-based orientation through her knowledge of her tradition, to weave in the kind of wisdom that could revolutionize the way religious education could positively influence the lives of children. Through her classes at the Religious Education Center which was clearly a model she was following from her time with her teacher Ambreen, it was interesting for me to note how women from the Ismaili community like Leeda and Ambreen were creatively contributing to integrate religious knowledge with the latest pedagogy in conscious parenting and early childhood development techniques. Needless to say, this model could be replicated and more women could be welcomed to participate in such creative and community focussed initiatives. Leeda, a young Afghan Refugee woman is effectively reinventing the paradigm of parenting and early childhood development of not just children from her community but also for children from other communities in India through her contribution to Teach India and her free workshops and classes. I felt more drawn to her creative orientation as I share her approach of trying to re-adapt knowledge to evolving contexts to make the outcome of such knowledge more effective. As a trainer and facilitator of Dialogue, Leeda's story was already emerging as a beautiful model for me. I urged the enthusiastic educator to continue with her story.
" I understand how difficult it is to have a childhood where you don't have anyone to guide you with your confused emotions. I understand how families who do not parent consciously can cause unintended damage to children's growth process. As a child, I went through all of this and would often find refuge in books. I had access to Urdu literature and would scourge my sources for answers, motivational inputs, wisdom for personal growth and development.
When I was growing up, during my childhood and teenage, my family went through difficult times financially where I had to step up and take responsibility to balance my efforts for society with the task of earning for the family at a very early age. It is not easy for refugees you know. Eventually, my brother went back to Afghanistan and started working there. When I went to visit him, I shared my writings and learnings which had helped me evolve. He was surprised but was supportive and patiently listened to me. He even commended me for my self initiated efforts. In my family, my father and brother are now supportive of my work. In fact, my father trusts me as a decision maker. From a girl who felt lonely and invisible to a family from a troubled household, I have come a long way to be a respected teacher in my community and an acknowledged decision-maker in my household. Even our financial condition has improved now and the emotional ecosystem of the house." Leeda mapped out her powerful journey into womanhood with the wisdom and precision of a self-aware artist. At this point, I also learned about her knack for singing, painting and writing out her reflections for her growing fan following on Instagram. She shared how her love for poetry was a big channel for her self expression. She would write small reflection pieces and poetry, guide her peers and juniors to encourage them to focus on personal growth and development, contribute to the community and grow in self-awareness herself every time to live a more fulfilled life.
As we proceeded to round up the dialogue for the day, Leeda shared her compassionate wisdom by encouraging me to focus on sharing the core of her message with the world. "People should always know that prayers are the means to look for answers inside and are not about focussing on looking for answers elsewhere. Prayers and the right kind of knowledge guide us to look within, tune into our intuition and find our guidance for the steps we ought to take. It is really that simple. I try in my own way to help children learn the value of their heart and intuition through my teaching techniques and also encourage parents and other community members to support the growth of more guided and intuitive generations through conscious parenting. I hope people understand the value of investing time in seeking to understand themselves, especially the youth. That is what I keep sharing and I hope to positively influence more people to consider this fact and apply the same over the years."