Overview on Research Activity till September 15th 2022 with Swari Foundation's support.
The objective of undertaking a baseline research study for Project Empathy in Srinagar and Kohima was to understand how children and teachers perceive empathy and it's role in education and holistic development of students in a classroom setting.
Ms Anindita Biswas and myself conducted interactive sessions with students and teachers through focus group discussions, using art and semi structured probes that formed a safe enough space for students to share their ideas of how they perceive their relationships with their family, with each other, with animals and environment as well as with the larger community. Identifying emotions felt by themselves and their peers was also another objective of starting the conversation around empathy at the Assam Rifles schools in Kohima, Chieswema, and Srinagar.
Preliminary data analysis shows that there are several underlying emotional experiences that students are sensitive to and within each family environment the activities and events that occur expose children to several challenges and conflicts where having empathy is a strong skill set. We have also found that teachers can benefit a lot from participating in empathy workshops since not only are they role models for the students but also need to make empathetic decisions for them when they are in the class and often extend that role as a guide and mentor to nurture student's potential as they grow.
Empathy has a developmental consequence is shaping more sensitive and inclusive leaders for the future, they provide equitable help during times of disaster and crisis as witnessed during the pandemic and regular floods, earthquakes and landslides. The way forward for Project Empathy requires a lot more attention from decision making authorities and all stakeholders at the school level to carry out training, research and workshops to prioritize socio emotional skills for all. Students, teachers and administrative staff can all participate to make communities more empathetic. Several corporates have started empathy training for their leadership and management positions and it goes a long way to remedy conflict resolution if we begin work at a young age.
Another major issue is that through project Empathy, the teachers will be more equipped to identify and start working on areas such as identifying and teaching children with disabilities, learning disorders and mental health issues and change their approach from getting good marks to getting a good education that is holistic.
A large number of students witness marital and domestic disputes and violence and aggression at home. Since this is a taboo in the larger society a lot of pressure falls on the children to hide their feelings about the same. This raises anxiety, fear and triggers a trauma response of guilt shame and anger in them often displayed as inappropriate or aggressive behaviour or poor academic performance. Punishment is not the suitable response from educators in this situation and an empathetic response is required.
Based on preliminary findings we as social action researchers and psychiatric social workers recommend that there are several issues that the appropriate authorities should pay attention to and support project Empathy team in its efforts.
1. Identifying as many schools there are under the purview of Assam Rifles and ensuring that the team of project Empathy reaches and is able to continue the research and training engagement with students and teachers so that the follow up interventions for students are provided and they receive the adequate support throughout their school education.
2. Conducting workshops at a district level with multiple stakeholders so that the role of Assam Rifles and project Empathy in developing students to be more pro social citizens is encouraged and supported in the larger community around the schools as well.
3. Supporting project Empathy to develop and supply learning material for students and teachers that are class or age appropriate to continue their engagement with Project Empathy, do as to make a strong base for value based citizenship, supportive relationships with family and teachers.
Women's mental health survey at Kohima was conceptualized as an exploration of the stresses and challenges experienced by the women from the families of army personnel stationed there. It was also an attempt to start a conversation about the mental health needs of women while living away from their families and the kind of professional and personal support that would improve their health conditions.
Ms Anindita Biswas and I interacted one on one with participants who volunteered. We interviewed 9 women using the in depth interview method. We realized that there are several stressors since childhood and then subsequently after marriage. Themes of parental worry, empowerment, self esteem, depression, anxiety, grief and unresolved trauma have emerged as of now from the data collated.
The way forward to continue this intervention is multifold:
1. Continued online counseling support
2. Self study and work options to be explored
3. Stress management training and workshop.
4. Communication and other life skills to be discussed.
5. Resolution of family based conflict and emotional impact of the same through counseling
6. Parent management training.