The valedictory function of the Kindness Kids project shone the spotlight on children who stood up for animal rights

They’ve performed every act of compassion — from giving up meat, to boycotting joyrides on the backs of animals, from putting out water bowls for birds, to conducting adoption drives for homeless pets — and not one of these good Samaritans is older than 14. The valedictory function of the Kindness Kids project was held at the C.P. Ramaswamy Aiyar Foundation last weekend, and saw a stream of schoolchildren go up on stage to collect their trophies for making a difference. Some were as young as 10, and proudly identified themselves as Kindness Ambassadors who stand up for animal rights.

‘Kindness Kids’ (www.kindnesskids.org) is sponsored by the Australia-based Winsome Constance Kindness Trust and involves a training programme for teachers and students from over 50 schools in Chennai, in addition to nearly 150 schools in other South Indian cities like Gudalur, Ooty and Hyderabad. Activities and competitions are conducted in these schools during the academic year, and are aimed at promoting empathy for animals and the environment. The project is now in its fourth year running and uses kid-friendly teaching mechanisms such as pledge cards and activity wallpapers that occupy a space in their classrooms through the year. The children also receive badges and mugs branded ‘Kindness Champs’ as motivators during the process.

Some of the prize-winning entries from the contests were on display on the notice-board at the venue. One of them featured a drawing of a lonely caged bird fantasising about imprisoning its owner in the same manner, while others were articulate essays on the importance of a peaceful coexistence between man and Nature.

Prize-winner Rishab Dasgupta who was almost too shy to talk about his award revealed that he was chosen for the prize for his decision to turn vegetarian at the age of nine. The soft-spoken Class VI student from L.M. Senior Secondary made the choice when he happened to accompany his father to a chicken stall last year. “He said ‘I don’t want to eat meat anymore. Don’t force me’. He is the only vegetarian in the family,” said his beaming father.

Schoolteacher R. Latha who was one of the Best Teacher awardees, observed that the children in her classroom have now taken it upon themselves to educate friends and family about cruelty. “Once, a private company was distributing circus pamphlets to the children,” she said. “But three or four of my students gathered the others and said that Kindness Kids would never go to a circus. One teacher after another came by to report this wonderful incident to me.”

The awards were given out by S. Vinod Kumar of the Animal Welfare Board of India who congratulated the children on for being altruistic. “Kindness begets happiness,” he said in conclusion. “And what you learn in your early years will last forever.”