India: As ‘Integrity Guardians,’ rural educators, students champion education on peace and SDGs through UNODC’s GRACE Initiative

Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India/24 December 2022: Located about 40 kilometres outside Varanasi in India’s Uttar Pradesh state, the small village of Mirzamurad houses the Round Table Abhinav Vidyalaya (RTAV)--a rural school run by a small team of educators driven to make a change in young lives. UNODC connected with RTAV in 2020, while spearheading the Lockdown Learners series in response to COVID-19 pandemic. To minimise the consumption of internet data and to make engagement cost effective for students, WhatsApp and audio notes were used to facilitate interactive discussions on social themes.

Building on these efforts, UNODC South Asia’s Communications Officer Mr. Samarth Pathak travelled to the Mirzamurad village in December to build capacities of rural educators and secondary-level students convened by RTAV on SDGs, peace, crime prevention and integrity—using free-of-cost educational resources developed under UNODC’s GRACE Initiative.

Over 50 rural educators from across the state were trained on using education to strengthen socio-emotional resilience of students with meaningful engagement on crime prevention, SDGs and peace. The mode of instruction was largely in Hindi language, with a mix of English. Educators reflected on good practices to engage young people using activities, games, videos and other tools.

Education with experience can transform lives. It was helpful to know about the GRACE initiative, and how educational resources can be used in classroom activities to build integrity in students as a core value. Our engagement with UNODC over the last two years has been a story of impact. RTAV stands ready to be a hub such activities for students and educators from other rural areas as well,” said Ms. Jaya Shukla Tewari, Principal of the RTAV.

Discussions also focused on ways to provide a positive framework to students in the classroom to learn, think and act in socially responsible ways--to prevent crime, discrimination, risky behaviours, misinformation, gender inequality and drug use, among others. The need for cartoons such as The Zorbs, animated videos and theatre to promote education on these aspects was emphasized by the educators. “To enhance learning, such tools must be contextualized for the target students with socially and culturally relevant content,” educators said.

With the GRACE initiative, teachers can act as lighthouses for young minds. Children today are faced with multiple negative influences and social risks. To protect and enable them to stay away from risky behaviours, it is important to nurture integrity in every student and educator. I found the session very useful, because it is necessary to promote education on social themes in the classrooms,” said Ms. Savita Tripathi, an educator.

An interactive session was also conducted with over 70 young students from the village to sensitise them on crime prevention, SDGs and integrity, with an introduction to the United Nations and the GRACE Initiative. Conducted with the use of activities and visuals, the session was immersive, reflective and elicited enthusiastic responses from students. Calling integrity a “superpower”, students pledged to be Integrity Guardians to build a safer, peaceful and inclusive future. Blue Heart badges, developed under UNODC’s Blue Heart campaign against trafficking in persons, were also distributed among the students.

“Integrity matters, and I am a proud Integrity Guardian. As young people, our actions and voices matter when it comes to building peace in the society. With UNODC, I have learnt about the SDGs and how these can be used to develop group projects and activities with my friends. Gender equality, education and peace are themes that I most believe in, and using my skills, I want to create social awareness in these areas,” said Ms. Jahnavi Mishra, a student, with her friends Nancy Vishwakarma, Himanshu, Mansi, Avinita and Ayushi echoing similar views. 

After the session, students invited Mr. Pathak to visit their homes in the Mirzamurad village. Walking towards the village, students connected local challenges with the SDGs, and how their actions can make a difference. Meeting students’ parents and hearing their insights was revealing. “Our children now have an emotional connect with UNODC. They are more socially aware and constantly thinking of developing community-focused projects and networks. This is true impact,” several parents said, reporting behaviour changes among students since connecting with UNODC over the last two years.

To meaningfully empower and engage young people, the key is to simplify the format, demystify ideas, build emotional connect and amplify youth participation leaving no one behind. That is key to deliver real impact: one that touches lives, visibly and tangibly, like we have done in Mirzamurad,” said Mr. Samarth Pathak.

The Global Resource for Anti-Corruption Education and Youth Empowerment – or GRACE – promotes a holistic approach to empowering the next generation to act with integrity and be less tolerant of corruption and unethical practices. It is a major step in UNODC’s work in engaging young people to be active problem-solvers in tackling corruption, targeting three specific areas: Primary and Secondary Education; Academia and Research; and Youth Empowerment.

This activity contributed to SDG 4, SDG 5 and SDG 16:

(In partnership with the Round Table Abhinav Vidyalaya, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh)