Sanjog Thakuri: Grown-Up Child
A child rights advocate, an avid book reader and a drama enthusiast, Sanjog Thakuri is all that and more.
Before the Interview, I was handed an extensive CV of Sanjog Thakuri. He is a child rights activist, I was told. Wow, and was his CV impressive! Long lists of all the training he had attended, and even longer list of all the trainings and workshops he had given. He had given his first training on children’s rights at age twelve. At that age I was well – just a kid, without any idea that I had rights.
Sanjog didn’t choose to be an activist, it just happened to him. "A friend of mine, Nirmal, was the one who introduced me to Hatemalo child club and there has been no looking back after that," says Sanjog when asked how he was introduced to this field. As a child, he loved to act and would perform for his family and relatives. So when his classmate, Nirmal Balami, asked him if he wanted to act in plays at his club, Sanjog didn’t refuse. Hislove for acting led to his entry into the child club and this opened several opportunities providing a wonderful learning experience for him. It also marked his entry in the field of child rights. This was where he learnt about child rights, worked with other children on children’s issues and learned about their problems as well as how to tackle them.
Sanjog started his career with Hatemalo Balkaaryakram. It was a 15-minute programme where they had a 10-minute space for drama. “Not only did we have to play different parts but we were also responsible for writing the scripts," says Sanjog. All the children were actively involved in the production of the show. “Adults were present only for technical support. We took interviews, met a lot of concerned people, performed plays, talked about child rights, received and passed on trainings.”
"At that time, it was absurd for adults to think of children as advocates or trainers," Sanjog explains indicating that initially, adults didn't take him and his colleagues seriously. "But we persisted with our participation and persevered in our work and gradually, they started taking us seriously”.
In recent years, there has been a gradual shift towards non-violent teaching methods. But there was also a time when corporal punishment wasn’t even considered an issue; it was just the way children were raised. Now people know about the deep psychological impact it has on kids and initiation is being taken against it.
“Abuse against children is unacceptable, whether it is corporal punishment, sexual abuse, or violation against children of any kind,” says Sanjog. As part of the child rights movement, he has played a big role in bringing about this change. First as a child club member, he was involved in awareness campaigns, then as the president of his club he was involved with the club management. Now, as a policymaker, he works with the government to make a direct impact on thousands of children through the national plan for children.
What makes Sanjog unique is that all his knowledge comes from his experiences and he has gained considerable experience in child rights advocacy which he has been doing from a very young age.
“I feel like this is the only thing I know how to do, this is what I have learned and I think I do it well,” shares Sanjog.
Most people in their 20s are still figuring out what they want to do in life. But Sanjog seems sure about what he wants to do. First a child club member, Sanjog then became its president. After doing tremendous amount of work on children's issues, he is now a reputed name in the child rights scene. He knows what he wants to do and is doing just that.
Having worked with children for so long, Sanjog knows children and their concerns very well. He uses child friendly ways to get them to participate more in his programs. Through games, group work and case studies, he makes sure he involves every child in the activity he's conducting. He talks to them in their own language. He listens to children and doesn’t discriminate against anyone. That is why he believes children love him. "At home too," he adds, "My nephew says I'm his favorite uncle!"
According to Sanjog, "Being this deeply involved in the child rights movement comes with disadvantages as well." Being busy with drama and other activities at the club meant that he missed out on other little joys of childhood. He admits he doesn’t know how to cycle or swim. When most of his friends were out playing, he was in the library reading or writing scripts or doing something for the club. While he feels like he's missed out on a bit of childhood fun, he also believes he had his fair share of fun travelling across the country with close friends performing street plays and organizing training programs. While other children played basketball, he was involved in activities such as debates, poetry and public speaking. From a child with a slight stammer he went on to win the best speaker award at the United Nations General Assembly Special Session for Children and spoke in front of the likes of Nelson Mandela. This confidence he credits to his involvement with the Hatemalo child club.
A believer in simple living, Sanjog appreciates what he has in life and doesn't like to spend money recklessly on material goods. The only indulgence he has is books. He remembers going to a book fair as a child and buying so many books that it angered his mother who'd accompanied him. “I think I spend all my money on books”, he confesses.
If you talk to people Sanjog has worked with, you will notice that they share a common experience of how well he listens to others and truly respects everyone’s opinion – something they find rare in young people these days.
Sanjog doesn’t appear like a 24-year-old, not a normal 24-year-old anyway. But all the achievements listed in his CV are nothing compared to the love and respect he gets from the kids he works with. He loves and respects them and gets the same in return.
From providing recommendations for the 10 year national plan for children as a child representative to monitoring its implementation as an adult, life has come a full circle for Sanjog Thakuri.
This article was first published in VENTzine.