Voice of Slum is a non-profit that focuses on transforming a generation of children in slum settings with education and opportunities to participate in mainstream society. It is located in the middle of an overcrowded shanty town and is cloaked by clusters of small shops and houses. Our second offline talk of 2022, held on the 8th of August, was conducted at this small NGO.
The journey to the NGO was surprisingly eventful. Since none of us had been to a slum before, we weren’t sure what to expect. Almost getting run over by an autorickshaw wasn’t a part of our plan. Thankfully we had no other mishaps, and the nervousness we felt washed away once we saw the children eagerly waiting for us at the door.
We gave our talk to a group of 25-30 girls between the ages of 12-17 and their teachers, who were present and listening throughout.
Before jumping into the meticulously planned script, we started with a ball game to break the ice. This was an easy way to introduce ourselves and ensure our audience was comfortable with us before we began discussing personal topics. We asked the girls what bodily changes they had noticed in themselves over the last few years. Most of the girls looked too nervous to say anything, so we didn’t get too many answers. However, after encouragement from their teachers, a few girls listed observations like growth in their height, widening of their hips, development of breasts, increased rates of sweat, etc.
This conversation initiated our introduction to the phenomenon of puberty. We talked about the changes associated with puberty and how the sexes are affected by it in different ways. We repeatedly ensured them that what they were experiencing was completely normal, they were not alone, and there was nothing to be ashamed of.
Discussing the difference between male and female reproductive systems was crucial. However, we feared they would be uncomfortable doing so since it is not openly discussed in their environment. In fact, we were also stressed about being interrupted and stopped by the teachers. However, our fears were tranquilised by their constant responsiveness and active effort to understand what we were talking about. We used diagrams to avoid any communication gaps since we learnt this biology in English and didn’t want any sensitivity or accuracy to be lost in our conversational Hindi.
We also retained our portion on the excretory system. We were of the opinion that it was essential to inform the girls that the organs involved in reproduction differ from those engaged in excretion. This further clarified their understanding of their bodies.
We then moved on to a section the girls were somewhat familiar with and also the most eager to understand: menstruation. We went over the basics of what a period is, why it happens, how long it lasts etc. The girls were more attentive during this section, grasping onto every word and enthusiastically asking us questions. One girl asked us if it was normal to bleed a lot more than the rest of her peers during her cycle. We were extremely glad she felt safe enough in this environment to ask us a question specific to her. We then explained to them how different people have different bodies and different flows. Until and unless your flow is too high or low, there is no cause for concern.
Moving onto vaginal discharges, we realised this was a conversation they were being exposed to for the first time. We went over the different types of discharges, reiterating their normalcy since it’s simply a tool used by our bodies to clean themselves.
The topic of cleanliness leads us to discuss the importance of maintaining hygiene during the menstrual cycle. We explained some critical steps to be taken while one is on their period, like regularly changing a pad every 4-5 hours. By showing them how to wear and dispose of a pad properly, we explained its importance so as not to cause any infections.
We closed our talk with a dialogue about consent. Like our last talk, we were unsure whether we should discuss such a sensitive topic, but since the girls at our previous talk responded well to our view on consent, we decided to include it again. We approached it by talking about good and bad touch. To our surprise, the girls there were already aware of these concepts. This allowed us to have a conversation rather than a speech from our end.
To conclude our session, we gave the girls an open platform to ask us all their questions. After resolving those, we distributed packets of pads and a pamphlet describing the proper way pad disposal method. After this, it was time for us to say goodbye. The girls thanked us, and the teachers showed their appreciation for our efforts and the talk’s turnout.
Towards the end, we also had the opportunity to talk to the organisation’s co-founder. Her insights informed us of how we can improve our talk and cover missing aspects. She expressed her gratitude for positively impacting the girls. Her final comments and the girls’ smiles as they waved goodbye made our day.
Here are some links for you to check out Voice of Slum’s work:
Article by Prathna Anand from the REDefine Team