REDefine collaborated with non-menstruators for the first time to take up the opportunity of spreading awareness on another side of the gender spectrum.
Voice of Slums is a Noida-based NGO which focuses on providing children from slums with opportunities to reach their full potential through various education and employment prospects. While REDefine has collaborated with them previously, this endeavour was a new avenue for the organisation. This was the first talk being conducted by non-menstruators for non-menstruators, a very new group and a very new perspective.
Our team, comprising four teenage boys, was quite nervous when we got off our car, did one final bag check, a relatively quick headcount, and entered the outer slum area. Google maps treated us, men, no different than our female counterparts who conducted previous talks. We found ourselves jostling through tiny meandering streets in this extensive labyrinth, asking bystanders for directions, and trying to read sign language to locate our destination.
After what one could say took forever, we finally stood in front of a tiny authentic building with a large board showcasing the NGO’s name. We immediately felt welcomed as we crossed the ground floor occupied by young, vibrant girls. Next, we met with the head of the organization Mr Bhanu Pratap Singh. Since we had already been in contact with him for the past few weeks, our meeting was short and smooth. We exchanged pleasantries and went over our plan before he directed us to a classroom-like setup, crowded with curious boys between the ages of 9-14, wondering why they were abruptly gathered. The stage was set for us to begin what we came for.
We knew that getting the children to open up immediately was an unreasonable demand, so we kicked things off with a game of catch. We threw a ball around the room and whoever caught it had to say their names and hobbies out loud. To our surprise, we found many fascinating personalities, including voracious readers and brilliant artists, some of whose paintings we got to view. Now that things seemed much more comfortable, Adit began the introduction by telling them our goal (creating awareness) and then explained the basic concept of reproduction to give them surface-level context, followed by my part.
I covered puberty, and to create more relativity, I asked them to first reflect upon any physical changes they had recently observed in their bodies, being on the receiving end of some pretty hilarious answers like a thicker scalp or even uneven limb lengths (yes, someone actually said that). After I was finished, Adit extended those physical changes to changes in reproductive organs which helped explain the concept of anatomy quite fluently. While there were some initial turning heads and giggles, a few prepared jokes of ours, along with the seriousness in our tone, managed to keep things under control. We kept piping in at regular intervals to ensure they understood everything, often asking them to give us a loud cheer to keep their energy high.
Krishna carried forward the heavier part of the talk by giving a detailed view of the menstrual cycle and its irregularity. This topic took the longest for the children to successfully digest. Taking into account all of our inputs, he showed them how sanitary pads work and answered personal inquiries like what symptoms one should worry about when their sister or mother is menstruating. Furthermore, we also learnt how some kids themselves bought pads for their mothers and sisters, which was inspiring to hear.
The last portion on pain, feelings and sex was picked up by Yug, who, with his witty humour, made the section quite fun for all of us. His section on consent and sexual assault ended our talk on a considerably serious note. The children agreed with our views on it. They repeated the importance of consent aloud to further reiterate this idea. Our idea of a pictorial explanation proved to be of value as it helped the students to be able to comfortably identify the different reproductive organs and, by the end, explain their uses.
We also conducted a survey at the end to test the extent of change we were able to bring in the boys’ mindsets. Far from expected, the students got almost all of the questions right except the one asking whether periods were a disease, which was a notion we wanted to dispel but visibly failed to. To their surprise, we also brought chocolates, and sweets for them, which they more than happily devoured, bringing great joy to us. As the children started leaving the room, they complimented our initiative and gave us high-fives for whatever we had done for them. It was at that moment we knew we had made a difference in the lives of those children. Overall, it was a great learning experience for the entire team. We all were profoundly satisfied with the small contributions we had made towards the beginning of a much more aware and understanding society.
Here are some links for you to check out Voice of Slum’s work:
Good talk, peeps.
Article by Aadi Raj Dewan from the REDefine team