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Our Meeting with Mr. Amitav Virmani

Following the survey at the SETU Organization in Noida, we visited Mr. Amitav Virmani, founder CEO of ‘The Education Alliance’ who helped us shape the message behind our campaign.

Dear reader,

Following the survey at the SETU Organization in Noida, we visited Mr. Amitav Virmani, founder CEO of ‘The Education Alliance’. It is an NGO based in India with the objective of enabling quality education through partnerships between the government and the NGO sector.

The meeting was, in short, enlightening. We responded promptly to questions about our mission, short-term goals, and the reason behind creating the campaign. However, it was an incredibly scattered response- that was the first thing that had to be changed. What is our goal in one crisp sentence? It’s to spread awareness about menstruation to underprivileged girls. Does this encompass everything we will do in the coming years? Probably not. For instance, we want to conduct more surveys, preferably with older women, to gather accounts on their experiences with menstruation. But that short sentence had to tell people what we do immediately.

We proceeded to tell him about the survey we took that morning with the SETU organization girls (click here to read about it). He listened with interest and helped us understand what may have been the problems in the survey and how we can improve it. He also introduced us to Sukhibhava, another NGO that spreads awareness about menstruation around India, so that we could learn about how to approach both girls and women about this highly tabooed topic.

We discussed expanding our talks to the government schools under the Education Alliance. Having spoken about where the stigmas surrounding menstruation arise from, Mr. Virmani explained the benefits of talking to the parents of his students. This is a highly sensitive topic with taboos stemming from a combination of religion and tradition. Telling parents, without offending them, which traditions are better done without, will be an incredibly hard task to be done by a few eleventh graders. Nonetheless, it is something that needs to be done or at least attempted.

The meeting was successful not only because we learned a lot more about the work we are doing and on how we can improve it, but also because we were introduced to different ideas and possibilities in terms of field-work.

Stay tuned for more coming-of-age NGO tales (which will tell you a lot about the deep-rooted problem we’re combatting) and projects from us!

Tara from the REDefine Team


Check out the NGO that is bringing students, teachers, and life to empty government schools: http://www.theeducationalliance.org

Take a look at Sukhibhava and learn about their Period Fellowship: http://sukhibhava.org.in


Conducting the Period Survey with the SETU Girls

The first “Period Survey”, as we call it, was conducted with the girls of SETU Shikshajyoti Kendra in Noida. Here’s a post on our experience.

As we walked through the busy shops towards the SETU Foundation’s Shikhshajyoti Kendra, our eagerness was palpable. Armed with our 60 printed surveys, we were excited to meet the girls and to hit another milestone – the REDefine Campaign’s second collaboration! This was the first time we had visited the school, and all in all,  it was truly an endearing yet eye-opening experience.

The SETU Foundation is an organisation which helps promote the growth and learning of the youth of India, especially for the girl child. As we walked through the gates of their school in Noida, we were impressed by its sheer size and the immediate warmth of its environment.

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We walked into the office of the Program Director of SETU Foundation, Ms. Jyotsna Srivastava, who the team had been in contact with. She suggested that we first have a look around the classrooms to acquaint ourselves with the students and school. She also suggested we do the survey for the girls from grades six to ten.

We divided amongst ourselves the grades allotted to us. With the majority of the team having a concerning level of discomfort with Hindi, we practiced what we would say to them under our breaths. Ultimately, Anshika and Jhanvi decided to visit sixth grade first, while Ritika and Tara went to the other classrooms.

When we first entered the classrooms, we noticed the incredibly evident sex ratio. It was a pleasant surprise to see many more girls than boys in the classes. We were also welcomed by the teachers graciously, even though we were interrupting their class time. We outlined the aims of our survey to the students in the simplest way possible (and with great difficulty, explained to the boys why this survey wasn’t for them). The class was immediately enveloped in jittery whispers, but when we asked the class how many of the girls there had gotten their period, an uncomfortable silence fell. Even though a single child reluctantly raised her hand, we understood many of them hadn’t gotten their period and did not push further.

Having noticed the awkward glances at each other, we changed our tactic. When the girls were reluctant to raise their hand again in seventh grade, Tara raised her own hand, and so did the rest of the team, encouraging more students to raise their hands. This helped them view us as equals and not just people from another NGO “trying to make a change”.

The girls began filling the surveys out and began discussing the questions with each other. This was may have helped them understand the questions better if they were too shy to ask us. At the same time, it may have been one of the major roadblocks we had to our survey. Had they been discussing answers, the results of our survey would have been quite unreliable.

However, in terms of asking us questions and trying to understand the survey, the girls were quite open and free, raising their hands politely to get our attention.  As we walked from class to class, we read some of the answers and were surprised by the list of things that they could not do on their period, including not eating sour things, not standing in between boys, etc. The students of tenth grade were all female which made the general atmosphere of the class much less tense. They had already studied menstrual health and hygiene, understood the questions easily, and didn’t discuss their answers with others.

Conducting the survey was successful because we were able to identify what would need to be spoken about with the respective classes and how this would be done. However, the results had yet to be analyzed, which would, in turn, develop our surveying techniques and the way we frame our thoughts. Keep reading to follow our journey with the girls from SETU!

Meher from The REDefine Team

The Period Survey for the SETU Foundation: Planning

In hopes of conducting a workshop with SETU Foundation, we decided to conduct a survey about periods with the girls in Setu Shikshajyoti Kendra. Here’s a bit on the thought put into the survey.

Dear reader,

As we sent countless emails to NGOs around Delhi and Noida wondering if our workshops on menstrual health and hygiene would be helpful, we weren’t surprised when we received no response barring one email that said our services weren’t needed. Our spirits did rise when the SETU Foundation responded saying the workshop could be held in their school in Nithari (a village in Noida) called the SETU Shikshajyoti Education Kendra.

The SETU Foundation is an organization that works to make permanent changes to the lives of the underprivileged or the less fortunate. This is done in terms of hygiene, education for all, youth development, women empowerment as well as skill development and rehabilitation. SETU stands for “Skill and Empower the Un-Served”, and interestingly, means “bridge” in Hindi.

This was greeted with much enthusiasm from the team. When are we going to the school to meet the girls? How many girls are there? Who are we going to collaborate with? How much do the girls know? Before we jumped the gun, Ritika suggested we conduct a survey with the girls. We were informed that they could read and write English reasonably well but, knowing our team, we remained skeptical while constructing the survey.

We debated whether the survey was to be aimed at sparking thought about menstruation and the taboo around it or simply retrieving information to aid the talks we were going to give. It was decided that its primary aim was to get information. Some questions, like what they weren’t allowed to do on their period, could possibly make some girls consciously think about the restrictions imposed on them while on their period: but we weren’t expecting much. Ultimately, the survey was aimed at extracting information on the following things:

  • at what age they found out what periods were
  • who told them about periods
  • what they use on their periods
  • whether they attend school on their period
  • what they aren’t allowed to do on their period

There were a million outcomes we could think of; the many ways the survey wouldn’t go as planned. We could only find out after we went to the school the next day.

Tara from The REDefine Team

The First Talk: Our Collaboration with Parkshala

The team’s first outing with students from Parkshala

Dear reader,

We had our first talk with a group of roughly fifteen girls who became the most patient audience. They were students being tutored by an NGO known as Parkshala™.

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Parkshala™ is a charitable organization in Noida that tutors students who belong to a lower financial class and, in their own words, aim to “bridge the educational and moral gap between economically weak children and their affluent peers”.  We spoke to Priya Gupta, who teaches these students, and asked her whether we could talk to the girls who had had their periods as well as those who hadn’t. We were certain the girls would be a tad bit uncomfortable talking about menstruation in front of a boy, as they were. We wanted to show these girls that boys ought to be aware and sympathetic towards menstruation too. Not only should the topic be openly discussed with girls, it should be spoken about with everyone comfortably– and that it isn’t too much to hope for.

The three of us had planned to divide the biology portion, hygiene, myths, and taboos surrounding periods among ourselves. However, as the talk progressed, our aim became simply to make them understand and that led us all to interject and help each other out. We cracked jokes every now and then and received nervous chuckles, but it definitely helped break the ice. However, it was undoubtedly hard to vocalize certain terms relating to this topic in Hindi, but we were fortunate enough to have Parkshala’s own students help us explain the concept.

One thing we hadn’t anticipated was having to talk about sex. We had to explain the reason behind ovaries producing egg cells once a month; a concept we should have prepared before. Although they understood to an extent (especially with our hasty extempore), it was subsequently added to the talk. This experience however, has added to our knowledge and we are now prepared to talk about any thing relating to the topic of menstruation.

Upon concluding our talk, we distributed reusable pads made by Eco Femme. Our choice of pads had been mulled over for a long time. Reusable pads, if taken care of, can be used for 3 to 5 years. All that had to be done was a good soak overnight. Was there a higher chance of a rash or an infection? Both, yes and no. Cloth pads are softer, have fewer chemicals than the regular disposable pads we use and consequently have a lower probability of causing irritation. At the same time, these pads have to be washed at home. The water can be unsterile. There’s a possibility the pads aren’t cleaned for the appropriate time period. Storing conditions may be unhygienic. It really depends on the user. But, is it an eco-friendly option? Yes. Is it cost-effective? Definitely. These pads were received with mild curiosity and eagerness. It was a particularly satisfying moment. We noted down the names of the girls and the days they get their periods.

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We returned two weeks later to ask about the performance of the pads. Only one girl had used it so far but she gave a worrying review. The first day, she said, the pads were incredibly comfortable and she couldn’t tell she was wearing one. After only using a brush and water (not using the soaking method our team had prescribed), the pad began to irritate her skin. We immediately told them not to use the pads if that was the outcome. Although it was cleaning the pad that had been done incorrectly, other girls could make the same mistake and face the same problem.

The next time we visited the girls in the park, was to distribute biodegradable, disposable pads. These pads had been suggested by a resident in the society who claimed to know self-help group that manufactured these pads. Having received these pads, the team was eager to see what they looked like. What we saw left us in shock. Black and yellow stains decorated the surface of the pads and what seemed to be the absorbent material. It didn’t absorb the water we dropped on it. Once again, we recalled these pads from the girls: it would be too much to risk giving them these.

Although our interactions with the girls were short, we learned a lot as a team. Our agenda became far more solidified. We delved into research and poster-making to improve our content and resources.  This is our first experience as a team. It wasn’t a complete success, but unlike numerous groups and corporations, we are willingly sharing our short-comings. This will help fellow campaigners improve their own work and learn from the mistakes we made.

-The REDefine Group


We urge you to check out Parkshala’s work here: Parkshala on Facebook

Here are the promised links to the reusable pads we distributed in case you would like to purchase them: Reusable Pads by Eco Femme

Building a Social Movement from the Rubble

Here is the debutante of the REDefine campaign and how we began this program.

Dear reader,

We are elated to share this campaign with you and, if possible, inspire you to do the same in your own locality. As a team, we had very little to kickstart this campaign, and that’s why we decided to begin a blog. It served many purposes in our eyes: sharing our progress with the campaign, spreading the knowledge we have gained, and showing you the importance of being comfortable with topics like menstruation and female puberty. Although it isn’t our main objective, this blog will aid those in need of guidance to begin a campaign like this, from rock bottom.

After a lot of thought, we decided our campaign’s primary motives: spreading awareness about the biology behind menstruation, maintaining one’s hygiene while menstruating and debunking myths and taboos surrounding it. At the same time, we wish to provide better quality pads to the best of our abilities — and only to specific groups of girls. This will allow them to gain a perspective of the kinds of material they ought to use when menstruating because one must recognise that many will not have access to branded products like ‘Whisper’ and ‘Stayfree’.

However, to purchase pads, we had to go fundraising. Going from door to door, explaining what we aimed to do to people who may or may not be conservative was a challenging, but interesting task. It is normal to encounter people who are suspicious of your campaign, those who claimed to have already donated to another NGO and don’t feel the need to contribute to another, those who will give three coins as well as those who give nothing at all. Now and then, you will find a generous donor who will understand and support your cause. Luckily, we found more than five! With a small poster about our aims, the stigma around menstruation in India, and a red cylinder for the money we collected, we were more successful than we had hoped.

We were encouraged to continue making posters and eventually painted the female reproductive organ on an A3 sheet as well as paintings of what different types of period blood looks like and what it indicates. From there, we began our actual field work for the first time.

Stick with us a bit longer, why don’t you?

The REDefine Team