Our First Session at Auxilium Snehalaya

Our first talk at Auxilium Snehalaya tested our own boundaries of transparency and gave us the opportunity to interact with an insightful group of girls in Dwarka, Delhi.

There has always been a degree of extempore in the sessions we conduct with the girls, but never to the extent with which we conducted this one. Don’t worry, I assure you we always rehearse our talk before going to the home or NGO. The impromptu sections depend on how comfortable our audience appears. If they reach a limit and are simply too scandalised by menstruation or copulation, our speeches begin to fall on deaf ears. So, we slow down and start afresh. However, that didn’t stop us from wondering where our sessions would lead if there were no such limit. Ironic though it may be, Auxilium Snehalaya, a very Catholic establishment, gave us the answer.

Our earlier post about the survey we conducted here painted a picture of the corner of Dwarka we had entered. Having met the eager girls before, it was easier to connect with them. I noticed a camaraderie between the girls I hadn’t seen during other talks. There was more conversation between them (which had proven to be a problem when conducting the survey), more poking fun at each other, and more welcome to a new group of girls.

We began with a video that helped us explain the parts of the female reproductive system and, specifically, how fertilisation occurs. This was a bit of an experiment because fertilisation is much harder to picture than we thought. The girls were clearly visual learners and the video even helped them remember the terminology better. We noticed this when we asked them questions after the video. The only drawback was that circling the laptop was quite time-consuming. So it’s reasonable to use this resource only with a small group of girls.

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Tara in need of attention.

As it turned out, the girls were quite familiar with the need for hygiene and, having received sanitary pads in the orphanage, were familiar with the level of cleanliness required. The passing of the pad, a little REDefine Talk Tradition (patent pending) to demonstrate how the pad works, was met with little resistance from the girls. However, as always, there were few who abstained from holding it. There was a hearty “pad hi toh hai!” (“it’s just a pad!”) from one girl. While we agree that it is just a pad, pushing an individual’s comfort boundaries is not necessarily the right approach to educating them on a sensitive topic like this. We corrected her imposition and emphasised the importance of respecting people’s boundaries.

This back-and-forth set up a candid discussion about taboos related to menstruation. Many agreed that menstruation is a natural part of a female’s life and is nothing to be ashamed of. The consequent influx of questions took us by surprise, but we welcomed them eagerly. We discussed the horrors of cramps, how period blood can be brown and how Tara thought she had accidentally taken a dump the first time she saw brown blood. A frank discussion about sex and the importance of contraception led to some important questions being answered: the appropriate age for sexual intercourse, whether you have to be in love with your sexual partner, and whether one should abstain before marriage. It became interesting, though, when we were suddenly interrogated about our own love lives. “Uske paas toh hai,” (“She definitely has one.”) announced one girl, pointing at Ritika. It was met with general agreement and silent protest from a startled Ritika.

We need to hire a professional photographer.

The question of sexuality arose when we briefly addressed the heteronormativity of our talks – in reality, the person another is sexually attracted to can belong to the same sex. Although a few looked at it with hostility, one girl vehemently argued in favour of loving whoever you want to. Ideally, we wish everyone was tolerant of people with differing sexualities, but we were glad there wasn’t an uncomfortable silence after this conversation. They stated their opinions with ease and were also open to changing these opinions with ease.

There’s something about how quickly they began to trust us that makes me smile thinking about it. We were allowed into their world: joking about their friend’s short haircut, speculating about whether the girl to my left had a boyfriend (I think there was growing consensus that she did).

Although we deviated greatly from the path we had planned, I think I speak for the entire team when I say we are grateful for being able to have these conversation with the girls at Auxilium Snehalaya. Exchanging perspectives and opinions from individuals with two very different backgrounds is beneficial to everyone, us included. It reminded me why we began this campaign in the first place.

Until next time,

Jhanvi from the REDefine Team

Check out and support the work going on at Auxilium Snehalaya: https://www.facebook.com/auxilium.snehalaya

Conducting the Survey at Auxilium Snehalaya

Auxilium Snehalaya, an orphanage in Palam Colony, opened their doors to the REDefine Campaign and allowed us to conduct a survey with their girls.

Sister Gracy stood on the doorstep of the orphanage and waved at us. After taking a few turns, we had wandered across to a set of gates belonging to the Don Bosco Ashalayam until we spotted Sister Gracy. The Auxilium Snehalaya orphanage hides behind two humble brown doors in the lanes of Palam Colony — the only indication that we were in the right place. The neighbourhood was adorned with palm trees of electric poles and cables which is so characteristic of our urban cities.

We were seated in a little waiting room where Sister Gracy asked about our mission and our work. I couldn’t help but look at the glass-enclosed bookshelves that covered the walls. We spotted our Dan Browns and Jeffrey Archers all the way to Geronimo Stiltons and Enid Blytons. We’ve sat in many NGOs, but none as oriented towards literature as this one.

Once the girls had collected in the room, we were asked to give them a short introduction to the survey, so that they were prepared for the questions that were to follow. We then gave the girls a brief on what the REDefine campaign was, and what the survey was about. Although our survey consisted of questions about periods, it was open to girls who had not had their period as well.

If you’ve read our previous articles, you would be familiar with the biggest problem we face while conducting surveys: discussion among girls. This happened less with the 16 girls we surveyed, but it happened regardless. Nonetheless, the girls enthusiastically made conversation with us and asked us how old we were, where we were from, whether we’d come back and whether they were correct in saying women don’t have periods when they’re pregnant — “maine bola tha!” (“I told you so!”)

The results of the survey are as follow:

Question 1
Question 2
Question 3
Question 4
Question 5
Question 6
Question 7
Question 8
Question 9
Question 10

With love,

Pranavi from the REDefine Team

Be sure to look out for this humble organisation: https://www.facebook.com/auxilium.snehalaya