Our Collaboration with Salaam Baalak Trust

Our second session at Salaam Baalak Trust was testament to how different a talk can be at the same institution.

Dear reader,

As you know by now, our articles serve as our own feedback  to develop our campaign. For this article, I’m trying a new format to present our feedback in a more constructive and concise manner., 

Future Advice #1: Document the names of the girls who attend our session each time. When we reached Salaam Baalak Trust for the second time, we were welcomed by smiles from faces familiar and new. Because we hadn’t written the names of the girls from our first talk, it took longer than usual to populate the little mats on the sunbathed roof. 

Future Advice #2: RLD (Response Language Detection) does work. If you find this term cool, it’s because I coined it. In our previous talks, we often struggled to understand which language our audience is more comfortable with when using scientific terminology. We came up with a strategy to overcome this – when introducing a body part on a diagram, we would teach them both the Hindi and English term for it. To test their knowledge, we would then ask them to name the body part as we pointed at it. The language the majority responded in indicated which one they were more comfortable with. For instance, we applied RLD by introducing the term for “vagina” in both languages, English and Hindi (“yoni”). When asked to respond, most referred to it as the “vagina”, suggesting we could use English terms later. 

RLD in action

Future Advice #3: Draw and carry diagrams for all biological topics that can be spoken about – ranging from the menstrual cycle to sexual intercourse. While our biological segment covers menstruation, a diagram depicting the menstrual cycle can help expand on the topic if our audience permits us to. “Permitting” is, of course, a vaguely interpreted term and we couldn’t rely on the possibility of questions to gauge how comfortable or curious our audience was. The seemingly less talkative girls intermittently nodded when we recounted our experiences with vaginal discharge, which we ascertained to be a green flag to elaborate on this phenomenon. Even though we were able to expand on vaginal discharge in terms of varying thickness and colour, a diagram would have proved more than helpful. When the concept of sex was met with a few confused looks, we were forced to rely on some classic hand gestures which, quite surprisingly, sent the message. 

Future Advice #4: Stick to the dispersed seating arrangement. As opposed to sitting next to each other as we did this session, we would politely ask our listeners whether they could scoot to the left a little bit – thank you, I’ll sit here, if you don’t mind. We’ve noticed that the shy, yet inquisitive, audience members take advantage of this arrangement and whisper their doubts to the nearest REDefine member while others are more vocal. This time, because we sat together, we only received questions that were addressed to the group (which were comparatively fewer). When bidding farewell to Salaam Baalak Trust, a girl approached me to ask about how height changes upon puberty. While I appreciated the question, I reflected on why she didn’t ask me during the talk. Perhaps it was because of our group arrangement. This really helped us identify how the simple subconscious act of scattering ourselves through our audience encouraged questions. 

Our collaboration with Salaam Baalak Trust was definitely a memorable one, showing us the effectiveness of new strategies and the importance of old habits. We look forward to implementing our learnings in future talks!

We’ll see you next time,

Ritika from the REDefine Team

Remember to check out and support the amazing work Salaam Baalak Trust is doing: https://www.salaambaalaktrust.com/

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

Our First Talk at the Amba Foundation

Our first talk with the girls at the Amba Foundation was one of the first talks we had in a classroom setup.

Dear reader,

The Amba Foundation, in its own words, focuses on education, skill-training, health and community-development of underprivileged women and children. It is an organisation hidden in the markets near a village called Mandawali. I say “hidden” because we got lost twice. It was in one of those infamous locations where Google Maps would allege that there was, in fact, a path through a wall and following said path would lead us to our destination. We fell in the same traps as the last time we had come here, so experience had not taught us much.

Their field office is on the second floor of a dusty building. However, this time, we were escorted to another building, further down the street. In typical Delhi fashion, it was adorned wires, uneven sidewalks, and red spots in odd spaces. However, we passed a mosque that appeared discordant in the busy market. Newly white-washed, the Masjid Fazle Ilahi’s deep green tiles glittered in the sun. While the passers-by were used to seeing it, it certainly turned our heads.

We arrived at a double-storied building, the first floor of which was occupied by young women herding the twenty odd girls who we were to talk to. We were soon welcomed into the room to find them seated on their desks and waiting patiently. Due to the lack of space, we were not able to sit in the circle setup we are comfortable with. We had a whiteboard behind us and we appeared as teachers to them. When we were greeted with a “ma’am”, we quickly denied the title.

Through our previous talks, we had learned the importance of “small talk” or establishing rapport with the girls. This time, it was especially necessary, given how much they looked at us as teachers. We also realised that we weren’t the only “teachers” in the room – a few young women from our earlier encounter flanked the walls at the back of the room.

While introducing the concept of puberty, we noticed these girls were generally more responsive compared to earlier groups we have spoken to. A few spoke about periods without hesitation – perhaps, they had learnt about it as a part of their school’s curriculum. However, many were reluctant to speak. When Ritika showed them a pad, some began to whisper and giggle. With each member holding the pad, we tried to explain to them that pads were. Even after these efforts, we could tell there remained some hostility towards the pad.

After pointing at our diagram of the female reproductive system, we looked up at our now silent audience. Ritika is infamous in our team for her untimely jokes with obscure references, and so her attempt to lighten the mood was met with slight confusion. I remember seeing Ritika peering expectedly at the girls, waiting for a laugh. She returned our gaze with mild embarrassment. Looking back, I realise it was so characteristic of Ritika’s interactions with people in general. At the time, of course, it caught us unawares. Flustered, we brought the conversation back to biology and segued into talking about taboos.

The taboos’ section is often approached with precaution because it can be odd having strangers dispute your cultural knowledge and address the silence around topics you didn’t know existed. To our surprise, it was much easier this time. This was because Pranavi suddenly realised using a role model would help them overcome their discomfort with menstruation. She reminded the group that our beloved Bollywood actresses like Alia Bhatt and Priyanka Chopra also advocated the need for conversation about periods. They were shameless and proud, qualities that allow people to be heard. Hearing the familiar names did eventually lighten the mood. They know these women, they’ve seen them on television and newspaper adverts. The game of ‘Chinese Whispers’ that we play to demonstrate how a story changes through generations was met with more excitement than usual. Perhaps having a large crowd for one session has its advantages.

Having concluded our talk, the teachers gave us feedback (for the first time, as far as I recall). They recommended that we shorten our biology section putting a greater focus taboos. We greatly appreciated their suggestions and even discussed future collaborations with them. If you have some suggestions too, we’d love to hear from you!

Signing off,

Jhanvi from the REDefine Team

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

The Survey at the ANK Foundation

Here are the results we collected from the survey we conducted at the ANK Foundation.

Two young boys guided Tara and me through the narrow, winding lanes of a little village in the middle of Noida. Tucked away behind a wall, the community buzzed in and out of local shops and living quarters. We crossed a marble mosque which shone a marvelous green in the middle of the comparatively colourless We grew slightly nervous with each step. How would the girls react? Would we be able to successfully explain our aim to them? Will we get credible results and be able to control any complications that might occur? Considering there were only two members, the possibilities were endless.

 ANK is an NGO designed to help provide learning facilities to children all over Delhi/NCR who aren’t able to afford or have access to quality education. In order to achieve this, ANK has created learning centers to promote their goal, and that was where we went. We entered a dark classroom adorned with colorful posters and met eleven girls who were hastily explained who we were and what we were there to do. As soon as the word ‘period’ was uttered, coy glances were shared; a response we’d become painfully familiar with.

The ritual hunt for pens and pencils and the search for comfortable places to sit preceded answering the survey. Our first problem would soon become a frequent visitor to surveys we’d conduct in the future: the students began to discuss their answers. We explained to them that the point of the survey was to establish some solid background information for our talk, but it is something that we should have kept in mind. We happened to be the least proficient in Hindi but it was a manageable situation. The students did their best to answer, and were not hesitant to call us if they did not understand any word or question. We were able to wrap up the survey in 20-30 minutes, and as the children cheerfully waved us goodbye, we were excited to see how the talk with ANK would go.

Here is the data we collected from the survey:

Question 2
Question 3
Question 4
Question 5
Question 6
Question 7
Question 8
Question 9
Question 10
Question 11
Question 12
Question 13
Question 14
Question 15
Question 17

Stick around!

Jhanvi from the REDefine Team