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