Sexuality Education Workshop in Kannada – Mysore

Our day began as early as 5:30 am on a Sunday when Charu picked us- Jasmine, Kiran and Aruna up. Jasmine had earlier insisted that we bring Kiran along since the presence of a man changes the way young boys listen and respond to a session, especially facilitated by women. I have learnt this to be true myself.

We landed up in Mysore where Chaitra and Mangala guided us into the community where Buguri is situated. The amount of space there for children amazed an urban space person like me which allowed me to look more into how spaces and behaviours, especially of children are so intertwined. Buguri Mysore is a tiny space and decorated very beautifully with art works made by the children. The atmosphere felt extremely warm and inviting.

There were about 15 children in the age group of 9-16 years and their curious younger siblings peeping from the window, who were ready for the workshop to begin. They were clearly prepared earlier for the session, seeming very eager and some, having skipped their breakfast. The 4 of us had squeezed ourselves between the children along with Chaitra and Mangala. Jasmine had already begun asking their names and it amazed me how in 10 minutes she had managed to remember most of them! She was also asking them who their favourite actor and actress were, later corrected by the children to ‘heroin’. At this point is when I realised that the session had already begun. Seemingly effortless and quietly warming up the children. The idea seemed to get the children to speak. The following questions were about make-up, what makes an actor ‘average’, beauty parlours, bullying and love. The role of gender and the opinions of the boys and girls were addressed subtly and with very minimal judgement. Jasmine was also careful not to ‘correct’ what politically may seem as ‘wrong’ answers.
The girls seemed to share very similar ideologies on these topics bordering feminism. Their responses and standpoints being very mature for their age. While the boys, had very mixed responses from- girls as bullies cannot be given a second chance, boys can be; boys should say no to dowry; boys don’t wear make-up because they aren’t girls. And interestingly, there were moments of exchange between the boys who answered differently trying to get one to see the other’s point of view. And this happened very conversationally.

Audio Podcasts as a tool

 

These discussions were combined with the playing of 2 podcasts made by Hidden Pockets followed by a discussion of the same. One podcast was on bullying in a school discussed between two friends that was later escalated to the faculty who handled it in the school assembly without outing the bully. The discussion followed with the children stating how important it is to address an issue in a more general sense in a school space rather than picking out the child at fault resulting in their embarrassment.

The second podcast was on growing up through an introduction to menstruation explained by a mother to her daughter with the growth of a tree as a metaphor. It also addressed changes in the body of teenagers and reassuring that changes are normal. The children reacted by discussing how some of them and their older siblings now have pimples.

This on one hand, with the verbally strong, there were some children who were very shy. Jasmine opened out to them an option of writing down their thoughts and queries without a need to mention their names. This was more than welcome in the group.

This time they took to write also meant that some would sneak out for a quick snack!
Soon after, Chaitra began to read the questions and I was wondering what this session had spiraled out into. The answers would definitely mean another session! The children were eager to know more on a range of subjects- child marriage, menstruation, friendships and medical help. Jasmine patiently responded to them all also keeping in mind to be sensitive while addressing the group as some content may not be suitable for the 9-10 year olds in the group, to be spoken explicitly.

We ended the workshop very warmly with Chaitra and Mangala handing us crepe paper flowers made by the children with their name tags on. As like one child said “Preeti manassinda barbeku” (“Love should come from the heart”), we left with hungry tummies and love in our hearts.

About Buguri:
Buguri (‘Spinning top’ in Kannada) is a community library for the children of the waste collectors currently in 4 locations in Karnataka- Banashankari and Hebbal in Bangalore, Mysore and Tumkur. Buguri is a Hasiru Dala (‘Green Force’ in Kannada) initiative, an organisation based out of Bangalore that works for the welfare of the informal waste collectors in Karnataka.
Buguri runs with a primary aim to work with the children in the age group of 6 to 16 years, in the waster collector’s community through books. The idea was to introduce a no-fee and a fun library space as a means to open them up to the magic of books and explore the empowerment it gives to young and fresh minds.

 

Author : Aruna

Image Courtesy : Kiran Sopanam.

Pleasure Pockets: Backpacking around Menchukha in Arunachal Pradesh, God’s Own Valley

The road is my home, and of recent months, I’ve had the pleasure of exploring some remote rural areas in the North Eastern region of India. Though each destination offered a unique experience, Menchukha is the one place which stood out in my treasure box and I found the need to pen down a few words about it.

The literal meaning of Menchukha is ‘medicinal water of snow’, and as the name suggests, this hidden corner overflows with fresh water. This is a refreshingly exquisite valley located on the far North Eastern region of India, near the Indo-China border, in the state of Arunachal Pradesh – commonly referred to as the ‘Land of the Rising Sun’.

At 6000ft, this magical valley promises to satisfy all our soul searching dream destination quests. The small hillocks surrounding the valley changes colour every season, and is further surrounded by pine forests and snow capped mountains, making it a different world on its own. A river flowing through the town, the banks of which is painted by bright and colourful cottages, this is a must visit for nature lovers, people looking for some adventures, and peace and quiet. Well, I already did, and finally striked it off my bucket list, only to put it back.

However, everything comes with a price. As blessed as it is with immense beauty, life is hard here. It is not a suitable place for cultivation, and there is less avenues for employment. Local entrepreneurs travel more than 300kms to bring basic commodities. Thus, it is understandable that everything is costly. Should the readers wish to visit, I urge you not to lament at the high rates (higher than the market price), rather buy from there if you have cash to spare, carry those clothes you don’t want to wear anymore if you don’t mind an extra baggage, to donate, and help the locals – the caretakers of this beautiful valley.

Nonetheless, for low budget travellers and volunteers, we have a good news : Meet Mibom Dirchi, an indomitable lady who, as is the case of all visitors, fell in love with the valley when she first visited in 2001, and was equally disturbed by the low living standard and the lack of opportunities of the locals. Not one to leave it as they were, she returned in 2009 – not to visit, but to open a non-profit school and live there permanently.

Against all odds, she opened the school as a single lady in a patriarchal society, overcoming numerous challenges. The school now has 114 students with 14 hostellers. As a non profit school, students receive education at nominal fees. But she also have 16 students from the poverty backgrounds who are receiving free education. One significant feature of the school is the inclusion of free mid-day meal, sponsored by her friends and well wishers.

Mibom is now married and is managing the school with the help of her amazingly supportive husband, who, together hosted me for three memorable days.

As a non-profit school, Mibom Dirchi offers volunteer opportunity for travellers for any amount of time, where volunteers teach the students (academics, life skills, skill development, etc) for fooding and lodging. Sounds like an interesting experience to take a dip on, isn’t it?

Due to lack of travel companies, allow me to make it simple for interested readers. One may make your travel plans with Mibom at mibomdirchi@yahoo.in (posting with due permission). An initial plan of one-day trip stretched to three days, yet, there were more I couldn’t explore. That’s how much this tiny valley offers. Spending time to experience a new culture was one, immersing in God’s majestic creations was another. In a way, the valley unconsciously helped me reconnect with myself. If you’re anything like me, this is a destination to visit. Trust me. It would all be worth it. Because… I’m already making plans to go back.

To make your travel plans, one may reach Mibom at mibomdirchi@yahoo.in

Note: As a protected area, one needs a permit to travel to Arunachal which is easily available at all district headquarters and state bhavans in different cities of the country.

About the writer:

Nokho Nyekha is a coffee addict, a nature lover and independent researcher of indigenous traditions.

Photo credit: Nokho Nyekha