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Purti: The Hope for Learning to Those Shunned by Conventional Education Centres

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By Waled Aadnan:

Every school going child in India has read Rabindranath Tagore’s famous poem on his ideal India “Where the mind is without fear/And the head is held high”. Indeed, if that is the benchmark we all set ourselves then we are still far from attaining the ideal. But that does not deter some of us to use the above lines as a guiding light towards bettering the lives of others.

‘Purti’ is such an effort towards a fearless and dignified India. A special education needs school in Delhi; Purti caters to the needs of slow learners and children with learning disabilities. The word Purti means “to fulfil”, and aptly the school aims to fulfil the needs of children who are considered “special” by society. The initiative to start the school was taken by Ms. Ravinder Arora when she sought to provide a wholesome education to the “learning disabled” as distinguished from the “mentally disabled”. The immediate inspiration for Ms.

Arora was her own daughter, who was facing learning difficulties at St. Thomas’ School. At that time, most special schools in Delhi mixed the children who had learning difficulties with those who had extremely low IQ’s. Out of the need to provide what later came to be known as Specialized Education Environment (SEE), Purti was born on 16th May 1997 in a small flat in Ashok Vihar.

Nearly fifteen years down the line, Purti has a vision of its own and a structured system in place which provides individualised education to its students. The school accepts students who are not completely mentally disabled. Instead, they are in need of a specialized environment to pursue their academic goals which is not available to them in a conventional school. In other words, these children are “borderline intellects”, as Purti’s website www.purti.org claims. Although the distinction between learning disabled and mentally disabled may be an abstruse one to many, psychologists would categorise the students at Purti under the following categories:

1. Having Learning Disabilities
2. Autism
3. Slow Learners
4. Having Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
5. Having Attention Deficit Disorder
6. Physically Differently Abled
7. Having Cerebral Palsy

At Purti, the students are divided into groups based on their academic level, their age group and their need for individualized education, all the while maintaining a ratio of five children per educator. A child is given special individualized attention to assess the shortcomings in the basic academic areas before merging the student in an appropriate study group, thus introducing a SEE [Specialized Education Environment].

Purti focuses primarily on academics, eventually aiming to help the children clear their 10th and 12th examinations under the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS). The academic programs are designed within the school and aim to simultaneously achieve two major objectives: to strengthen the basic indispensable factors of core academics, and to secondarily extract the latent capabilities out of an individual. As such, the programs often include a combination of regular academics with pre-vocational skills training.

Besides, to provide a comprehensive education and to provide basic life skills to the children, Purti does not restrict itself to the classroom. Regular outings are organised which include visits to historical locations, educational sites or simply a restaurant, a shopping mall, grocery stores, banks, post offices or the Delhi Metro. The idea behind such outings is to acquaint the children with these locations and to enable them to perform regular social processes in such environments.

Purti places great emphasis on the role of parents and family members in helping the special child to gain acceptance within the society. Picnics with parents and siblings are organised to help the parents overcome their complexes pertaining to a member with special needs in the family. Besides, parents are kept in the loop as to the educational patterns adopted for their child and are also invited to attend workshops where eminent child psychologists and experienced speakers deal with queries, doubts and fears of the parents and siblings.

And all these efforts have certainly borne fruit for the school and the numerous children who have had an opportunity to overcome their disabilities and pursue a semblance of a normal childhood thanks to the efforts of Purti. Over 30 children have graduated from the centre after clearing their NIOS 10th and 12th examinations.

Rushi Gulati, a student at the school recently won a gold medal at the Beijing Special Olympics. Ragini, a former student who completed her 10th and 12th from the school is now a special educator herself and is an athlete member of the board of directors at the Special Olympics. The parents of Ekant Anand had lost all hope when he joined Purti from Springdales, Dhaula Kuan. Today, he is a computer expert who knows base level assembly language unknown to even computer engineering graduates. Rajdip Singh represented India at the Beijing Special Olympics 2007 in cricket and was one of only 7 athletes from all around the world to be featured. Ms. Arora’s daughter, Aastha, the first student of Purti herself cleared her NIOS examinations and went on to clear Nursery Teacher Training (NTT). Today Aastha herself teaches at Purti, helping out children who are faced with the same situation as she did a decade ago.

Purti hasn’t received a single grant till date despite being the only centre in Delhi /NCR that caters exclusively to children with learning difficulties but with educable abilities. Purti remains a story of a parent’s persistence and perseverance to provide a means of education and dignity to her daughter and other children like her. Shorn of attention and recognition, the school has silently transformed the lives of many learning disabled children in and around Delhi. Perhaps, the time has come for it to receive its due appreciation and support.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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