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A Summer Camp Of Horrors: What Happens To ‘Troubled’ Teenagers Who ‘Need A Quick-fix’

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By Reshma Valliappan:

Summer camps are often a thrilling time for kids. It’s those fun moments where a teenager gets to discover their wild side in the wilderness. Every camp specializes in certain outdoor activities based on where they are located. It could be trekking, climbing hills, kayaking, camping, singing songs around a fire, telling ghost stories, getting a crush, learning to cook without a stove. These are just a few.

Image source: Reshma Valliappan
Image source: Reshma Valliappan

However, there are camps that offer the complete opposite. These are basically for troubled teenagers who otherwise spend most of their regular school days doing all of the above while their friends are studying. The camps meant for these kids are devoid of animals and wildlife. There is no climbing, rafting, telling stories, listening to songs and music, or any emotional connections which would be allowed. They are called boot camps or correctional camps. Although they aren’t necessarily named so. Correctional camps are used for many purposes. Highly influenced by military training techniques – some even rely on “quick-fix” solutions. Children who are sent here are considered “lost cases” and parents feel that they have lost all control over these kids. In order to regain control of their children – these subtle named camps work with teenagers using behaviour modification. If you have studied psychology, in those wonderful stupid books of yours, thinking a little bit of Pavlov and Watson makes you an awesome two faced helper – think again.

As a teenager, I had run away from home and begun cutting myself at a very young age. Added to this list was my self-destructive behaviour and recklessness. This topped up with the layer of being tomboyish, playing basketball and being a flirt at a very young age qualified me as a highly appropriate candidate for one such camp. The most important trigger here was when a psychiatrist told my parents I was a boy stuck in a girl’s body. This jolted the daylights out of my parents, putting them into a crisis every day when they saw their daughter showing all the traits the shrink had told them. No surprise that many other parents were in the same boat, as it must have been their collective helplessness that had them throw us in the same camp.

I saw kids walking in, being held tightly by their parents. Some had this fear on their faces which made them look as red as tomatoes, almost like they had been crying on their way here or had most probably been slapped to get here. Mom said, “We”ll see you on the last day” Mr.Crater Face made it very clear to us that there was no escape. While he was introducing himself, I clearly remember how he glanced at some of the boys in the room. He picked on them and told them their pretty faces weren’t going to get them anywhere in life. I was put in the first group and he called us the “difficult attention seeking, good for nothing trouble makers”. As he approached one kid after the other, we heard crying. Some kids had started howling even. Every night we were watched and, we watched. And every night one of us tried comforting the other but simply could not.

The next day he stood and stared at me. Then asked me to make a circle and asked, “Are you a girl or a boy?” “I am a girl” “Really?” “Yes” He asked me to circle again. This time I saw my roommate in tears. I couldn’t understand why though. He made me make another circle and said, “I don’t see anything on you that says you are girl.” He looked at the others and made me stand in different positions.

Does she look like a girl to you?” He asked again, “Where does it show that she is a girl? Does she look like a girl from the back? If you saw her from the back (he made me stand with my back facing them) would you think she is a girl or boy?” They replied, “Boy”. My lips clamped together and I had no answer when he asked me, “Are you a girl or a boy?”

What really happened in between those days are better left forgotten. I don’t know where the rest of the kids are. I don’t know if they even survived after that. We were turned into robots in just one week. (Taken from Fallen Standing; My Life As A Schizophrenist)

I don’t know if I should be happy to be alive or grateful to have forgotten other days of the camp or blessed to be able to tell my story after 20 years. My 15 year old self is still stuck somewhere and I’ve let them both (the girl and the boy) live through me because there can be no other way.

I still do wonder what happened to those kids from my camp. I wonder if they’ve grown as I have. Or if they took their own lives. Or have they just remained robots without any memory. I know Mr.CraterFace is a big name now in my country. I did google him. He is on Facebook spreading the message of love on large platforms. I think I will be blessed if our paths never cross because my 15 year old self might do something I wouldn’t want.

There is nothing I can do to undo anything but only know my purpose and find my own meaning in life. I can only hope that every parent who feels they are losing control of their teenager reads this. Many people don’t even know such camps exist and many parents don’t know what happens in them. It always is too late by the time they do know. We only hear about stuff like this in movies – but movies are based on many true accounts. Every reckless, troubled, disturbed teenager is already living their lives as free spirits. We are called rebels because you expect us to fit into the framework as other children do. Don’t try to correct us because we will grow up hating ourselves or you. Change the social constructs around teenagers and children. Take out time to know the person inside.

For wannabe psychologists who think they know better, every ‘research’ out there on classical conditioning, is a child’s life. Every theory based on psychological experiments cost a child his or her emotional and sexual life. Every label you think you want to use on us, to enable us, to understand our conditions better gives someone else the power to continue such behaviour modifications. There is no monitoring system for the human mind and the abuse against it.

The field of psychology and psychiatry needs an entire course on developing a conscience before learning anything else.

I only wish for humans to develop a collective conscience and humanity.

This article was originally published here.

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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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