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How I Am Using Storytelling In Bihar’s Classrooms To Bring About Social Change

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By Naman Bansal:

Creative wall 2 (1)Let me tell you a story about a very shy child named Satyam. A child who had been bullied by his classmates, many times. One day when I asked him to tell me a story, he painted a beautiful landscape with mountains, clouds, rivers and a home. But there was a twist in this tale. On top of the mountain, stood a group of people. But what were they doing out in the rain? I wondered. “They are the Gods of rain, who bring us water every year for the food we grow and eat,” said this quiet boy, whose creativity and thinking never ceases to amaze me.

Satyam is one of the many children I have met during my 13-month SBI Youth For India Fellowship in the villages of Bihar. These children have started expressing themselves through the stories they tell. But this was not always the case.

During my initial days in the villages, when I would try to talk to the children, their minds would wander. So, one day, I asked if they wanted to hear a story. Almost immediately, I had their attention, and by the end of the session, they were the ones telling me the stories.

An Unlikely Equaliser

So, here I am working at a government school in the Muzaffarpur district of Bihar working on my project ‘Palak‘, which kicked off with the idea of using storytelling in the classroom to bring about social change. I was also hoping to enhance their creative skills by introducing the children to a world where they could be themselves – the world of stories.

The beautiful thing about storytelling is that it transcends many barriers. For one, differences in the reading and writing abilities of the children, as well as boundaries like caste and creed.

Stories also prepare you for the future without you even realising it. As I read Munshi Premchand’s ‘Nasha in school, I could not have imagined the long lasting impact its message would have on me, one which I would implement when making some of the most crucial decisions of my life. That is the power of great stories.

Yet, we do not use them as much in the classroom. Perhaps, because of their non-complex nature (we tend to think of simple things as worthless). However, I am a great believer in the power of storytelling. And so, over the next few months in the school, we told many stories, some with key messages on hygiene, empathy, and other life lessons.

Thinking Beyond

This approach to learning has had many benefits. But unleashing the imagination has proved to be the greatest one. During our very first painting session, we did not have enough paintbrushes. But Sunny, a Class VII student devised a brilliant idea; he suggested we make paintbrushes using broomsticks and paper.

My paint brush (1)

Was it a sustainable invention? It did not matter. What mattered was that within minutes every one of us had a paint brush in our hands, and we got lost in telling our own stories.

To make things more interesting, I asked storyteller and traveller Kumar Shaw to work with me, and we dabbled with the idea of bringing out a magazine. The children loved the idea and christened it ‘Palak’. They divided themselves into groups of those who could write, draw and paint stories; those who could make paper puppets and tell stories through them, and others who could collect general knowledge about the village and the country, and other interesting nuggets. Within two hours we had collected many great stories, even a joke column, and that was how ‘Palak’ was launched!

Palak Magazine (1)

A Model Classroom

Six months into the project, my vision is to now build a model classroom, one that is equipped with computers, and where storytelling and creativity are at the centre of it all. Where children have access to a library with over 500 story books and a drawing board to display their creative work. To help turn this vision into a reality, I ran a pan-India crowdfunding campaign, and within 40 days we collected a sum of close to INR 250,000! Since then, I have also arranged four computers, and the children are now becoming computer-savvy.

A major positive effect of this project is that it has brought the school, the community, and the children, to work together. In fact, post the crowdfunding campaign, the community has taken up the responsibility of supporting this initiative.

Breaking Stereotypes

Before I joined the fellowship, I had spent a few months in the corporate sector writing codes and when I decided to leave, I was told by many that I had made a big mistake. Since then I have asked myself a simple question, many times over, “Will I regret this decision?” The answer is a resounding “No,” every single time.

On a personal note, the fellowship gave me a chance to question the image of Bihar projected by the media and people, in general. Contrary to this, I have never been looted or held at a gunpoint. And the people here are caring, loving, intelligent. Yes, there are problems but then problems are everywhere.

On a professional note, I have had the opportunity to develop a multitude of skills. But most importantly, this fellowship has taught me how to lead from the front. This is the most valuable because though we are getting more and more job-ready as graduates, what we really need is to be able to choose a path that helps us solve genuine problems. This, I believe is a very serious issue. Hopefully, my story may inspire at least one person out there to take up a challenge and do something to help spearhead change in this great nation of ours.

Also read: How I Found My True Calling After I Left The ‘Rat Race’ To Work In A Village.

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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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