Writing Is Not Limited To Adults. Children Can Tell Stories Too!

Can kids write, and do their voices matter to an adult? Authorship is usually considered to be the domain of the latter and the word author conjures up the image of a grown up. When we club children and books together, it is only to goad the former on to read more because it is good for them.

We do not think of them as creators in their own right, as purveyors of something entirely fresh and original. Writing is something they are supposed to aspire to, not something they can seriously pursue in the present.

After all, they cannot perform feats like writing ten pages without punctuation errors or churning out something so abstract and incomprehensible that we are forced to applaud it as ‘great writing.’ And have they seen enough of life to write something of interest? What do they know of life, we ask; and by doing so, we at once give more credit to the insights of a jaded adult and discount the experiences of the young.

A child drawing. (Photo: pixnio)

Zuni Chopra, who wrote The House That Spoke at 15, said in an interview to The Telegraph “when I went to Goodreads to read the reviews about my book, a lot of them were like, ‘You know for a whil,e that it was written by a 17-year-old just kind of deterred me from picking it up…’ and I was like, ‘Firstly, I was 15 when I wrote it and did it really deter you? Did it?! Oh, I am so sorry about my age!'”

Adulthood is supposed to be the realm of the sure-footed. Once you arrive there, you are supposed to be able to make better sense of everything around you. We never admit the ridiculousness of this notion to children, nor reveal to them the farcical nature of the world of grown ups.

Yes, we want children to write. But it is just another injunction to excel at something in the long list of things we want them to be good at. Writing has, at last, become fashionable and therefore has acquired pride of place in this list. It is not frowned upon anymore because authors are now stars.

A writer is now considered successful by the standards of the world. They are no longer the lonely figure in opposition to the diktats of society. To use the words of Shelley, authors are no longer “like a poet hidden/in the light of thought”; they are public personalities, as much in the limelight as any other celebrity.

There is a case to be made for the value of writing by children. It is a means of correcting the skewed power relations between children and adults. It is the latter who are the custodians of right and wrong in every walk of life, which they then proceed to impart to children.

If literature can be defined as the representation of truth, then we believe that this truth can only be accessed by the adult consciousness. We do not think that the opposite may be true, that adults can derive a lesson or two from children and their stories.

But an essential rite of passage of adolescence is a shattering of the stable image of the world as we know it. It is confusing and feels akin to a multitude of voices arguing in one’s head. One discovers how elusive truth is. Why don’t we admit as much, instead of posing as an all-knowing adult? Why don’t we invite children to be our equals as creators and the legislators of the world? A child often sees far more than an adult and an adult is only a confused child in some ways. They can be equals in the realm of literary creation.

The opening to Antoine de Saint Exupery’s novella The Little Prince serves as an illustration of how adults invariably impose their own worldview on children in bringing them up. Storytelling can be a means of escaping this.

Children’s writing can be emotionally powerful in a way that an adult reflecting back on the same years and dismissing them as stupidity may not be capable of. And they are not untouched by the darker aspects of life. Their vulnerability only makes them more susceptible to it.

The Diary Of Anne Frank is a perfect example of this. Her colourful yet poignant letters are memorable not only for their heartrending account of the tragedy from the point of view of the persecuted but also because they describe the story of a misunderstood child trying to make sense of the world and failing to connect with the adults around her.

When her father came across it after his return, he was driven to admit, “I was very much surprised by the deep thoughts Anne had, her seriousness — especially her self-criticism… And my conclusion is, as I had been in very, very good terms with Anne, that most parents don’t know, really, their children.”

It’s clear that adults have much to learn from children. So let us all come together to celebrate the marvellous vision that can conjure an elephant inside a boa constrictor.

And kids as well as adults would do well to remember Jerry Pinto’s words, “Children are so used to having someone waving a finger in their faces saying, ‘Be a good child, now. Be a good child’ that they think that’s what you’ve got to do when you are talking… [I want to ask children] can you write about being in the kitchen with your mother and making idli batter? Can you talk about going outside and playing in the rain in the red mud of your village? Can you talk about your dog or your pet or your cat or your imaginary friend?”

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Featured image source: cegoh/Pixabay.
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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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