Read Deepa Patil’s story – In Pursuit of Shamelessness

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Deepa Patil is an AIF William J. Clinton Fellow for Service in India and has joined the Reaching Hand team for 10 months to help expand our Girls Glory program. A recent graduate of Tufts University, Deepa has previously been involved in civic engagement, nonprofit and public health work as a Jonathan M. Tisch Scholar of Citizenship & Public Service and Institute of Global Leadership Synaptic Scholar. She recently wrote the following blog post about her work at Reaching Hand for the American India Foundation.

First published on the AIF Clinton Fellowship Blog on October 25th, 2016: http://aif.org/2016/10/in-pursuit-of-shamelessness/

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The recent inauguration of toilets at a government school in Channarayapatna, the rural outskirts of Bangalore

There are few emotions more harmful than shame. It threatens the most fundamental love and respect people have for themselves. It is often accompanied by immeasurable discomfort, isolation and pain [1]. Shame is not to be confused with the humiliation of social fumbles or the guilt of disappointing a loved one – these feelings arise as the consequence of particular actions and can be distanced from one’s self-concept. In fact, in healthy doses, humiliation and guilt may serve as beneficial indicators of what behaviors we accept of ourselves to inform future choices. Shame, on the other hand, is never valuable. Some of us have experienced shame tangentially and transiently by empathizing with literary characters and the people we care about. Others have more intimate relationships with shame, becoming consumed and debilitated by it.

Shame follows many young girls in India relentlessly, like a shadow on a sunny day. I frequently hear phrases like “शर्म कर” or “ನಾಚಿಕೆ ಇರಬೇಕು” (have shame) directed at young girls by well-intentioned family members, teachers and complete strangers. And while a variety of cultural and religious ceremonies take place in homes all over the country to celebrate an individual’s adolescence, puberty often marks the induction of girls to a lifetime of shame. The experience of a first period is daunting enough for a young girl – it can do without the burden of stigmatizing messages and alienating taboos [2]. But alas, the notion of menstruation as an impure, blameworthy, disgusting process infiltrates the minds of so many.

I am only beginning to consider the psychological consequences of hating oneself because of an uncontrollable, biological process. I am, however, becoming increasingly aware of the more tangible repercussions of living in environments that are not period-friendly. The stigma of menstruation certainly oppresses girls from all walks of life around the world, but its most detrimental implications manifest in particularly vulnerable communities – places with high poverty and low education levels. Government schools in India are uniquely positioned to empower the children of vulnerable communities through education, a prerequisite of upward social mobility. But this opportunity is inaccessible to girls who miss up to a week of school every month, or worse, drop out entirely because of their periods.

I hope to confront this multifaceted issue through my work at Reaching Hand. On the one hand it is an infrastructure problem [3]. Too many government schools lack the private, functional spaces – namely, toilets – needed for girls to engage in proper menstrual hygiene management (MHM). On the other hand there is a troubling information gap. Girls are often unaware of menstruation until menarche, do not understand it as a normal, biological process and are never taught how to manage their menstrual hygiene. The resulting poor MHM practices lead to individual health concerns in the short term and perpetuate the shame of menstruation in the long term. Reaching Hand’s initiative and my main project for the year, Girls Glory, aims to remove these barriers. We do this by building toilets and teaching puberty and health & hygiene workshops in under-resourced government schools all over India.

It is not a quick solution and requires growth, both in terms of how many girls we reach and how comprehensively we approach the problem of MHM inaccessibility. Even perfect, widespread implementation of Girls Glory will not overturn deeply-ingrained cultural stigmas immediately. And everyday I learn of more challenges that may slow down our efforts (i.e. navigating the bureaucracy of India’s government education system) or contextual limitations I failed to consider before actually visiting the field (i.e. the need to promote only reusable menstrual absorbents when inadequate or no waste management systems exist). But I am motivated by the potential to improve the health and education of girls and accordingly, replace shame with dignity. And girls who go to school become educated mothers who are much more likely to talk to their daughters about MHM and in turn, prevent future cycles of shame. Clearly, it is imperative to prevent girls from dropping out of school.

One of the simplest ways to do that, I have learned, is by building a toilet.

[1] I first started thinking about shame and actively deconstructing it in my own life after watching Professor Brené Brown’s TED Talk “Listening to Shame” a couple years ago. She distinguishes between “Guilt: I’m sorry. I made a mistake” and “Shame: I’m sorry. I am a mistake.”

[2] “The beauty of RED” is a short, powerful video directed by Vimida Das that provides a good introduction to the stigma of menstruation in India.

[3] A survey that informed India’s 2015 National MHM Guidelines found that in 14,724 government schools only 53% had a separate and usable girls’ toilet.

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Are you aware that many underprivileged students are opting out of school just b’coz they don’t have school bags.

A few days ago, Mahantesh used to carry his school books in an old – ripped sack. His parents were too poor that they could not afford to buy him a school bag.  I had no other choice but to carry my books in a sack, says Mahantesh, an 8th standard student of KR Puram Government School.

“It was really embarrassing to carry it. Besides, I could not put all my things in it. My family is very poor and I could not expect my father to buy me a school bag,” he says.

Mahantesh’s is not an isolated case. There are many children around us whose parents cannot afford to buy them a school bag, forcing many of them to opt out of school.

Keeping this in mind, Reaching Hand has initiated a campaign to provide school kit for every underprivileged child for just Rs 500. This school kit includes study materials, stationery, and health and hygiene kit.

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We aim to cover 5000 students by December 2016.

After getting a bag Mahantesh responds happily.

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“I don’t have to carry a ripped sack anymore for I have received a new school bag from Reaching Hand. I am so happy that I can carry most of my things in this bag. I often play kabbadi and hockey with my friends and I carry the water –bottle I got along with this bag, every time. Thank you so much, Reaching Hand.”

For more details, please see http://reachinghand.org/bagtoschool/

My journey into Menstrual Education

Feba Nisha, Associate Programme Manager and Legal Advisor, Reaching Hand narrates her experience while taking menstrual hygiene classes for girl students in government schools…

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“How many openings do we have below our tummy?” I’d ask, and the children and the teachers would all reply, “Two!”

OMG!! It is ok if the children didn’t know, but even the teachers!!? Really?? Sadly, that’s the state of awareness in the society around me.

Having worked in the field of sanitation for quite a few years, those of us at Reaching Hand had come to realize that providing toilets and sanitary napkins for girl students in Government Schools wasn’t the final solution; there had to be a behavioural change in these girls and break them out of the “I don’t care” and the “I, being a girl, am not important” attitude. We called it the “Girls Glory” campaign.

I began taking menstrual hygiene classes for children in Government Schools, along with two volunteers from the US, Mai Soua Chang and Tiffany Wallace. Though Bangalore is a metropolitan city…

View original post 254 more words

No more “missing classes” for girl students of Channarayapatna govt primary school at Karnataka

The girl students of Channarayapatna government primary school are on cloud nine. They got new toilets and a hand washing station. Prior to it, many of them were missing their classes during their menstrual cycle as the school lacked toilets.

Besides, most of their houses were far away from the school that they could not go to their houses in case of any emergency during that time. Ending their apprehensions, Reaching Hand has built toilets and a hand washing station for them.

“We are really happy that you built us toilets, but we want toilets for the boys and upper school as well,” says the students of  Channarayapatna government primary school.

Inspired by the Reaching Hand’s efforts to reduce the dropout rate of girl students, panchayat  member who attended the function promised that they would look into building toilets for boys, if the new ones are kept clean.

To this, the principal of the school promised they would leave no stone unturned to make sure that the toilets stay in good condition.

It is a fact that many schools in Karnataka do not have separate toilets for girls and many don’t have toilets at all. And schools which have these facilities lack hygiene and are poorly maintained.

According to the District Information System for Education (DISE) for the academic year 2015-16, 115 schools lack separate toilet for girls and a total of 280 schools do not even have boys’ toilets in Karnataka.

No doubt, this is one of the primary reasons for the increasing students’ dropout rate in the state.

Akshay Sagar, COO, Reaching Hand inaugurated the programme. Feba Nisha, Programme Manager, Khandappa, Programme Coordinator and Deepa Patil (AIF Clinton Fellow) attended the function. School authorities, teachers, members of gram and zilla panchayat and students also participated in the programme.

RH opens a toilet block in Khandu govt secondary school, Sikkim

Though the dropout rates of students in the country have decreased considerably, the north- eastern states are not showing any positive sign in this regard.

One of the primary reasons is the inferior sanitation infrastructure in the schools.

Hence, Reaching Hand’s Girls Glory project http://reachinghand.org/project/girlsglory/ focus on creating good sanitation infrastructure for girl children.

Under this project, a toilet block was built in the Khandu government secondary school at Sikkim on October 7, 2016.

Zilla Panchayat member Mrs Sabitri Thapa inaugurated the venture

 

 

 

Reaching Hand spreading its wings. This time, it is Kashmir

Reaching Hand is spreading its wings to other parts of the country. This time it is Kashmir – the land of Paradise

Under RH’s Girls glory project, a toilet block was inaugurated at the second  coldest place in the world,  Drass, a sub-division of Kargil district. Around 270 girl students can make use of this benefit. Mr Haji, Mohammad Shaif, Advisor to CEC, LAHDC, Kargil inaugurated the function.

 

Reaching Hands build “Toilet Block” for girl Students at Drass – Scoop News Jammu Kashmir

Source: Reaching Hands build “Toilet Block” for girl Students at Drass – Scoop News Jammu Kashmir

Kargil ,October 30, (Scoop News)-Keeping In view the health and hygiene, a toilet block was inaugurated at the Second inhabitant coldest place in the world Drass Sub-division of Kargil district.
The toiled for around 270 girl students under the project Girls glory reaching hands Bangalore , which was inaugurated by Haji Mohammad Shaif Advisor to CEC LAHDC Kargil graced the occasion with other dignitaries.
Speaking on the occasion Haji Shafi congratulated team rDamba (bridge) group of young professionals from Ladakh for co-ordinating and facilitating this project on school for health and sanitation at world’s second coldest Inhabitant place in the world.
He also thanked WJ Clinton fellow (AIF) Staniz Saldon and reaching for extending hand for such a unique and exclusive project in this part of India and promised a block for boys as well in coming years.
Stanzin Saldon the main hand behind this project also spoken this occasion said that she will come to the school again and again.
Stanzin Saldon Said, “If you talk to the girls in the school that how they face problem in the school”.
“We should not under estimate the problem which face the girl students on day today life”. She added.Meanwhile Syed Sajjad Hussan NYK district youth co-ordination, Sapura In-charge principal and the students of the school Roqiya and Kheriun Nissa also spoken on the occasion.
It’s pertinent to mention here that there are many schools in Kargil where there is lack of educational infra-structure which leads drop out of girl students in Kargil. While as the local administration enjoys Swacch Bharat Abhiyan every year.