1 student for 100 rps.
1 class, 50 students, for 4,000 rps.
1 section, 200 students, for 12,000 rps.
1 school, 1000 students, for 50,000 rps.
Walk into any Pasand session being conducted at a Government school in the vicinity of Bengaluru and you can most definitely notice the bright, dreamy-eyed students enthusiastically participating. They all want to learn – learn about their bodies, their choices, and the world around them. Be it Sandhya, who studies in Class 10 at the nearby Jogupalya BBMP Girls High School, or Pratyusha, daughter of daily wage workers who studies in Class 9 at Domlur Government High School. They were both in awe – no one had ever spoken to them about these things before! In fact, Sandhya’s sister was surprised that such sensitive topics – be it puberty, menstruation or abuse – was discussed openly and she wished she had received such education during her school days! As Pratyusha chimes in, “I learned about female internal reproductive organs and its functions, I got to know about the different products available to manage menstruation and how to dispose and re-use each of them.” Both the girls are eagerly looking forward to more Pasand sessions.
When a program can inspire changemakers in the community, that is a benchmark of success that drives Pasand’s work. Sri Ramakrishna Samagra Shikshana Kendra (SRSSK) is a sprawling school nestled in the village of Gottigere in the outskirts of Bangalore. The Trust school previously provided free education but now asks only 200 rupees for the annual fee and serves approximately 25% differently-abled students. The eyes of the young boys from the composite class of 5th, 6th, and 7th standard (35 boys in total) were glossed in amazement and wonder when learning about the function of the human body. One 5th standard boy exclaimed “You mean we come from a hole that small? Doesn’t it hurt …Wow, I really love my mother.” What stands out more than the sweet love and support that these had for their mothers, sisters, and fellow classmates was their shift to take action. Upon learning about the importance of soap in preventing infection and keeping themselves and their families healthy, the young ones took up a collection of one rupee per student and purchases soaps for their classes. During our next visit a gaggle of shy but proud boys ushered us to the class locker and showed up the pieces of soap wrapped in newspaper that students use when they use the toilet and wash up for meals. Learning how to make healthy decisions, and take action, is something that will stay with these youngsters as become men for many years to come.
Schools are, understandably, often hesitant to interrupt the normal course of study for a program that is controversial and shrouded with a cloud of social and cultural taboos. When Principal and Program Director from Jeevanbhimnagar Government High School, where there are 30 full-time staff members for a strength of 1500 students, suggested we start with their 8th standard, where many problems related to menstruation were arising, we jumped on the opportunity. Proving results and impact with a small group, before expanding the program to the entire school, is critical to having the support of the teachers, parents, and administration. After over a month and a half of countless visits and rescheduling due to communication and school scheduling conflicts, we completed our program with all four sections of 8th standard students. One of the girls, when receiving her kit of cloth sanitary pads, exclaimed “But ‘Akka’ we are so lucky!” The pads, provided by our partnership with EcoFemme through their Pad-for-Pad program can be reused for up to five years and allows her to save thousands of rupees that may have been spent on disposable napkins, while ensuring she has a safe way to manage her period. During one of our quarterly visits the 9th standard students, who had grown accustom to seeing our team in the school hallways ran up to us and demanded to know when “Uncle Karthik,” one of our male facilitators was teaching them. Upon presenting our report to the Principal, she asked if we were available that day to teach the rest of the 1300 students. We plan on doing just that in the coming school year.
On a warm Saturday morning, facilitators Sowmya and Sharmada trudged their way to the Murphy Town BBMP High School, Ulsoor. The school ground is vast, filled with small symbols of childhood such as the deeply worn volleyball net and sports ground littered with dips and divits in the dirt, yet empty of students. The girls come from many immigrant families and have many chores to attend to, including helping their younger siblings, before they rush off to school. The girls ambled in, one by one, curious about the two ‘akkas’ who had come to teach them. As they settled in, the school headmaster walked in and set the stage for them. He spoke about why these sessions were more important than the Friday Chemistry classes that he had cancelled. Chemistry, Physics or Mathematics can be learned anywhere and anyhow – but not processes of the human body. At the end of two days, we were left with delighted facilitators, empowered children and an extremely supportive headmaster. As the headmaster Mr. Maregowda enthusiastically affirmed – “these kind of sessions are necessary for all our girls. I really hope that the Pasand programme reaches every adolescent in the state.”