Participants during a session
This time, we have a story directly from one of our youth leaders, Shikhar, who is engaged in a programme that you are supporting!
My journey as a youth leader has been an exercise in empathy. It’s a journey where I was nudged to navigate unfamiliar spaces, to encounter stories which are often muted and, most importantly, to learn and introspect.
I facilitated sessions on Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) with a group of pre-adolescent boys in Nizamuddin Basti, an urban slum in Delhi. The CSE curriculum aims not only to address biological aspects of sexual health but also the social aspects, such as violence, relationships, gender identity and sexuality.
Looking at the curriculum and seeing all these themes, neatly divided into a dozen 2 hour sessions, I almost convinced myself that “this shouldn’t be hard”. As I sat amongst the participants, I thought to myself that I will be addressing ideas of equality and empathy, helping these young boys accommodate diverse identities in their communities. Until I realized that most of the participants are more familiar with the surface of the moon than sexual anatomy.
How can I even begin to address the discrimination faced by people who identify as queer if the participants don't have an understanding of what gender and sexual identity is? To address all the technical information and also the social aspects in a 2 hour session whilst making sure most of them were still awake was a challenge. I realized it was impossible for me to give them all the “right” answers, perhaps, all I can do is to enable them to embrace questions.
We started building a safe space for ourselves. I say ‘we’ because it was really the participants and I together who came up with some basic rules (such as, to listen to one another, not mock each others suggestions or questions) for our sessions. Asking questions became a central part of our sessions, imparting information was only secondary. These questions ranged from banal and mundane to extremely personal.
Once, for instance, a boy drew something on his palm and showing me he asks, “what is this?” He had drawn what looked like a sanitary napkin. Something he had seen in advertisements but did not know its name or what it was used for. This question allowed me to not only tell him what a sanitary napkin was but also what menstruation is and, eventually, addressing the stigmas and myths associated with it, something which I couldn't have communicated effectively if the participants had not asked the question.
I am grateful for the space that we marked out as a group was ours and it was perhaps the only space where we did not have to censor our questions to gain indepth insights about ourselves, our bodies and our health.
We would like to thank Shikhar for sharing his experience with us and also express our gratitute to our supporters for continuing to pave paths and create enabling environments for changemakers and youth leaders such as Shikhar - Thank You!