“Out of the 30 human rights given in this chapter, you all are required to study only a few rights that are important for your examinations.” After listening to these lines from our civics teacher I, along with all of my classmates, were relieved at the thought that we would have to study less for our exams than we had thought. When I compare the intention with which I was taught about human rights at school and the intention with which the peer educators of a few villages of BKT were told about human rights, I am left awestruck. I have been a student of a convent school and now I realise the stark reality of the ‘high-quality’ education that I received.
The meaning of education and awareness, as I understood before attending Breakthrough’s Peer Educator Training programme, was rote learning of facts and gaining good marks. But the pedagogical approach of Mala and Mohit, the trainers of Breakthrough, to make students aware of things such as their human rights, the idea of sex & gender, health and hygiene made me understand that education is not only about producing a breed of students who can get the best jobs but also about training students so that they can make the world a better place to live in.
While interning at Breakthrough, I went for a Peer Educator Training Programme under the ‘De Tali’ initiative of Breakthrough. This was a two-day programme, endeavouring to spread awareness about various social issues amongst the teenagers of the villages Rasoolpur, Bhulbhulpur, Mohammadpur, Kapasi and Maruva. All the participants were the students of government schools, who had been considered capable of heralding a positive change in their respective villages and hence the entire society at large. The 2-day training programme, unlike any other training, comprised many exciting activities and games so as to alleviate any monotony that could arise because of the seriousness of the issues. I envied the participants of the programme who had gotten the opportunity for learning that I didn’t.
The participants were told about the consequences of gender discrimination, different types of violence, human rights, adolescent health & hygiene and their roles and responsibilities as members of society. It is not that these topics were all new to the participants or their school curriculum does not encompass these topics but the manner and method of teaching made all the difference. There is a basic difference between merely ‘teaching’ and ‘facilitating others to learn’.
When Mala told the students about the difference between sex and gender, I was reminded of the day I was taught about sex. I remember the expression of embarrassment on my teacher’s face, who rushed through the chapter without even dealing with the essential details related to the topic. When we say ‘sex’, even the most enlightened individuals frown upon its mention. But the trainers, Mala and Mohit, dealt with sensitive topics like sex, gender and menstruation with utmost ease. They discussed with the children the biological construct (sex) and the social construct (gender) in detail. Mohit carried the explanation forward by discussing the stereotypical image of girls and boys created by society. The peer educators (PEs) were then asked various questions in which they had to determine whether the characteristic was related to sex (natural) or gender (societal). These questions strengthened the understanding of the PEs and also broke the prejudice that ‘sex’ was a bad word to utter. Mohit also explained that gender differences created by our society clearly discriminates against girls. He asked the participants (both boys and girls) to take a pledge to fight against inequalities based on gender.
We, sitting in our ivory towers, think that menstrual taboos and myths related to menstruation don’t exist in modern day society. But this is merely a superficial reality. The women in rural India still go through many atrocities because of the ignorance about this topic. Mala told the students about the menstrual cycle and, through her discussion, shattered all the prejudices related to this natural process. She convinced the girls that menstruation is not a matter of shame, rather it is a necessary process like any other natural process and to discriminate against women because this process is a clear violation of their rights.
Gender-based inequalities give rise to various human rights violence against the female gender. This statement leads to the question: what are Human Rights? To make learning this interesting and interactive, the PEs were divided into 4 groups and each group was given a chart paper, a marker and two sketch pens and they were given a task to make a tree and write the source (roots) and medium (trunk) of human rights (branch). They had to list 30 human rights in the chart paper. After 20 minutes, two representatives of each team were called to give a presentation of their assignment. Following this activity, Mohit told the children about the human rights listed in the UN Charter and the Indian Constitution. This made the participants aware of their basic rights that they didn’t know about earlier.
In collaboration with Breakthrough, the Basic Health Worker came to the village and told the students about the ways in which they can keep themselves healthy and fit. She also told them about the various free health initiatives of the government for rural inhabitants. Through various games, dramas and activities, the process of learning became a joyous process and the sensitization of the children became very easy.
This training programme was not limited to the PEs only. At the end of the entire session, the trainers taught the participants about effective communication of one’s ideas and gave the task of holding rallies (to spread awareness about the topics taught in the training session) and slogan writing programmes in their respective villages. This is an amazing practice that will awaken the people of the village to which the PEs belong. Not only this, it will inculcate a feeling of responsibility towards their respective villages in the minds of young participants.
The beauty of the programme was the fact that not only the children but the other villagers also reposed their full faith in Mala and trusted her so much so that they shared their everyday problems with her, assured that she would help them in finding solutions. This is a very clear indication of the success of the organisation in that particular area. Our nation needs activists like Mala.
After attending the PE training programme, I realised that schools have a long way to go towards spreading awareness and ‘education’ amongst the upcoming generations. These schools could learn a lesson or two from training programmes like that of Breakthrough.
Whenever a felony is committed in the nation, the ultimate step of the government is to make laws that serve as a deterrent against crime. What the government and law enforcing agencies do not understand is that the root cause of the problem lies in the minds of the people and that punishing a particular person for the explicit commission of a crime can never be a solution in the long run. Our societies are mired in the vices of violence, inequality, discrimination and what not. To tackle these problems we need a revolution – a revolution that starts in our classrooms with the help of education and awareness of young minds. Therefore, the main focus of Breakthrough’s programme is on the awareness and sensitization of adolescent minds. Through their ‘De Taali’ programme, they have tried to strengthen the very foundation of the society: by training the adolescent PEs to influence their villages and make them progressive. Apart from the development of the society at large, this programme was also an endeavour to develop these children at a personal level. The entire session planted a seed of leadership and responsibility in the minds of the young participants.