After completion of the first version of Mythri, we undertook a pilot study to understand the impact of using the animated video while imparting awareness. The study took us to 7 schools in Dandeli, a beautiful forest area in Karwar district of Karnataka, covering around 305 students, .This study was undertaken on Feb 7, 8, 2013.
The schools: The schools we visited in Dandeli were government run, and often located in the midst of forests with not much else in the vicinity. In all of the schools, we were the first people who had ever spoken to the students about Menstrual Hygiene. The need was obvious and we were more than welcome by the teachers and students. These remote schools are run by sincere and dedicated staff and cater to the most needy children, including those that belong to tribes like the Gowli and Siddi. It was interesting to note the efficiency in speaking English displayed by some of the children in one particular school despite being so remote and cut-off.
Awareness levels: It can be said that the level of awareness was between average to low, given that girls from these schools had never been spoken to on the topic of menstruation. For all the sessions, we had invited the female teachers who were present and participated in the discussions which further encouraged the girls to open up. Around 40- 50% of the girls we asked were using Sanitary Napkins instead of cloth and preferred to do so. In 2-3 schools, the children were quite inquisitive and asked important questions on when to see a doctor, what white discharge is, why girls get periods and so on. But in the rest of the schools, the girls were extremely shy and it was difficult to make them come out of their shell given the paucity of time, since we had planned too many sessions in one day.
Challenges: Although in most schools, the girls were initially reserved and shy, eventually they did open up, ask questions and seek guidance. However, we faced quite a bit of resistance from students in one of the schools where the girls were extremely uncomfortable with the topic and even avoided looking at the video. They seemed shocked that we would openly discuss such a topic. This was the government Urdu School. But, the female teachers greatly helped with their openness in discussing and encouraging the girls to talk about it given this opportunity which may not present itself again. Vyjayanthi did a wonderful job in making the girls comfortable and after the session, many of them chose to speak to her privately. Some of the things they shared were:
- Is it really OK to use Sanitary Napkins? We’ve been told that there are worms in it.
- I cannot imagine talking about this video or this session with my mother or anyone at home.
- We’ve heard that if we throw Sanitary Napkins, it will attract snakes and cause a Shaapa (curse). Is that true?
- We’ve been told that we must not read the Quran or do the Namaz during this time. Why is that?
Feedback about the video: We got important feedback about certain sections of the video through observing the reaction of girls, their understanding of the content, by interacting with them and also by speaking to the teachers. Overall, the response can be said to be positive as the teachers felt that the video was sufficiently “decent” and conveyed important messages in a non-offending manner. They also felt that using the video would make it easier for them to convey the message to girls, rather than plain talking. The feedback from each session was noted and changes have been made in the content accordingly.
To our surprise, there was one particular request made by the teachers in all of the 7 schools once we completed the video and awareness session. The request was to talk to the girls about sexual abuse. The reason this was surprising was because just last year when we travelled to rural schools, the teachers would be extremely sceptical about anything remotely related to pregnancy and would specifically ask us to stay away from such topics.
And here, in a remote place like Dandeli, all the schools seem to be suddenly waking up to the topic of abuse and wish that their wards are aware of it. When we asked the teachers the reason for this sudden need, they replied that the recent talks of rape and abuse in the papers which girls have access to have left them confused. Girls sometimes carry these articles to the teachers and ask them what it means. Often the teachers themselves do not know how to handle these questions and what answers to give the girls.
Therefore, we did lightly touch upon sexual abuse after each session by asking girls what they thought it meant, what protecting their bodies mean, what trusting instincts mean, and when and how they need to seek help. Most of the answers came from the girls, with the loudest voices being those of the youngest girls.