Friday, 2 December 2016

UnConference: the magic that slowly unwinds

“I felt violated, embarrassed. It kept happening; I didn’t know what to do? All I knew was I wasn’t comfortable with it, I wanted this to stop. I wanted to stay in my room with my door closed so that I could escape that creepy feeling. But at one point, I realize nothing would happen so I tried ending my life”

No this isn’t a story! This is a real life incident that someone has lived with which terrified me. I don’t really know and it scares me that while I am writing my experience on engaging with the Sahas stall, how many more children would be encountering such experience! And that’s the exact reason why Sahas was born. 
We engaged with the participants of all ages
After 3 weeks of meetings, preparations and hard work, finally Noida NCR Learning City UnConference was happening. Since I was leading the stall team, we started allocating the numbers to the people/organizations, managing the tables and chairs at the same time. At the same time, we were also setting up our stall which was experiential in nature. It was an interesting situation where I was wearing number of hats at one time- I was leading Sahas for the stall, leading the partnership with Noida UnConference on behalf of Sahas and also engaging as participant. Definitely not so simple! We had designed the stall in a way that people from all age groups and from diverse background can engage on the same level and through this engagement we can share what work Sahas does and its importance at the same time. In the first chart paper, participants were invited to share “what were the things, questions or curiosities that used to come to their mind when they were of 12 or 13 years?”-  the answers ranged from “Increased interest in opposite sex, wet dreams, masturbate, why” “uncomfortable with boys” “Inferiority complex, I used to compare my appearance” “ye whisper kya hota hai” “Am I pretty” “pad lene mein sharam aati thee” “why that blue ink in the advertisement of pads”

The second chart had three situations – where participants had to assume that they are the people in the situation and how will they react. In the situation of menstruation- most of the participants shared that they felt ashamed, embarrassed, uncomfortable if they had got red stain on their clothes. “I thought I would die when I first got periods. I thought some vein of my mine had got busted and so I would die. I was sitting with my legs open and my mom was constantly telling me to sit with my legs closed. I was scared and confused because no one was telling me what was happening to me” 

In the second situation- most of the participants shared that they didn’t know what was advertisement about? Generally parents used to change the channel; they started feeling embarrassed to see the ad. “I thought it’s a balloon or some rubber that could be used” while seeing the condom ad on the television.
Reunion with "My Perch" kids
We invited participants to share only if they are comfortable to answer the third question that revolved around child sexual abuse. It was disheartening, scary and painful to see so many people sharing their experiences and the feelings around it. “I wanted to shout, I wanted to run away. I hated him all the more because I trusted and respected him. I tried speaking to my parents but they just made me shut down” shares one of the participants.

Then we explained how Sahas works with adolescents around Gender, Sexuality and Reproductive Health and also the stories from our previous interventions. When the participants were asked, “When you were adolescents and you encountered curiosities or had questions around the issues discussed before what did you want at that point?” There was unanimous answer- they wanted someone to hear them out, a companion who could guide them, understand their feelings and acceptance. Yes that’s what was needed. 
Sahas's stall

Team Sahas

It was an overwhelming experience to host this experiential stall where everyone had a story and all they needed was a space where they can feel heard! I am scared and full of gratitude at the same time; scared because so many people experienced sexual abuse from their closed one and they didn’t know what to do and they carry the pain till now. Grateful because they considered our stall to be the safe space where they could let go of their emotions! To me it was an exhausting experience to engage with more than 100 people from the age of 10 to 50 years. 

Talking about Noida UnConference, I felt a strange synergy in Sahas’s work and UnConference where both were co-creating a community where people had freedom to be what they are, do whatever they wanted to and above all have a space to talk. There were so many things happening at the same time- around 35 stalls showcasing work of various organizations, offering tea, food, digital services, paintings; workshops – on mindfulness, sociocracy, sound therapy, dance therapy, pot making etc, you lead talks and others. What I found amazing was the group of boys who were from “Creativity Adda” – they had placed their products which they have made, they had a food stall where they offered more than 600 sandwiches, they had a group which was singing and dancing and like really adding colors to the event. 

Not to forget that Manish Kataria who was constantly engaging the crowd with fun filled games (though I couldn’t engage in those game L) The evening lightened up with ‘YUGM’ band singing kabir and folk songs, which was followed by number of performances that included performances by boys from Creativity Adda. And then the magic was created by “Drum circles”  I had never experienced such rhythm ever in my life.

What energy !

The evening became vibrant when Manish and Akshay took over the event with their super energizing games. I enjoyed and engaged with each and every game- I never thought I had that energy in me! I wanted the games and songs to continue- it was crazy and just crazy. I find it hard to speak to people, make friends but here I got a community itself where people were talking, having fun, sharing food, and yes supporting one anotherJ I can’t be thankful enough to Harsh to have us in the Noida UnConference. It was learning and enriching experience to see structure and unstructured ideologies to amalgamate to create a community space like Noida UnConference. I feel blessed!

                                              “If you don’t believe in miracles
                                                    Perhaps you’ve forgotten you are one”

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