Aria got in touch with us after Aditi’s talk about Menstrupedia at the TEDx Gateway-Mumbai. Since then Aria has championed the process of organizing menstrual awareness workshops in a holistic manner giving the girls a supply sanitary napkins, our comic book and an incinerator to get rid of the menstrual waste in an eco-friendly manner. Aria, along with the Rotary Club of Sea Coast, has touched the lives of about 2600 girls over a year’s time, ensuring that their period experiences are not traumatizing but a welcoming change! In conversation with Aria Ohri…
Q: Please tell us a little something about yourself, your organization and the kind of work you do.
Aria: I am happily married with two kids. By education, I am a Computer Engineer with Diploma in Business Management and by profession, I am an Entrepreneur. I have spent over 14 years working across various industries like IT, Banking, Medical Devices and am currently running our family owned business which is into manufacturing of Flexible Packaging. We provide packaging solutions which primarily cater to Food and Spice Industry.
Apart from running the business, I am also the Joint Secretary & Treasurer for Rotary Club of Bombay Seacoast. I volunteer my spare time to conduct activities through Rotary for serving mankind. We undertake projects which cover thrust areas like Girl child Education, Sanitation, Public Welfare, Social Environment, Medical, etc. and currently, I am driving our flagship “Project RED” wherein we are tackling the issue of Menstruation.
Q: What made you decide upon running an initiative like Project Red?
Aria: There is so much emphasis on educating the girl child. The National “Beti bachao, Beti padhao” campaign when implemented fully, will probably be the one that will educate the country! It is said that if you educate one girl, you are actually educating one family.
Girl-child education is a key focus area for Rotary. Our club is closely working with many schools which cater to the mid-low strata of society. We found that as soon as girls would get their periods, they would drop out of school due lack of proper sanitation facilities. Also, since neither the school nor their families could provide them with proper resources to deal with it, the girls stopped coming to school to avoid embarrassment. On top of that, society treats menstruating girls like untouchables, not allowing them to move freely and forcing them to follow myths like sitting in isolation, not allowing them to touch pickle, etc. during the 4 days!
It is of utmost importance that this “taboo” be removed from a society that has progressed and continues to progress, and that can only happen by addressing their physical and psychological needs to dispel these myths. And that’s how our club decided to take up this project.
Q: Can you tell us more about the setup of the workshop? What were the demographics like?
Aria: Rotary Club of Bombay Seacoast has taken up this humongous task of Menstrual Awareness and we believe in addressing this issue “holistically”. In order to achieve this objective, we have come up with Project “RED” which we believe will make a difference. It contains 3 parts:
Part 1 (Resources) – Provide yearly Sanitary Pad Supply to take care of “physical” needs. Also, with this, the rate of school drop outs will come down, which indirectly lays emphasis in promoting Girl Child Education!
Part 2 (Menstrupedia) – Provide this unique comic book which talks about everything a girl needs to know about periods. Right from what is period, bodily changes, pre and post care and most importantly, disposal. This will address her psychological needs and help her to understand her body better.
Part 3 – We play an Audio Visual which talks about the Do’s and Don’ts, the various issues related to menstruation, health and hygiene in a very informative way. Post the AV presentation, we have a Q&A session to address any concerns!
We have already begin our journey in achieving the above objective by conducting this project in 6 schools. So far, we have touched approximately over 3000 odd lives in the last 8 months.We believe that this approach is the one way to help our girls understand this important aspect of their lives. This will also give them the courage to not look down upon it as a taboo, or be ashamed of it.
Q: Were there any challenges you faced while talking about periods to a group of girls in all these schools? What was the atmosphere like?
Aria: Since we mainly deal with girls from the lowest strata of the society, they are extremely shy and take a longer time to open up. The atmosphere is not open and you need to really probe them with lots of questions to break the initial ice.
Q: Any insights on how you went about the workshop and its flow? Did you adopt certain techniques and tricks to approach tricky topics?
Aria: We follow a set pattern every time. We assemble all the girls in a classroom or hall (whatever is available) and start our program by asking them soft questions as an ice breaker. We tell them the objective of our visit and open the program by distributing the Menstrupedia Comic. We give them time to browse through the book so that they get familiarized with the format. Post the reading session, we play this Audio Visual film.
Once the movie is completed, we address their questions (if any!) and then ask them to highlight their key takeaways from the session. We end the program by finally distributing the sanitary pad supply and talk to them about disposal. Sometimes, we also provide the school with a Napkin Incinerator too and demonstrate its working to show the disposal of the pad in an eco-friendly manner!
Q: How did Menstrupedia Comic help you in conducting the workshop? How was the comic-book received?
Aria: Before we came to know of Menstrupedia , we used to take a gynecologist with us to address the queries of the girls. However, it used to be very difficult for us to arrange for a gynecologist who would volunteer to come with us to places like Palghar and Western Suburbs for our project. But with Menstrupedia comic, it became very easy for us to handle the queries. Also, the girls found it easier to correlate with what’s written in the book (more than a Gynecologist speaking!) because of the way the book is written It is simple to read and is very interesting as it tackles the issues through the comic characters. So our job became simple and with Marathi Trainer’s Guide, it was even easier!
Q: What were the major take-away points from the workshop? Any specific outcomes you’d like to share?
Aria: Through this Project RED, we are able to create awareness about Menstruation in a very holistic approach. We also realized that just by providing them with supply, books and showing them AV, we can’t guarantee that the girl child school drop out rate would decrease!The bigger issue was of sanitation infrastructure. Most of the schools don’t have separate toilets for Girls. So what happens in such cases? Where do the girls go during menstruation or otherwise? So, Rotary decided to build separate toilets for Girls wherever there was a need and conduct project RED to address the issue holistically!
Q: We’ve had our trainers give us wonderful stories of interaction with the young children in the workshops. Please share with us the conversations and questions the girls asked and your observations regarding them.
Aria: We did have a lot of a conversation with the girls. Few of them thought that menstruation means impure blood. Few were curious to know as to why they can’t touch pickle while they are menstruating! But interestingly no one knew that it’s because of Menstruation process the mankind exist today! So in every workshop, we started our program with the below statement – “It’s because of us that the world exists today!”.
Q: Do you plan to conduct more workshops in the future? What would you do differently from the one you did before?
Aria:Project RED is an ongoing effort and next workshop will be conducted across 2 schools which are situated in Wada on Oct 31st wherein we will be addressing approximately 325 girls. Our main aim is children’s engagement and our focus is always on that. We feel that our current structure is good , however we would look at introducing more girl child engagement activities.
Q: Best moment/part from the workshop you did that you’d like to share, perhaps something that cracked you up or rewarded the effort you put in?
Aria: We are putting in a lot of effort in terms of time and money for implementing this Project RED and it is getting noticed. My acquaintances, friends and other unknown people are approaching us to conduct Project RED in the schools near their premises. We are trying to channel more global grants this project. The recent grant that we received from Peace Teach Lab from United States through Menstrupedia for our Project RED is our biggest reward in terms of getting recognition. This will help us touch many more lives!