Two years ago, I visited India to learn from Society for Motivational Training and Action (SMTA), a non-governmental organization based in Vikasnagar, Uttranchal in India. SMTA has been coordinating projects for primary education and women’s health issues among larger health development projects for indigenous people living in the Jaunsar region of the Garhwal Himalayas since 1983.
For 1 month, the student team from McMaster University that I was a part of applied the principles of Appreciative Inquiry. Appreciative Inquiry is way of asking questions and envisioning the future. The goal is to build positive relationships. In so doing, it enhances a system’s capacity for collaboration and change.
Our role was to ask a lot of pointed and open questions about the health situation of people living in the area. We asked questions about people’s experiences utilizing the health systems and in this way we learned about the challenges and gaps. We were not there to build a well or a school, because that would be unsustainable. We were there learning about the situations the Garwahl people find themselves in and why, and exchanging information and stories from our experiences. We were also challenging ourselves, since we were navigating through the foothills, and making our way to these villages everyday.
One day, we walked 8 kilometers to a village called Quashi. Here, we organized a group of young girls from grades 3-6 and spoke to them about reproductive health and what they knew about their bodies. We learned that although reproductive biology was part of the science curriculum the science teachers, who were male, skipped the female reproductive system in their lessons. This school had only recently received a latrine for girls. During menses, many girls missed class.
We learned that the female teacher who joined us in facilitating the discussion was the only female teacher and mentor to these girls. And for many years, there were no female teachers at this school.
If I had a $1000 grant I would return to Quashi to implement a girls (reproductive) health support group. By building capacity in senior female students and teaching them about sexual and reproductive health/biology, they can be empowered to pass this information to younger girls. This project can be sustainable. I would like to support these girls by teaching them the information they may not be aware of, and also would like to inspire knowledge creation amongst themselves. The grant money would be used to supply initial resources – information sheets and workshop material. As well, we would brainstorm how to generate income for this support group, so it could be sustained in years to come.
I believe this issue is most likely prevalent in other communities we visited in the Garwahl area. The grant would be used to conduct a survey of the schools and any the knowledge the girl students have about their bodies and sexual health.
Additionally, I believe SMTA could play a role in engaging the school boards to encourage that this education takes place in schools for girls. Considering that discussing sexual health may be considered taboo or inappropriate for young girls, we will need to work with women, girls, teachers and SMTA health workers to brainstorm solutions and initiatives that can be placed to ensure girls are empowered and informed.