In a Delhi slum, they learn and teach to celebrate Girl Child day (Sep 24 is Girl Child Day)

September 22nd, 2008 - 9:29 am ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Sep 22 (IANS) It was a muggy day and the 10-odd teenage girls in the south Delhi slum sat huddled in a tiny room for their second class on HIV/AIDS. While most were still a little hesitant to ask questions on the topic, 16-tear-old Shilpi brimmed with confidence.”HIV is a virus and the disease doesn’t spread by touch or sharing of clothes and utensils. One way it can spread is through unsafe sex,” Shilpi reiterated what she learnt in her last class.

Scores of young girls like Shilpi will be putting together all they have learnt in their life-skills workshop classes organized by an NGO, the Smile Foundation, and their awareness about the rights of women into street plays and educating their communities for four days leading up to the Girl Child day Sep 24.

Ragini, another girl who is all of 12 and also a part of these workshops, said that a workshop on domestic violence had changed her perception completely.

“My uncle, who stays next to our house in the chawl (slum), used to come drunk at night and regularly beat up my aunt. No amount of pleading and crying would make him come to his senses. Despite hearing all of that, we would never intervene,” Ragini said.

“Then our madam told us in these classes that it was wrong, that domestic violence was an offence. I, along with a few other girls, then went and told my aunt not to bear all this quietly and to speak to her husband,” she added.

While she admitted that this didn’t work immediately to stop all the torture, it helped her aunt realize her rights. She threatened her husband that she would complain to the police if the beatings continued.

“That seemed to have done the trick. His attitude has changed now that he realizes that his wife is not a dumb doll,” the 12-year-old, wearing a worn out long dress, said.

Sunita Rathore Singh of Smile said that the aim of these workshops was not only to make the girls more aware of their rights and about their health but also inculcate in them the confidence to speak up.

“With these street plays we want to make these girls more confident about themselves. Whatever they have learnt at the workshops they will tell the community through the medium of street plays - an influential medium to spread awareness,” Singh told IANS.

Issues of health and hygiene, a pressing matter in slums, awareness about vaccination of newborn babies and health matters of pregnant and lactating women are some of the other subjects that the girls are taught about.

Other than the slum in Dhaula Kuan in south Delhi, similar workshops, which are a part of the NGO’s Swabhiman project, are held in five other areas of the city.

Probably 12-year-old Anita’s spirit best exemplifies the celebration of the Girl Child day. An orphan who stays with her brother, sister-in-law and their baby in the slum, Anita was discouraged from attending the workshops by them.

“But I somehow manage to get away from home for at least an hour to attend these classes. I want to learn more,” she said, holding the baby.

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