In an era where even the educated and the upper middle classes are hesitant to talk about LGBT rights and tell their children that it is okay to be attracted to the same gender, Rotaractors of Rotaract Club of Panvel Elite, RI District 3131, did an LGBT awareness programme for tribal children in a village near Panvel, while doing a session on child sexual abuse.
An extremely active community-based club, which has been chartered barely four months ago, it has a membership of 25, and “in the four months since we were chartered, our club has done 17 projects/events,” says Ria Munot, Club President, a certified financial planner and analyst, now pursuing a higher qualification.
In Dec 2019, the club organised two very important projects for the 450-odd inmates of the Warwane Ashram Shala, a residential facility for destitute tribal children in a rural area in Pen, near Panvel, Maharashtra.
Here a dental check-up was organised for all the 450 children; “the dentists were shocked to find that many of them had very poor oral hygiene, due to which their teeth were decaying badly,” says Ria. Oral hygiene kits — a toothbrush and toothpaste, sponsored by a Rotarian from their parent club RC Panvel Elite — were distributed by the Rotaractors to the children.
But here comes the more important part; in another session the Rotaractors explained to the children about good touch, bad touch and safe touch. It was here that issues related to LGBT rights came up. “The girls got up and spoke bravely and openly about what was happening to them. When we talk about child abuse, often abuse by the same sex also happens,” says Ria.
She recalls how one of the younger girls at this hostel was being abused by an older girl, and the children were told that when this happens it should be brought to the notice of the teachers or the ashram authorities. Another girl, who was being touched like this, welcomed it and “so we explained to them about the LGBT community, so that they know this is okay too.”
What generated the utmost interest at this session was, when one of the dentists, also a social worker, Dr Samidha Gandhi talked to the children about the different nuances and repercussions that follow when a hasty decision to elope is taken at a young age. This was explained in the context of the Marathi blockbuster and award-winning film Sairat, which takes a critical look at an epic love story of two youngsters — a rich upper class high school girl who falls in love and elopes with a poor but smart boy, and the struggles they face.
“All the children had seen the movie and were very interested in the discussion; the biggest advantage was that Dr Samidha, who addressed them, was very fluent in Marathi and engaged the children in their mother tongue while discussing the Marathi film,” adds Ria.
We realised how important it is to make kids aware about sexual violence and abuse, as well as the concept of LGBT, so that they can be alert all the times and protect themselves.
Over 150 girls were present during the session and openly discussed their experiences. “We realised how important it is to make kids aware about sexual violence and abuse, as well as the concept of LGBT, so that they can be alert all the times and protect themselves. Dr Samidha conducted this session beautifully.”
She adds that they decided to do the session on good touch, bad touch and sexuality issues with the teenaged children because data from “the National Sexual Violence Resource Centre shows that one girl in four is sexually abused on a daily basis; with 34 per cent of the kids being sexually abused by family members.” It adds that 3.25 lakh children are at the risk of becoming victims of commercial child exploitation each year.
The dental screening identified children with bad cavities and other dental problems; they have been shortlisted and the Rotaractors are organising free treatment for them.
In another fun event titled Bacche baney hum, the Rotaractors decided to celebrate Children’s Day in November by bringing out the child in them. At an event held at a spacious bungalow of a Rotarian from their parent club, the men sported shorts and t-shirts and were all seen eating candies and lollipops. “The idea was to celebrate the child in us and relive our childhood,” says Project Coordinator Krishna Soni.
“Not only do children bring out the best in us, but they also empower and teach us so much; while most of us are always trying to teach children a thing or two, we often forget that there is so much that we can learn from them,” says Ria.
Soni says “a trait that adults should learn from them is letting go. They move on. Letting go can help us live a peaceful life. Through this programme we wanted to encourage Rotarians and Rotaractors to take a happiness pledge.”