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Never Had I Ever

They say, you only realise your opportunities or your responsibilities when you are jammed right in between them.

When I received my school allotment letter from Gayatri, I couldn’t really wrap my head around teaching 41 fourth-grade girls. I thought, it’s doable, but is it my calling?

Seven months later, I know I belong with these 41 beautiful souls (fine, I’m exaggerating a bit, they can be demonic sometimes). I know, that not only will I challenge their thought process on a minute-by-minute basis, but they will challenge mine on a second-by-second basis, and that’s the beauty of it.

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A couple of months back, I was entwined in a conversation with my school team where they brought to my notice that our girls are about to hit puberty in some years and we need to make sure they are aware of it.

I won’t say I was taken aback, but yes, I definitely got goosebumps. It was only at that moment, that I realised it was imperative for me to step up and deliver on the promise I had made to myself while signing the offer letter from Teach For India – to “leave no stone unturned”.

And so it happened, the next day I began a conversation about what harassment is (as a build up to human physiology), why it happens, how to identify it and what can it lead to.

There were giggles around the conversation, and those giggles made me sweat in the cold Delhi winters. The giggles showed that my girls knew what “not” to say/tell/ask a male teacher and it was imperative that they realised there was nothing in the world they could not say/tell/ask me. Now, the way I react to other situations in my life, where trust building is a priority, is that I open myself up to the receiver and more often than not, it works. But it was different with these young ones, because I had never worked with 8-10 year olds. But my gut told me to go ahead, take a deep breath, let go of my inhibitions and just talk to them.

When you plant a seed, it won’t grow overnight. It needs that incubation, that care of building up to something of utmost value. It turns out that the month-long winter vacation in Delhi was the incubation time my girls needed to become more comfortable discussing difficult, and in some of their families, taboo, issues.

“Bhaiya, why does a female, who gets raped, get pregnant?” Nazmeen shot this question towards me, five minutes into our first day back to school after vacation.

I answered that question with as much sensitivity as I could have to make them understand the answer to this well-thought question. Never had I ever thought that this is the kind of learning experience I signed up for. But I am glad I didn’t know before, because only when I was in the midst of  this did I realise my responsibility and my opportunity.

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