A story is a distinctive attempt at defining a narrative that justifies a claim – reflecting an idea, a moral learning, a thought or an emotion. And while stories are often fabricated, their roots themselves are based on human experiences. They hold the power to forge human connections beautifully through the expression of vulnerability.
Stories therefore, are very personal. Even though they may not be about us, they reflect a part of us or at least what we see, feel or think.
The youth today believes in challenging existing norms and questioning people in power by steadily altering the narrative, to benefit current as well as future generations . In crafting a sense of unity, we can initiate a shift in perspective and challenge long-standing notions around important matters like patriarchy, gender, and LGBTQIA+ allyship. We can create stories that reflect reality. It is the need of the hour to develop more inclusive spaces that inspire people to share their stories free of fear or judgement. This is one of the main motives behind initiatives like the ‘Youth Empowerment Program’ by SHLC, that brings a lot more information about conscious inclusivity to the forefront.
The program that I attended recently was introduced to students between the ages 15 to 18, focused on not just developing an adequate understanding of the contours of gender as a concept, but also covered the role it plays in our everyday lives – all through training and awareness workshops. It aimed at equipping students with basic knowledge on sensitisation and being conscious as allies. Reputed speakers, activists and professionals were brought on board to speak to students about myriad topics, ranging from the prevalence of sexism in media, pop culture to casual misgendering. They also educated us on the correct usage of pronouns, especially when it comes to the inclusion of gender non-conforming people in society.
Here is a glimpse https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DyuaLfPl94k
During the week-long program, we had the opportunity to attend insightful sessions that promoted open and honest discussions on topics of relevance, followed by team-building exercises and activities to strengthen communication skills. Further to that, lectures on awareness regarding mental health and homophobia were held , welcoming questions and inputs from all attending participants. Students also had the chance to acquaint themselves with the hardships of being queer in a country like India, through personal and heartfelt interactions with a few openly queer speakers.
Students took up various projects to highlight the dire need of awareness on issues surrounding the queer community in India and specified what they desired to achieve through their work. With cooperation and collaboration at the core of their joint efforts, students began developing creative ways to reach out to an audience and shed light on issues they were passionate about.
The participants not only listened and learned, but also understood the importance of a non-judgemental exchange of ideas and emotions, especially when it comes to sensitive subjects like gender dysmorphia. They were taught to pick up on casual and everyday sexism and advised on how to debunk these beliefs.
Equity above equality being the underlying lesson, students learnt that people must be treated with sensitivity, care and compassion for their circumstances and that expressing mutual respect is a must.
As an initiative designed to inspire young minds on leadership and empathy, the program allowed for an honest flow of thought with unbiased opinions and created an ideal environment for holistic learning.
The YEP Program, in all its glory, was successful in creating a safe space free of bigotry and biases that we see all too often in social settings in our country. Moreover, it provided a secure platform to students (like me) to share our stories and define a new narrative in which we could weave our stories, that could be the single- most important catalytic agent for transforming status quo.
It is true what they say about developing an open mind. It holds the potential to genuinely lead you to a path of acceptance, where you are not bound by society’s limitations and learn to live free. When we are given a safe space to share our authentic stories that encourages people to be humane, and not just human, we begin to forge a connection with one another, thus weaving the quintessential story of ‘us’.
If you would like to support a community that plays a significant role in validating this change, you can register for the next batch of the Youth Empowerment Program https://forms.gle/bkTG17haJzwCSMcK8 and our team will get in touch with you.
* This Blog has been written by Pia Mathur. Pia participated in the first batch of the Youth Empowerment Program.