The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sessions that straighten out untold twists

It’s not about sex, drugs or looking good. It is about sexual identity and contraception, addiction and abuse, and body image. The workshop in progress at a nondescript flat, deep inside Lake Gardens, is not even the first. But for the 12 young participants, it is a unique experience, and for some, a defining one. While a few want to change their fingers and toes, the moral of the story, they admit, is that it is what is on the inside, the head and heart, that ultimately counts.

Thoughtshop Foundation started the monthly workshops for youth, as part of its Ignited Minds programme, two years ago. It’s still going strong, as confused and stressed teenagers and older age groups come looking for help and answers to problems that they often find difficult to discuss with family or friends.

The group comprises individuals from varying backgrounds — orphanage inmates, a university lecturer (picking up tips to deal with his students), college-goers — from Chandernagore to Diamond Harbour. For Sayan Deb Mitra, a third year civil engineering student of Jadavpur University, getting to know so many people in one day was thrilling.

The three-part workshops, (from October 14 to 16 this time), provide a platform for the young people to voice their views. The first day is about support. The introspective session involves self-exploration and discovery, and group bonding. Through various activities and games, they learn about each other and themsleves.

“Initially, most of them want to change their nose, fingers and toes. But they know that personality is more important. Some of them do worry though, that those who look good might get jobs more easily,” observes Shrabonti Ghosh, the supervising guidance counsellor. The aim is to get them to recognise their strengths and be comfortable with their bodies.

It’s their own reactions that smooth things out. “Like when one of the guys said he wanted to gain some weight, and the girl sitting next to him spontaneously declared that there was no need because he looked fine,” explains Sourish Chatterjee, an MBA student, who conducted the workshop during his Puja holidays. Having been a former participant, he learnt the ropes through subsequent training programmes.

The second part is about empowerment through knowledge, by talking openly about subjects like one’s sexuality, HIV/AIDS, contraception, abortion, homosexuality, drug and alcohol addiction and physical abuse. The final day is spent in equipping them with ‘helping skills’ — basic listening and counselling tips — to reach out to others, by inculcating a sense of social responsibility. “The idea is to educate them, so that they can become agents of change, among their peer group,” says Hemalini Verma of Thoughtshop.

Responsibility, maturity, decision-making, the ability to distinguish right from wrong, an attraction to adventure and new experiences, a development of finer sensibilities and a hunger for importance were some of the issues of adolescence pin-pointed by the group on Day Two.

Parveen, an inmate of Hope Foundation, gave up education after Class IX. Now, with help, she is pursuing a computer and beautician’s course, because she wants to secure her future. As for Gauri, she wants to be lawyer, so that she can help orphans like herself have a life. The issue is often about having the confidence to pursue one’s dreams.

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