This profile of 16-year-old sex educator Aparna Bhola warmed my heart and reminded me of all the incredible work being done by young people around the world to educate, inform, and break taboos in the name of social change.
“There’s nothing to giggle or be shy about; there’s no shame in it. It’s important for us to learn about these things. Be totally bindaas (carefree) and ask me questions,” says Aparna Bhola, with a wide smile.
It’s a hot Sunday afternoon, but the stifling Mumbai summer air does nothing to curb the enthusiasm of the girls surrounding her. Aparna, a spunky 16-year-old, is in the midst of giving a group of her peers a candid sex-education class, and today’s topic is pregnancy. She leads the class confidently, dispelling superstitions with funny stories and apologizing disarmingly for her chalk drawing skills.
“What all do we need for life?” she asks the group of 15 teenage girls. “Food, air, water, but also sex. It is a natural instinct and something that brings us happiness.”
Aparna’s mission and methods are even more incredible when you know the story of where they came from.
“Growing up in red-light districts, Aparna says she was distressed by the way doctors routinely mistreated sex workers because of the stigma against their profession. Her mother, diagnosed with uterine cysts, was unable to get treatment for them because of the bias against sex workers. Aparna remembers a niece being refused treatment by a doctor who said he didn’t want to bother with such poor people.
When sex workers like Aparna’s mother would become pregnant, the “doctors would treat them so badly,” Aparna recalls. “They would yell at them, and even slap them sometimes. They would say things like ‘You go and pick up anyone’s child and come to me with your stomach swollen. When you were doing it, you enjoyed yourself and now what happened?’ ”
These encounters made Aparna want to become a gynecologist. Even when she was younger, she would share with her friends and peers whatever sexual health-related information she could find.”
Big kudos to the NYT for bringing Aparna’s story to the fore. Check out the whole profile here, including more details on Aparna’s incredible life story. Learn more about her organization Kranti here.