In 2013, four women came together to address the issue of sexual abuse among children and child rights violations in the state. It was a leap of faith as none before them had delved into this critical but often-neglected aspect of society. This was the genesis of Faith Foundation.
The foundation has been working closely with schools and child care institutions to conduct personal safety education programme. It has also been trying to reach out to as many children and guardians during the ongoing pandemic.
Shannon Dona Massar, general secretary and co-founder and director of Faith Foundation, said a YouTube channel was started last year to reach out to the adult stakeholders. “We also ran online campaigns and responded (to victims) through the District Child Protection Unit (DCPU),” she added.
The others who were instrumental in founding Faith are Barida Laloo, Darhmingliani Hloncheu and Maniung Niangti.
According to Massar, there are over 2,000 pending cases of child abuse in the state. “There is also an increase in the number of sexual abuse cases among 13-17 year-old boys. But most of the programmes focus on girls and boys are left out. Our Project Raise bridges that gap,” said Massar.
Project Raise is in collaboration with the Education Department. The pilot project, started in 2018-19, involves 10 schools. Even before spreading awareness among students, the Faith counsellors would first sensitise teachers and train them in handling complaints of sexual abuse. Parents too are involved in the process.
“However, the most difficult part is to reach out to parents, though we succeeded in doing that in some schools. That is where we felt as an organisation, we were unable to reduce the gap,” Massar admitted.
Another challenge is time. According to the counsellor, most of the schools would not give enough time to interact with students and the organisation. The silver lining is some schools have taken the initiative to include Faith counsellors in parent-teacher meetings.
When the pandemic started last year, physical interactions with children became impossible. The virtual platform became the only space to reach out to children and their parents. Counselling on telephone is another way. The foundation is closely working with the DCPU to take up critical cases.
Besides, the foundation is extending support, be it medical or essential, to distressed families.
Faith Foundation functions mainly in Khai Hills and Ri Bhoi. The experts have trained DCPU officials in many districts, including in Garo Hills. “In fact, we have plans to extend our work to Garo Hills but fund remains a problem,” Massar informed.
The organisation has conducted a baseline study on adolescents’ sexual health and how to reduce teenage pregnancy. Massar said there is a lack of physiological understanding among children who are often shy to name their body parts and extensive awareness sessions are required to make teenagers open up.
Faith Foundation plans to start its work based on the study in six villages in Bhoirymbong, Ri Bhoi, to address the problem of early pregnancy. The course of action will involve health workers, parents as well as the community.
“To address the problem of teenage pregnancy, which is on the rise in Meghalaya, we need a holistic approach. We have to target not only the teenagers but their families too, including men. Health workers also need sensitization. The process needs to internalised before taking action,” Massar explained.
~ Team Meghalaya Monitor