Patna: Bihar Education Project Council (BEPC) rolled out a a comic book series named AadhaFull –  developed with the support of UNICEF – to inculcate positive self-esteem and body confidence amongst the adolescent students.

14-years-old Chandani Parveen, a student of class VIII at Adarsh Madhya Vidyalaya, Dogachchhi, Kasba, Purnea had become self-conscious about her short height and was not able to focus on her studies. Instead of calling her by her name, Chandani’s neighbours used to call her naati (short-height), which caused low self-esteem in her.

Her schoolmate Komal Kumari of std. VI too had to face similar problem. Just because she is a bit healthy, her classmates as well as neighbours were making fun of her by calling her moti (fat).

Sneha Kumari, a class VIII student at Madhya Vidyalaya Malahariya, Kasba, Purnea had developed the feeling of girls being inferior to boys. She had to do most of the household chores that badly affected her studies. Moreover, unlike her younger brother, she had to face several restrictions in terms of going out or getting things of her liking. “Girls can’t compare themselves with the boys” was her mother’s only advice whenever she complained. In fact, several other girls shared similar kinds of gender discrimination meted out to them on a daily basis. 

Adolescence is a phase when children undergo several physical, emotional and behavioural changes that causes anxiety, low self-esteem and may lead to even depression to them. Some of the most common problems being faced by the adolescent boys and girls are self-consciousness about their appearance and body image. In the age of aggressive consumerism, media including social media, cinema and other modes of entertainment, etc., more and more adolescents are facing such problems.     

Acknowledging this prevalent problem, a comic book series named AadhaFull –  developed with the support of UNICEF –  was rolled out by Bihar Education Project Council (BEPC) to inculcate positive self-esteem and body confidence amongst the adolescent students of std. VI-VIII. Elaborating on the objectives of this self-esteem based life skill programme (Who am I), Kumar Arvind Sinha, State Programme Officer (Equity), BEPC said, “Our aim is to cultivate awareness on harmful gender norms and appearance ideals. It will also help in enhancing body confidence and self-esteem among government school students aged 11-14 years. At present, it is being implemented in 13 districts in Bihar viz. Araria, Begusarai, Bhagalpur, Darbhanga, Gaya, Purnea, Patna, Saran, Saharsa, Sitamarhi, Sheikhpura, Nalanda and Vaishali with the support of UNICEF and Dove. More than 21 lakh students in the target age-group are getting benefited of this programme.”

Basant Kumar Sinha, Education Officer, UNICEF Bihar informed that story telling based comic presentation was implemented across eight states of India including Bihar. The comic-series has been modified from the television series conceptualized through a partnership between UNICEF and BBC Action Media. As a step further, collaboration with the authors, UNICEF, BBC Media Action and the Dove Self-Esteem Project led to the co-development of a comic-based body image intervention and teacher-facilitated student activities. 
As regards the implementation process, he said that following a cascade training approach, a total of 386 State level Master Trainers (313 males and 73 female) were identified and trained in seven phases during April-June 2022. It was followed by the training of district level nodal teachers comprising of 11050 schools in the second phase. Subsequently, it was executed at all the schools having class VI-VIII in all 13 districts. 

This interesting intervention has started making its impact in terms of creating awareness amongst the adolescents and instilling confidence in them. Notably, the method of storytelling has a wider reach amongst the students. 

In our school, the students have actively participated in the story telling sessions and the role play of the comic characters – Kitty, Adrak and Tara. Several of them even shared their experiences of going through the similar situations in real life as depicted in the comic books. Overall, they have shown tremendous positive response and many of them have implied the lessons in their day-to-day life thus dismantling the traditional norms created by the family, relatives and society, opined Pawan Kumar Sharma, Nodal Teacher at Madhya Vidyalaya Dogachchhi.   

14-year-old Noorani Parveen of the same school said that most of the girls in my neighbourhood get married at the early age of 15 or 16. Though my parents have no objection, my neighbours used to taunt at me and my parents that despite being a girl she is going to market and other places all alone. They even mocked me for attending school saying it is of no use to run a family after marriage. It caused me a lot of tension as I was worried about the continuation of my studies. However, after reading the story ‘Khajaane Ka Naksha’ from AadhaFull, I realized that there is no difference in terms of capability and skills between boys and girls. Moreover, it helped me in overcoming my anxiety and focusing on studies with renewed vigour.

Sharing his story of self-realization, her classmate Saurabh Kumar said that he used to call his friends by some offensive words like Dharinga (local name of a worm), Mota (fat), Chuha (rat), Dingi (one who boasts about something excessively), etc. for their appearance and habits. But attending the sessions of AadhaFull, especially the appearance comparisons-based story ‘Gaayab Haathi’ made him realize his faults. He vowed that he would not make fun of someone about her/his looks.