BASKING RIDGE, NJ - Emotional abuse hits deep; it instills a lifelong feeling of fear and you can never trust anyone again. An abusive caregiver can gaslight you crazy to the point where your perception of reality is distorted and you think everyone around you is lying to you…Ashna Gupta
Banana Split Project is an initiative started by Ashna Gupta, a 16-year-old high school junior at Ridge High School in Basking Ridge NJ. It’s aimed at raising awareness on emotional child abuse as well as educating the community on the signs and long-term effects of the abuse. It also focuses on helping children going through this ordeal through different avenues.
When Ashna decided to pursue her Girl Scout Gold Award, the highest honor a girl scout can receive, she wanted to create a project about emotional child abuse, a subject very close to her heart. She was faced with a lot of disapproval, deniability of the existence of the issue, and expression that she was merely exaggerating. Despite it all, she stood strong and confident, and continued with her aspiration. Ashna exceeded expectations, transforming Banana Split Project into a non-profit to further her campaign on this subject and help abused children as much as possible.
Emotional abuse of children may be the most damaging form of maltreatment, affecting their overall health as well as their cognitive development. It is often the most misunderstood form of trauma that even those close to the child and law enforcement cannot comprehend.
Why the name Banana Split? This was the name of the lunch time support group started by her elementary school guidance counselor for children from broken homes where she had the feeling of belonging for the first time in her life. The sentiment of turning adversity into motivation for social change stuck with her.
Her website, www.bananasplitproject.org features original explanations of the issue, informative resources, and different ways a child can seek help. It additionally includes the options where children can share their stories anonymously or eponymously. Even if it's anonymous, seeing their story shared gives the strength and feeling of empowerment to the abused children. Along with this, seeing other’s stories reassures the children that they are not alone in their fight.
Banana Split Project started a buddy network, where a child in need can talk or write to volunteers who themselves have survived the abuse and trauma. It’s not an alternative to therapy but more like a pen pal program.
Ashna also published and wrote articles on her website on how being co-quarantined with an abuser during COVID pandemic can be decremental and dangerous for the child. It talks about the signs an abuser can use during quarantine to further their abuse cycle, being that they’re together every day, throughout the day and what a child can do to alleviate the pain and seek help. She is a teen mentor working with Lauren Muriello, LPC at her live stream called “Talking about real things” every week during the time of social distancing helping teens with their concerns and questions. She worked on a webinar with Jenn Blossom, a mental health activist, and discussed the nuances and science behind emotional abuse (). She had another webinar with Christianah Akindolie talking about important tips, signs and effects of emotional abuse (). Ms. Akindolie runs an NGO for children in Nigeria. The recordings of the webinar are also available on the website. On top of this, she has recorded a podcast with Rae Du Soleil, called “Inevitable Sh!t: Stories of Creation and Connection” detailing her inspiration for her project and inspiring others to use their adversity and motivation for positive social change.