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Their Chance for Tomorrow

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Radhika Ghose:

Tears filled my eyes, as I waved goodbye, wondering If I would ever see those children again. Those children who had transformed my life, in ways they would never know how in those six months we spent together. Those children, who helped me realize my calling was to teach. And not just teach, but dedicate myself and my life towards the education of under- privileged children.

1st April, 2010 marks a landmark in Indian history, with the enforcement of the Right to Education Act, that will now (or soon) grant every child the opportunity to receive an education.

Those six months were the beginning of a journey. I knew there were other children, waiting for people like me to teach them, and guide them towards having a happier, firm school life, but like everything else, I suppose the first always remains very close to the heart.

The early years of school are those in which our characters get shaped. Those are the times we discover what we can do, and what we can’t. with no pressure on us, we are free to discover ourselves, our talents, through various forms of creativity and project based learning. Those are the times we are introduced to expressions and emotions, we differentiate between what we like and not like. There is no confusion, it is either right or wrong. Children at this age our extremely vulnerable and need to be guided, without being moulded. The child is neither the teachers, nor parents to mould, because they are human beings with the ability to think for themselves. People don’t always see this, and especially when they think, “they’re just children, they don’t know anything anyways” they couldn’t be more wrong. Children also need the freedom, to understand and learn for themselves through their own experiences and senses.

I remember witnessing the sound of corporal punishment for the first time. Yes, the sound, as I heard the sounds of the ruler against the children’s bodies and their sniffles when they came into the classroom afterwards. This was my exposure to the government school, in the same village I was living in. I still remember the look of absolute fear and terror in the 5 year old girls eyes as she came into the class room and saw a new “teacher” me sitting there. With some encouragement from her friends, she soon came over to me, when she heard me repeatedly assure her that I was not goiong to hit her, and I held her close as she managed to pull herself together. I remember my own tears as I narrated the incident, back in the NGO school I was volunteering at, only to discover that nobody had anything to say other than, “this happens in the government schools. We try telling them not to hit the children, but they continue to do it”. I have never been able to work in a government school again.

This was an example of just one child, in one government school in one of the villages in the country. Whilst statisitics say that Corporal punishment has been reduced over the years, the level of education has not improved. Today 1 out of 4 teachers do not attend classes for the entire academic year in government schools across the country. Whilst children get reprimanded for absentiem, when it is rarely their fault, no one checks on the teachers attendance. The buildings are poorly maintained, the teacher — student ratio too high to handle. The resources and equipment are minimal, and as a result the school becomes a jail cell.

This is why it is up to us, the teachers of tomorrow to give these children, their right to education. Not by leaving it to the ministers and government to implement these rights and regulations, but to enter the system and help change it. To give these children a hope for a better tomorrow and not fear or what the morning would bring.

There are various NGO’s across India who work with educating the under privileged children. Organisations like Mobile Creches, in Delhi, Bombay and Pune who educate construction workers children; Organisations like Akanskha and Parikrama in Bombay and Bangalore respectively who work on educating slum children. These are just 3 of several other ngo’s who work towards giving these children the education they deserve to have. We do not choose the families we are born into. It could have been you, who has to walk miles and miles in order to retireve water from a well for your family, or beg on the street for a living. But thank God you are not. Since you are not, I think if you have any interest in children or teaching, you should think about spending some time with an organisation in your city, which works with educating these children. You would be amazed at how much you could learn from them, and how you feel knowing you have added a little to their lives.

So go ahead, and help take this right to education forward, by giving a child or a group of children the Chance of a Better Tomorrow.

The writer is a correspondent of Youth Ki Awaaz.

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  1. Sanjeev Bolia

    Right from Independence, India has made a conscious attempt to bridge divides of caste, gender, religion and economic status. This Act is a reaffirmation of Parliament’s commitment to invest in all our children’s education. The Right to Education Act will is not just a symbolic gesture but will be backed up by budgets and education infrastructure investments and will improve access to education to every Indian. Check: http://www.dnaindia.com/bangalore/interview_right-to-education-is-not-just-symbolic-rajeev-gowda_1419089

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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