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The First Print Ad Of ‘Teach For India’ And The Story That Followed: Interview With Tarun Cherukuri

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This post is part of a series of content focusing on covering inspiring work of Indian youth, brought by Youth Ki Awaaz in collaboration with Potentiaa

Tarun Cherukuri is Fullbright- Nehru Scholar 2011-2012, and is currently pursuing his Masters in Public Administration at Harvard Univeristy (John F. Kennedy School of Government).

Having done his engineering from BITS Pilani, Tarun gave up a high-paying job at Hindustan Lever to dedicate himself to the education of underprivileged children by taking up the 2 year Teach for India fellowship in 2009.The TFI Fellowship program is a 2 year full-time commitment in which we place the most promising graduates and professionals teach as full time teachers in under resourced and low income schools.


Teach for America and Teach for All Founder Wendy Kopp wrote about Tarun’s classroom, in her book ‘A Chance to make History’. His class was also featured in a documentary with recently appointed Rajya Sabha and NAC member Anu Aga visiting his classroom

He is also assisting Sridhar Rajagopalan (Educational Initiatives) on his book on Indian education

Check out his entire profile on Potentiaa

In the words of Tarun:

Your Eureka moment. That first instance which inspired you/ motivated you to do something.

The first print ad of TeachforIndia in the newspapers. I remember reading it and feeling that it was written out for me. I knew in that split moment that my calling was to do the fellowship and teach.


How did you proceed? What did you do next? Knowing the next step is so important. What was your reasoning about the next step?

When you feel a moment as strong as that, I decided to go for it. I quit my job at HUL and applied for the fellowship. I had a vision for what I would like to achieve out of the fellowship.

How did you seek help from external sources? Family, friends, the mentor or that video online- what was the role of the external world in helping you take the next steps?

I read — My Experiments with Truth, Fountain Head, Leaving Microsoft to change the world(Wood of Room to Read fame), How to change the world:Social entrepreneurs by David Bornstein all at the same time to seek inspiration for the job ahead. I also spoke to a lot of close friends about the decision to pursue the fellowship.


What was your first break? How did you feel? What can you tell the readers about it?

It was an year after teaching in the community. I went for a 10 day Vipassana retreat. I came out feeling a new sense of self efficacy and conviction within myself. I did things I was most fearful of doing(e.g.public speaking) in ways which surprised my own self. In the process a lot of opportunities opened up -U.S trip for a global conference, U.S schools visit, second year vision, Harvard school visit, Fulbright scholarship, being featured in Wendy Kopp’s book etc. The Universe conspired in ways which were beyond the scope of my planning. There is a beautiful moment in the movie “Peaceful Warrior” where the coach’s voice runs in the background and the athlete’s subconscious answers the questions. I feel like being part of such a flow.
Where are you? HERE
What time is it? NOW
Who are you? THE MOMENT


What kept you inspired? Who/ What do you draw inspiration from?

I draw inspiration from everything around me. There is nothing like an ordinary moment if you can really observe things around you. I follow stories of inspiration on and Karmatube of ordinary people from across the world. I draw inspiration from great lives of Mother Teresa, Swami Vivekananda. I draw inspiration from the goodness I see in people who touch me in through their lives.

What is your formula? What are your attributes and qualities that allow you to do what you do? More importantly did you inculcate any of these? How difficult is it? How did you inculcate any?

Truth is a pathless path said renowned philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti. Each one of us follows our own path in the pursuit of truth. My formula is to be honest to my ideals. I try my best to align my words and actions on a daily basis to the larger ideal. I persevere on my ideals through the practice of meditation, listening deeply to others aspirations and ensure that I am anchored on them.

What did you learn while doing what you did. How has our thinking changed? Why do you think this process ‘of doing’ was important? If you had not done what you did, do you think you would have developed this thinking?

I learnt that giving your life for others — especially giving others means of empowerment is more fulfilling than living a life for yourself. This is not a new intuition at all. Many spiritual seekers and social workers have given the same message before. Living it out let me discover the meaning of those words for myself. Experience and personal wisdom is the best teacher I have ever known.

What about your failures? How important were they? What did you learn? Why are they important? How did they make you feel?

I have learnt that failures teach you more than your successes. Failures teach you humility. They give your perspective on larger things in life. They teach you that life’s regression equation has casual factors beyond your locus of control. They get you back to base one.

How did your college and school education shape you?

More than cognitive skills that those years spent in college and school gave me, I value the noncognitive skills I picked up by observing the value of my best teachers and inspiring friends. A lot of what I am today is shaped by the impression of those experiences.

What message would you give to readers. What if someone wants to be like you?

Your life is your own message and truth is a pathless path. Pursue it on your own terms.

[box bg=”#fdf78c” color=”#000″]Potentiaa is a project that finds and showcases the most amazing, inspiring and enterprising Indian youth, and their interesting initiatives.[/box]


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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.

Read more about her campaign. 

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.

Find out more about the campaign here.

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.

Read more about the campaign here.

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.

Read more about the campaign here.

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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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