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Being A 24-Year-Old Woman Social Entrepreneur In India #YouthMatters

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By Sonal Kapoor:

The Beginning

In 2010, during one of my corporate film shoots in Delhi, I had come across a woman in a slum. She had six daughters and was trying to send one of them (who was 8-year-old) to the area known for prostitution. It was poverty that demanded this sacrifice, in order to feed five others. She was also pregnant. When I asked her, what about the little life breathing inside her, she had said, ‘If it is a girl again this time, I will strangle her the minute she is born.’

I remember; everything had changed for me after that incidence. I was turning 24 then.

Within 45 minutes, I decided to start a creative arts school for the sexually abused girls (even by their fathers in a nearby slum) in the area. I didn’t know about changing the world or zilch about the non-profit sector, but I could “at least start”. Thus, Protsahan India Foundation was born as a one-room creative arts centre for educating the girl child in the ghettos. Within a month, we got the organisation registered with the Govt. of India.

protsahanNow, each day as I walk past those slums in Delhi, it saddens me to see hundreds of neglected children, most without mothers, some sexually abused by their fathers, women who don’t understand the concept of sanitary napkins.

Start Up Challenges at Protsahan

It took me 8 months to decide on using arts as a curriculum for creative design based education. Rote learning/school education solely would have never made sense to a child raised in the street.

Today, when The World Bank, United Nations, Confederation of Indian Industries (CII), Indian Television Academy, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Australia India Youth Dialog and other organisations of national and international repute recognise us, we feel proud and see it as a beginning. The only thing that worked in my favour was conviction.

Evolution, Innovation and Growth

Our sole mission is to encourage creative education and skills development through creative design thinking approaches for at-risk/abused/special children for whom it could always be only a dream. So, we started using simple techniques, but with a difference. For example:

– We made a traditional Indian art form to be recreated using coffee powder for special and autistic children.
– We used creativity and design to work with survivors of trafficking and abuse.
– We used scrabble to teach them English, cartoons and photographs to keep the interests alive, game and art based education, digital storytelling to make teaching a fun process.

Scale or Empathy?

We want to work with every child, and so obviously I am asked about the scalability and replicability models. It is the process which is unique at Protsahan. Only when you have the learning to deal with one child, all inclusive, can you reach numbers in the right way. We see government schools all over. It’s replicable, right? But, where is the empathy, creativity and connect? I remember, how one social venture capitalist had expressed desire to ‘invest’ in Protsahan, and when we met, the first question he asked me was, what would be the ROI (return on investment) that Protsahan could give him when he ‘invested’ in a sexually abused child. I stood up, paid for my coffee bill and left. I was 25 then.

At the global level, it is highly unlikely that the millennium development goals will be achieved with the clichéd approaches and resting on only what the public sector has to offer. The governments, more often than not, have failed to deliver highly innovative solutions. They however can scale up approaches that work. We are a non-profit organisation and we count our revenue in terms of number of lives we have impacted and transformed for the better. I call it the gross happiness index.

Opportunity Costs?

It takes more than just grit and gumption to get an organisation up with strong fundamentals. It takes humility blended with some assertive passion. It takes missing out on those occasional tea sessions with your retired father, it takes you staring right in the eye of your own vulnerabilities, yet defying the world, getting judged and not being scared of what the world would think, taking decisions which you know are just and fair, unknowingly scaring the men you could date at 24 with your work. It takes too quick a growing up of that girl inside you. It takes learning what detachment truly is, because people come, add a bit to your dream and go. In the end you have: the credits, failures, learnings, laughter, the shirking of those slight tears when you see a young one you taught for 2 years being sexually tortured by her father. At times like those, you know that no matter what, your strength wouldn’t falter and the seeds of encouragement you once had sown would continue to nurture many generations to come.

Discuss: Do Women Social Entrepreneurs Face More Challenges? 

You must be to comment.
  1. Venkatesh (Venky)

    Beautiful Work…Best Wishes! 😀


    Life is something which has no meaning by itself,we have to create a meaning for our life.Good work,At 21 I too dream of helping out the poor & deprived.My best wishes to you,just need to ask u question,how do you manage your finance or source of running your organization.

  3. richa

    hi, i would not write just to appreciate work but truly such selfless work makes this earth worth to live in…………
    can i work with u, i know it would be just a drop in your ocean but if it adds,its good.
    for more details i can send details on your id……….so plz share the same.
    i reside in noida.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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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.

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