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Why I Quit My Corporate Job To Teach English In An Odisha Village

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By Sunayana Chatrapathy

It was the library period for class 5. The children were all lined up as the librarian distributed books from a pile. I happened to notice Santosh who kept sending others ahead and falling back in the line. When he got his book, he jumped up and cheered! Aah! He was waiting for the only colourful book in the pile of books and he got it! That’s when I realized the importance of attractive, colourful books for children – be it children from the cities or children from tribal hinterlands with whom I currently work. “Where are all the tinkle digests or Amar chitra katha books we read as children?” I thought.

Sunayana with school children

Let me rewind a bit about how I got here.

It was just another evening. I was on the bus back home, dozing off, much like the other corporate job holders on my bus. It was the same grind every day. Wake up. Put on formals. Commute two hours. Excel spreadsheets, PowerPoint, e-mails. Commute again. Dinner. Sleep. Repeat.

My phone buzzed. It was my husband, Anand, talking about a fellowship programme he had just heard about. I had been looking for alternate options for a while. I was unhappy with this daily grind that gave me close to no satisfaction. After all, what difference was I making to anyone? With or without me, my company, a global MNC, would go on. I was just a brick in the wall. I wanted to do something that I liked doing. This option seemed interesting. More genuine than most other options I’d seen.

SBI Youth for India fellowship – a chance to work in a village, on a project of your choice for one year. It seemed exciting and I jumped right into it after a slight tug of war with my parents and in laws.

school children2
I now live in a village in Odisha, far away from the hustle and bustle of Bangalore, my home town. I work with tribal children at a residential school run by an NGO called Gram Vikas. The school has about 500 children who made me fall in love with them right from day one, always eager and quick to learn and in the process, unconsciously teaching the world how to love unconditionally.

Initially, I sang with them, danced and played games, simply to bond with them. Now, we continue to do the same – learn songs, watch videos, dance, play games, read stories, tell stories and in the process, learn English. Earlier, like many others, I was of the opinion that no language should be forced upon students. However, as I spent more time here, I realised the importance of being able to read, write and comprehend English comfortably. Most students know how to read and write in English, but they don’t understand a word of what they’re writing.

This is a problem, because it is rather unfortunate that almost all educational options post Class X, have English as the medium of instruction. Since the students don’t easily comprehend the language, they eventually fall through and give up studying further altogether. I was recently speaking to Siba, a boy who fared well in class X and he said ‘Didi, I want to do a diploma in engineering but would not be able to do so because my English is not good!’ I could not believe that a language could be barrier to their dreams!

To try and change that trend, I am currently helping students learn English. I’m also helping teachers teach English more effectively. It’s nice to see that they now enjoy learning the language they were once afraid of! The students have also shown me that this need not be a one-way route. They teach me Odia and I teach them English. They learn English and I show them a video in return!

school children4

Thanks to some generous donors, I was able to get some good story books for the school. I had left the box outside the office before I took it to the library. Before I knew it, half the school was crowded around the books. It was so good to see little kids pick up Panchatantra and Jataka tales by themselves and try to read them.

Apart from English, I am also helping students learn Maths better; with the use of Math manipulatives that help students learn elementary mathematical concepts better and discourages rote learning.

While working with these children, who are mostly first generation learners, my biggest realisation has been that children everywhere have the same potential; only the opportunities and platforms available to them are different. If these children can be given the right opportunity, they are pretty much invincible. This experience has given me a whole new perspective about many things in life and is also helping me shape what I want to do in future – I aspire to work in the field of education by helping strengthen government schools.

Sunayana is currently a fellow with the SBI Youth for India fellowship. She has completed her MBA (HR) from SIBM, Pune and BE from NIT Suratkal and has worked with the IT industry for about 5 years. You can read more about her journey here.

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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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