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Finding A Solution, Not Just Giving Hope: Anneka’s Story Of Change

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We all talk about being a part of change, but when an opportunity comes by, how many of us actually go ahead and take it up?!

Having just finished her B.Tech in Mechanical Engineering from NIT Jaipur, Anneka Majhi wanted to contribute more actively and get some grassroot experience of working in a village with perhaps an NGO, that could make her more aware of the problems that plague rural India. A chance came in the form of the SBI Youth for India Fellowship, something she describes as akin to “winning a lottery“, because it gave her the chance to get the genuine and rigorous experience she was looking for, as she tells Youth Ki Awaaz of her experience…

Kitchen Gardening Diksal

First things first, as a Fellow, what was your experience of living in a rural area?

Life in rural areas is interesting. I noticed a vast difference in availability of basic needs such as toilets, water supply, variety of vegetables and good health care. Along with that, we had to travel really far in order to go to an ATM, get photocopies, colour print outs or even some chocolates!

Throughout our fellowship, we cooked on a single kitchen stove which ran on kerosene, which we had to buy off people who were BPL card holders. They would sell it to us for Rs 20-40 per litre and it would last us for four to five days. We had a chance to experience the drudgery involved in using such a stove when fumes filled our house and it would make our eyes water and almost impossible for us to breathe. We had other options such as the electric stove but, refused because the electricity bills could get too high. You might ask why all this is necessary, but this was one way in which we really learned to empathize with those in the same situation as us.

As a Fellow, what is the project you’ve been involved with?

My project with NGO DHRUVA-BAIF in the Dixal Village of Kaprada taluka (Gujarat) is based on promotion and implementation of a sustainable model of home gardening along with awareness generation on good nutrition.

Wherever I went for community meetings in the village, the women I met had pale faces and sunken eyes. On talking to them, I found out that they were suffering from anaemia and malnutrition. Some had even lost their first born children due to complications from anaemia. The story of malnourishment of mother and child replicated itself in the case of the tribal women present. What was also visible to me was that the women did not have variety in their diet. Green vegetables were rarely grown due to water scarcity, thus rarely included in the daily diet. Keeping this in mind, I decided to promote a model of a kitchen garden which used low cost bucket drip irrigation equipment and could grow at least seven types of vegetable, one for each day of the week.

Aganwadi kitchen Garden Exposure 2And this is a community based project. The community meetings help to promote gardening and also educate the women about good nutrition. The women contribute 25% of the cost of the kitchen garden kit which includes the seeds and drip irrigation equipment. To grow this further, I also go out and approach community leaders such as the ASHA and Aganwadi workers and the Sarpanch to try the same in their areas.

During the course of your work, what sort of change have you observed through your work?

The process of change has been slow but we try our best to bring changes through strategic measures and through all the opportunities available to us. During the course of my work, I saw NGOs and even government organizations use monotonous methods to promote health and nutrition. So when I created some participatory games on nutrition for both school students and tribal women for weekly meetings, I saw the increase in the responses by both the groups. The NGO staff also expressed that such game based methods made their work easy and more effective.

What are the key things that you’ve learnt from your experience, and what is your advice to people looking to give back to the society?

Kitchen Garden nutricious Recipe Demonstration at Diksal aganwadi 2The list of things that I have learned grows each day. I learned the importance of unbiased research, systematic approach and the need for creativity and adaptability in project formation and implementation. Along with this, I analysed the limitations to my intervention from the point of view of the women who could not grow a kitchen garden, hence, it helped me form a project which would cater to all women despite their economic status and amount of water available to them.

To those who are looking to give back to the society, my advice would be to know which subject area you are interested in, and whether you can apply your skills to make your intervention better. It would be best to research as much as possible, and not go out into the field with assumptions. The fellowship gives you the freedom to construct your own project in accordance to your skills and also helps in improving the project with advice from expert mentors on field. One year is a short time, so try to learn as much as possible beforehand. It will be over, before you know it.

Any interesting memories?

I met a girl called Lalita during the training on kitchen garden and nutrition. Five months after I gave the training, Lalita spotted me at a weekly haat and ran after me to have a few words. She told me – “Didi, bohot koshish kari par hua nahi” (Didi I tried a lot but it just didn’t work). She lives in a hilly region of South Gujarat where water is so scarce that children find it difficult to take a bath in summers. It might sound like failure but it was not. It showed me that I have been able to convince many like her that I will be able to find better solutions for them in case one doesn’t work. It has been times like this, that I felt motivated to find a solution rather than just give hope.

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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.

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.

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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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