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My 7 Weeks In Rural India: ‘Not Sure If I Changed Their Lives, They Surely Changed Mine’

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By Diya Shah:

You don’t always have to fit the stereotype of the young girl from a small town going to the big city to reach out for your dreams. When I was 17, I wanted to work with rural people who had limited exposure and help them gain confidence, after my board exams.

Image source: Diya Shah
Image source: Diya Shah

For this, I touched base with the NGO- Swades, led by Mrs. Zarina Screvwala, who gave me a life changing opportunity to go out and touch the lives of people in rural India. The organisation had been working on five verticals for the district of Raighad, Maharashtra which included a vast number of villages. They looked into Education, Water and Sanitation, Health Care and Nutrition, Agriculture and Livelihood and Community Mobilization. Out of these many avenues, I believed that education deserved the most importance because it would bridge the communication gap. It would help them be more confident and self –reliant by developing better English speaking skills.

The time I spent in the village of Khamgoan allowed me to develop as an individual. It made me ponder upon the life we live in the city as compared to the self-made life of the inhabitants in villages. My journey was not an easy one. I had to break the ice with them, make them relate to me and this was only possible if they considered me as one of them. That was when I decided to stay with a village family itself, take part in their day-to-day activity and form a familial bond with them. As I reflect on the days back, Nitin Bhau and Naitri Tai became second parents to me. We shared daily chores like making chapattis, getting water from the well and even cleaning, and it was amidst these chores that I realized how their happiness came from simplicity. My conversation with them made me respect and value them as individuals, and helped me grow as a person. Naitri Tai made me realize that to be happy one doesn’t need to have monetary wealth. It was a state of mind and no thing or person could bring one happiness.

Every evening, before dinner, all the children from my hamlet came home and urged me to teach them more. Be it revising alphabets, reading, understanding grammar rules, they simply wanted to learn more. Initially getting people to understand the importance of English was quite a task, but everyone wanted to see ‘the new girl,’ which made it a lot easier for me to engage into a conversation with them and explain my purpose. I would prepare interactive modules, power-point presentations which made the classes interactive and fun. I made worksheets so that I could test if they had understood. I covered basic English such as verbs, adverbs, nouns, adjectives, articles so that they would be able to form basic English sentences easily.

Swades had a sewing class for women in the afternoon at the Centre wherein I made it a point to interact with them. After a week, more than 30 women attended my class, I felt a sense of satisfaction with my progress. With word of mouth promotion, within one week 3 batches were formed. A students’ batch in the morning, which had 3rd to 9th standard children, an afternoon batch of only women, and an evening batch of college students. Swades had invested in learning toys for the children at the Anganwadi’s in 30 villages of Raighad District. I was able to interact with families and also teach the teachers the mechanism of these toys. It was not just a student-teacher relationship; day-by-day it grew into something much stronger. Their progress from the two-word broken sentence in English, to a 10-word correct sentence, made me jump with joy.

During my stay I was delighted to see how both Hindus and the Muslims co-existed in happiness and harmony. This cohesive existence, made me question, why is it not like this in the urban pockets of our country? Also, I shared a beautiful relation with a Muslim family, from the Mohalla in Khamgoan. They even invited me for the ritual of Iftaar and cooked only vegetarian food, just for me.

On the last day of my stay, they organized a farewell for me where the entire village including the seven hamlets gathered. Their speeches in broken English expressing how I had impacted their life, both personally and holistically, put me to tears. And they weren’t the only ones who learned holistic living. As part of the farewell I was made to plant two trees right outside the NGO Centre.

They taught me to value love, family bonding, and made me realize that there is no better profession than being humane. Their simplicity brought me closer to them and acceptance and care I received left me in awe of them. The seven weeks I spent there were meant to make them believe in themselves. I don’t know whether I made an impact or whether I brought a change, but they surely impacted me. While we might speak fluent English, they speak fluent Marathi. Their simplicity and honesty was the only thing that marked a fundamental difference. Just as we thrive on modern-day technology for our work, they thrive on nature for a living. Today I look at rural India not with a view of pity, but with hope, change and empowerment.

A place is only as good as the people in it.’
Sw se bana des-
Mera Des; Aapka Des; Hum sab ka Des.’

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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.

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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.

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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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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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