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What I Learnt In A Village In India Helped Me Strengthen The Education System In Uganda

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By Vivek Kumar:

Post my Engineering degree, I was an ordinary graduate. But I always sought an extraordinary journey in life. I was very clear about what I did not want. I wanted to contribute to the education system of the country, for it did not support me in standing up for my dream when I was young. Although I had a very vague idea of what I wanted to do – the bigger question was how? This quest led me to join the Gandhi Fellowship (GF) in 2010.

The Gandhi Fellowship helps young people aspire to bring a large-scale systemic change and resolve the country’s pressing problems through their own innovations and social change ideas. The fellows have to do practical work with 5 schools-5 headmasters-50 teachers-500 children and the community in difficult rural and urban locations.

Image source: Sakshi Shah
Image source: Sakshi Shah

The most fulfilling part of the GF Journey was that it strengthened my process-based thinking that allowed me to go beyond the peripheral/simplistic way of thinking. Processes like Vipasna, community immersion, personal reflection, learning journey, peer interaction and research assistant-ship, which are very much a part of the Fellowship, helped me become more aware of the nitty-gritty of the systems through which we work.

The Gandhi Fellowship equips fellows with life skills which they can later use in their ground-work. After completing the Fellowship in 2012, I worked in Hyderabad with a low-income school. The turning point in my life came when I moved to a tribal village for 18 months to understand the role of education in the most marginalized settings and why and how a community would benefit from it given the substandard quality of education provided in these areas, where I learned two important things. First, that rural and tribal people are the ones who value education the most, that’s why they don’t send their kids to schools providing substandard education. They also value meaningful relationships, and if we engage with communities that give them purpose and meaning, they participate with full force. Without my training a the Gandhi Fellowship I may have overlooked these valuable lessons, that helped me majorly in my journey ahead.

Post my learning there, I moved to Uganda to replicate the Gandhi Fellowship. The process was hugely challenging and rewarding at the same time. My biggest challenge was to contextualize the whole process of education to suit the learning needs of the youth and the school system. At the personal level, the biggest challenge or you can say learning was to understand the cultural context of the area, how people worked there, how they took decisions, how they prioritized things, what motivated them, what disappointed them, what offended them and what stimulated them intellectually.

Understanding all this was very important in building a team and without having been a Gandhi fellow, it would have been impossible to replicate such a dynamic program that required constant thinking. Team building and collaboration are such fancy words and overused at times, but to actually understand the nuances of it and to practice it is very different from what we see on the surface. To practice team work and build a team with a shared vision was one of the most difficult things and still is very challenging as the task is more about creating an idea of shared expectation, values and work ethics and understanding the team strength which is always much more than the sum of individuals.

The second biggest challenge was to inculcate and imbibe values that the Gandhi Fellowship stood for into the DNA of the program there.

Till today, I have led the team here successfully to recruit two cohorts of fellows working in 80 Government schools. I have been instrumental in setting up this program and running it for the last two years, and my aim is to leave at a place where we have a sustainable system of school education that can be scaled on its own. My main focus has been to integrate the social –emotional part of the learning to the larger systems in which we operate to understand ourselves and our journey and interventions in a much more holistic way.

Today, this fellowship is one of its kind in the whole of East Africa and utilizes the transformative potential of the youth to create a systemic dent in the public system. With this fellowship, we aim to grow enrollment and reach out to 38,200 out-of-school children in Uganda by training 150 young Ugandan graduates working in 600 primary schools.

My message to young people is to stop transacting for short term gains and encourage transactional relationships, start building transformational relationships and create a culture of learning around one through developing a million learning partners for oneself and the communities one works with, something I have imbibed from the Gandhi Fellowship and I am always thankful to it for.

You must be to comment.
  1. issacthomas3

    Your journey is quite inspirational buudy and respect for the amazing work you are doing…God bless you…

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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 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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