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In 15 Minutes, This Young Boy At A Tea Stall Taught Me A Wonderful Lesson On Leadership

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By Ekam Singh:

I have heard of and participated in a few debates over the stage of the origin of leadership qualities in a leader. There are two basic heads of discussion – leaders are born and leaders are made. Which of these is true and in what circumstances is not the point here, neither is any analysis over which theory holds more precedence in the course of history. The point here is simply about the little boy you see in the middle of the three in the picture. The point is about the laser-like focus of his eyes and his unconsciously majestic style. He must be all of about six years but his sense of responsibility blended with his confidence says that he has a story. Through my passage, I will call this young boy Raju, not because that is easier than referring to him as ‘the boy’ or ‘young man’ every time, but because I think that he deserves an identity.

I happened to observe Raju along with his little platoon while I was on the way to a hill station with my parents. We needed a cup of hot Indian evening tea and after searching for a tea place for over an hour and having rejected a few over petty reasons, we decided to stop at whatever place we would come across next.

Once we finally made a stop in front of a shabby looking tea stall, my mom and I sat in the car with the windows rolled up and the air conditioner running. We began discussing the grim state of hygiene and other spheres of public life in our country and how progress in these areas is easier talked about than witnessed.

While we were talking, we noticed a group of six kids making their way from the other end of the street to the side that we were parked. They begged and played as they made their  way through a roadside full of street vendors, stray animals, chatting groups and other beggars. When they reached  the tea stall we were parked at and saw the evening activity, they stopped and murmured stuff to each other. Perhaps the aroma of the fresh samosas and the steaming tea enticed them. Raju gave his group a reassuring nod and with the slightest hint of a smile on his tanned but well-defined face, he marched up to the tea vendor. He said something to the vendor and on getting his reply, he reached into his pocket and got some coins out. He fiddled with them in his hand and began a negotiation with the vendor. During his negotiations, he kept his money tightly secured in his fist. While Raju spoke confidently and with the most fierce eye contact I have seen someone make, the vendor tried to hide his smile of amusement while he attended to this unlikely ‘customer’. The rest of his group, on the other hand, was waiting across the street with hope in their eyes and awe on their faces.

After their brief talk, the vendor resumed his job of making and serving tea and Raju beckoned the others to sit on a rusty bench placed outside the stall. They all ran and at once leaped on the bench. While these kids sat talking and playing, there was a clear distinction in the body language of Raju and the rest of them. He took the seat in the middle of the bench and without any protest, two others sat on either side of him, giving him enough space to himself and another two made themselves comfortable on the ground. He seemed to be the center of the discussion and the origin of their communication. I noticed an extremely subtle but inherent sense of obeisance among the children to Raju. He laughed and joked with them, but with an air of authority that none of them seemed to question.

About ten minutes later, the vendor brought them six cups of tea and three samosas. He placed them on the bench. I was not surprised to see what followed. None of the kids advanced towards the treat. They sat patiently but their eyes showed their enthusiasm. Raju then split the samosas into six and gave a piece to each of his companions along with a cup of tea. He took his share in the end. I figured that the cups were only half full because he did not have enough money for six and must have asked the vendor to split three into six. While I tried to take a few snapshots of this celebration, Raju happened to look my way. His immediate reaction was a beaming smile followed by the straightening of his posture and the re-positioning of his hand which held the samosa. The other two on the bench followed his lead and gave me the perfect shot that you see above! A couple of minutes after this ‘photo-shoot’, we decided to resume our journey. We drove off and Raju and his pack waved to us excitedly. I have not heard of or seen Raju since and I am sure that he doesn’t know that I exist. But those fifteen or so minutes I spent observing him were enough for me to respect him and his attitude.

I know that what I have written is not an extraordinary story. Perhaps it’s barely a story. But I feel that I owe this to ‘Raju’. I feel that his alpha behavior at an age when care is a right and not a responsibility deserves an acknowledgment. I feel that his ability to be a guide and a leader to others his age among people who are on an average triple his age is commendable. I don’t know who Raju will be when he is older or what he’ll do. I only know that he has the eye of a tiger and that right now, he’s a hero.

Well done, Raju.

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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.

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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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