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This 15-Year-Old Tech Expert Is Proof That Good Education Is India’s Key To Success

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By Alankrita Khera

15-year-old Anuj Nirmal’s interests range from writing his blog, building robots and researching on how to create learning apps, to studying human psychology and predicting how people would behave in different circumstances. His personal achievements so far range from winning an inter-school parliamentary debate competition against 30 teams to placing second in a city-wide Kho-Kho competition organized by the BMC – naming but a mere few. He has also recently been the student facilitator at a Teach For All Conference which saw participation by leaders like Wendy Kopp (Founder – Teach For America) and State Senator (Colorado) Mike Johnston.

Anuj and his family moved from a small village near Allahabad to a one room set-up in Prem Nagar Chawl in the bustling suburbs of Goregaon, Mumbai a few years ago to start life afresh. He is the youngest of 3 children and his parents iron clothes for a living. However, his tough circumstances have never deterred him from his dreams – Anuj is not only a brilliant student but also makes it point to find the time for his passion for technology.

“I was 7 years old when sci-fi and superhero movies began to inspire me. I loved watching how superheroes were able to help the world using technology!” he says with a grin. It was then that he started to keep a journal of all the ideas that would strike his mind and experiment them on any object that he could find around him. “I dismantled a DVD player I found somewhere once and used its parts to create a locomotive engine for a small prototype crane lift. My experimenting actually caused a power failure inside the house once which made my parents ban the activity at home altogether!”

In the absence of a computer at home, Anuj would save up money to visit an internet café to write his blog – where the owner discovered his ability to type fast and offered him a job. “I got to use his computers for free and paid my school fees with the salary he gave me. My weekday evenings and all Sundays since then are spent working at the café where I teach Microsoft Office and undertake admin duties along with learning the basics of coding and javascript myself.”

Anuj draws inspiration from his parents and teachers alike. “Studying in Siddharth Nagar municipal school, I’ve been fortunate to have Teach For India Fellows as my teachers since 3rd Grade as they’ve always guided me and supported my ideas. I recently developed an interest in hacking and showed my science teacher and TFI Fellow Sravanti Didi how easy it was to hack into her computer. She wisely made me aware about cyber law and ethical hacking and recommended that I look up Ankit Fadia who wrote a book on ethical hacking in 2001 when he was just 15. Another Teach For India Fellow, Apoorva Didi, taught us how to debate and construct arguments. I’ve always been a shy public speaker but Apoorva Didi made me challenge my fear by taking us to the mall and asking us to debate in front of all the people there!”

For a 15-year-old, Anuj has perfected the art of managing his time prudently. He wakes up at 5 AM every day, studies for an hour before reaching school at 7 AM. Being the Head Boy, he starts by making sure that everything is clean and ends the day by leading other students to disperse school in an orderly fashion. Since the school does not have a Hindi or Marathi teacher, Anuj attends tuitions 2 – 3:30 PM to address his weakness with language studies and then proceeds for Just For Kicks football practice (a TFI led annual inter-school competition) at 5 PM before heading to the internet café at 7PM where he works till 9.30PM. He has also been selected by Teach for India to be in the Planning Committee for the next phase of the organisation. “I feel so happy to be able to give my views and ideas. Teachers are usually aware about their classrooms to only a certain extent – when I interact with my classmates during recess and outside school, I get to see another side to them. I hope I can make as much of a contribution to the next phase of Teach For India as their Fellows have made to my life and thinking over the last 5 years,” he says solemnly with heart-warming humility and touching honesty.

Anuj dreams to be the youngest founder of a technology company called Anuj’s Products that would build various tech gadgets and wishes to use the money that he makes from this company to build hospitals and schools for the poor. “God has given us one life and we should use it to the fullest. I feel like crying when I look at beggars and handicapped people on the street and wonder why nobody is even trying to train them to talk on the phone so that they can work in a BPO for example? After all they can still use their mouth to speak! I want to make technology that can help such people so that nobody is ever left helpless. I also see boys in my area who sit on their bikes all day – smoking and picking up fights all day. If they are so interested in fighting, they should do something useful and join the military!”

Children like Anuj Nirmal are our hope for tomorrow. Hope that one day every child in our country would be able to nurture a strong dream of his/her own.

Teach For India’s Fellowship program places outstanding working professionals and college graduates as Fellows – who work full-time for two years in low-income & under-resourced schools teaching underprivileged kids. Applications to the 2016-18 Teach For India Fellowship program are now open. Application Deadline: 2nd February 2016.

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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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