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This Graduate Learnt More In 4 Months Of Volunteering Than Most Do In College

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India fellow logoEditor’s Note: This post is a part of a campaign by The India Fellow program on Youth Ki Awaaz. India Fellows spend 13 months working at the grassroots level to bring about real on-ground change. They are also mentored to be socially conscious leaders and contribute to the development of the country. Apply here to be a part of the change.

By Laxminarayana Doosa:

laxminarayana doosaA 22-year old graduate, fresh out of city life, I was like most others around me who were up for going to villages to make some ground change possible. We had all the excitement of being part of the development sector but little awareness of ground realities. As fellows of the India Fellowship, we were all placed in the pilot phase of various projects, so that we could learn and aid the setting up of the organisation we were associated with, learning from the challenges therein.

I was placed with Drishtee, a Noida-based organisation that’s spread across six states in North India and works towards making rural communities more sustainable. The goal of my project was fairly simple – bring together marginal women farmers in the villages, form them into a Farmer Producer Company, and connect them to the market through a vegetable door delivery service called MadhuKrishi.

But things were clearly not as simple as they seemed.

Understanding The Farming Community

For the first four months, I was placed in the field in Gohana, a block in the Sonepat district of Haryana, where I was working directly with the villagers, trying to form informal groups of farmers called Farmer Clubs. The work at the field level is quite confusing and too huge to completely understand at the onset. Issues in getting things started ranged from farmers not turning up for the meetings (which you so excitedly arrange) to working with the local field staff who have their own issues and dynamics, making it a big lesson in adaptability. Along with this, I was dealing with the various stakeholders like donors, organisations, local governance units, the community itself and understanding the synergies and conflicts between them.

Not to mention the water and electricity problems that plagued the village and in turn, me, which I had to contend with! I can say for sure that it was a bit of an eye-opener to the fellows who had joined the fellowship with an “all things in villages are rosy and ideal” kind of attitude. However, it was also the sharing of experiences with my co-fellows who have similar passions and were experiencing similar emotions that sustained me through this period.

But all said and done it was in these first four months, that I learnt a lot about farmer clubs, farmer producer companies, and various programmes of NABARD. I was also researching a lot about Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) act and various things related to agriculture sector.

Implementing The “Theory Of Change”

To help us further augment our learning, the fellowship team shared various tools that could be used to analyse the impact of ideas and problem solving strategies in development sector, and they encouraged us to do a “Theory of Change” for our respective projects.

We did one for our project and presented to Drishtee’s management team. How this helped was that post the presentation, we were asked to design and carry out two field researches – one with urban consumers to understand the consumption behaviour, and second with the farmers to understand their problems and needs.

Making Sense Of Data

We also did an analysis of the study and presented the findings to the organisation. This experience taught me a lot about data analysis, about how to interpret data as well as about survey designing. More than anything, it has taught me one skill that I value a lot, and get a high from whenever I work on it i.e. “Making Sense Of Data”. After the survey analysis and presentation, I was shifted to head office and made responsible for managing operations of MadhuKrishi’s supply chain. While working in operations, I learnt loads about planning – resource planning for day to day operations, process planning of the supply chain’s processes and business planning. I even made a business plan for the FPO that we are forming in the villages.

Using My Engineering Knowledge

Fellows report directly to the top management of the organisation, and each fellow is assigned to a mentor in the host organisation. I had a lot of support from my mentor and the host organisation in implementing my ideas and was given space to express my ideas without any hesitance.

For instance, I thought I won’t get a chance to use any of my engineering knowledge while working at an NGO. But then, my knowledge of engineering drawing was very helpful in designing the layout for our warehouse and designing a box for distributing our delivery bags. I also presented a design of an automatic vegetable packaging machine using sensors.

Over and above everything, the work I was able to do as a fellow, to be able to observe and work at the ground level was what gave me in-depth exposure to the concepts of setting up, managing, and scaling up. These concepts are applicable to any sector, but that I am now well-versed in using and applying them for solutions in the development sector of which I want to be a part, is what has been my biggest learning in this time.

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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