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This Real-Life ‘Swades’ Story Led An IT Professional To Find His True Calling

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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 Anvesh Thirukovalluru:

Image posted by Anvesh on Facebook.
Image posted by Anvesh on Facebook.

We hardly ever question why we are doing something – especially if that option provides most of our material comforts. But if one were to think beyond these material comforts, there’s a lot that’s waiting to be explored. I learnt this while working comfortably at an IT firm as a software engineer for four years. In my third year, I began to realise that the job was not for me. So, I started exploring what gives me happiness. I volunteered with some NGOs to teach kids in slums. I worked with people in orphanages and old age homes. I donated blood, and finally, pooled in funds to support the education of more than 50 kids. This was a journey of discovery! So, I thought – why not extend this just beyond volunteering to a way of life?

That’s when I joined a fellowship. So, in the fall of 2010, I went to work in the hinterlands of Odisha in Kalahandi, one of the lowest human development index regions of the country. I worked with my host organisation Gram Vikas (which is quite reputed) on thematic issues like water and sanitation (includes building toilets); large-scale watershed projects, a horticulture-based livelihoods programme for tribal farmers and micro-hybrid projects to light up a tribal village in the Lanjigarh block of Kalahandi district. Of these, the last is really close to my heart, because I finally got to apply my mechanical engineering knowledge.

Building toilets as part of the water & sanitation project with Gram Vikas
Building toilets as part of the water & sanitation project with Gram Vikas

When I see a micro-hydro project, the first thing that comes to my mind is the Bollywood movie ‘Swades’. But a micro hydro-power project requires a lot more effort, time and commitment than one can imagine. While working with the organisation’s team in Kalahandi, this became quite evident. The technical part of the project inspired nostalgia in me as I’m a mechanical engineer by qualification but never applied the knowledge anywhere before.

I was involved in turbine fabrication, and other technical and social aspects of the project – right from community interactions to help motivate them to work on constructing a dam, tank and power house etc and liaising with government departments for mobilising NREGA funds to working with local machine shops for turbine fabrication and other mechanical parts to field visits.
In a country as big as ours, there exists a huge gap between need and skill. I knew how a turbine worked, and was trained to do exactly this. But the chances that I would have used my knowledge as an IT professional in a Tier 1 city was almost zero. On the other hand, the chances of a Lanjigarh kid one day becoming a turbine engineer and setting up the micro-hydro project is sadly also dim, if not impossible. The serendipitous coming together of the village and my skill set did a great deal of good for both of us.

anvesh photo 2
The lit up village of Punjam

The joy of using one’s skill for something beyond just the self or earning money is unparalleled. A village, which was in darkness one night was lit up the next. It is a feat I am going to remember with a lot of pride for the rest of my life. As I write this, I feel hopeful that the electricity in that village will enable them to read this article.

My years at the fellowship proved formative and gave me a clearer vision. I saw first-hand, the stark face of poverty and realised how impact at a mass scale can be brought about by working at the very top, with the knowledge of happenings at the extreme bottom. I worked in one of the nearly seven lakh villages in our country. The number of young people needed to even start getting things to change in a country as big as ours is much more than now.

As I write this, I await the results of my recently completed UPSC exams and I am hopeful of joining hands with many others who are trying at their respective levels to make India a better place for all of us. Above all I improved my happiness quotient and realised that giving time to the grassroots community work will not just make us better citizens and potential leaders, it will also bring about that elusive social change we all want.

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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.

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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.

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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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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)’.

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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.”

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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, 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.

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