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Why I Left My Engineering Job To Teach Maths And Science To Kids In Kashmir

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By Abdullah Saqib:

SaquibIn school, my interest was always in Mathematics and problem-solving. But as a youth growing up in Baramulla, a small town in Kashmir, I had absolutely no access to career-related information. According to me at the time, engineering was the only option constituting both Maths and problem-solving. So, after studying at St Joseph’s School till 10th Class, followed by Govt. Boys Higher Secondary, I took up engineering for the next four years at NIT Srinagar.

My experience at NIT Srinagar was amazing! The teachers were professional and helpful, especially my guide, M Ahsan Chisti, who was an excellent motivator. He also kind of inspired me towards my current profession. But more on that later.

During my course, I got placed in the Samsung Research Institute, Bangalore. I went on to join there and worked for two years, till October 2015. It was a good experience. However, I felt more inclined towards doing something completely different – something in the area of education in Kashmir.

Politics Of Education

I have always had a feeling that education, especially in Kashmir, is used as a political tool. For instance, free classes will get launched but without any real focus on quality of the education. At most government schools attended by students after 10th Class, there is no focus on numerical aptitude. However, in all the entrance exams you will be tested for your analytical powers.

So, these kids get really confused and wonder what exactly they were studying for these two years! Overall, I feel our education system is churning out clerks and not helping in thinking out of the box. Yes, some people do think differently. However, it is not because of, but despite our education!

At first, I considered setting up a higher secondary school. But around the same time, I connected with someone looking for alumni of NIT Srinagar to join Avanti Learning Centres as teachers. This role matched with my aspirations of doing something in education in Kashmir, and it is what made me return to my homeland.

Finding My Vocation

My first task after joining Avanti and understanding its pedagogy was to teach kids of 12th Class for advanced JEE. When I was about to start my first class, I felt very nervous as I had zero experience of teaching. But the moment I started and saw the motivated kids around me saying ‘Kashmir ke sir hai. Mazaa aayega!‘ (our teacher is from Kashmir, we shall have fun!), this ignited a spark in me, and I ended up loving teaching. So, from my very first class, onwards, the kids liked my teaching and I discovered a teacher within myself.

Since then I have been teaching for approximately six months in Kupwara and Handwara, which are located just 40 km from LOC (Line of Control). The students are of average level mostly because in the JKBOSE (Jammu & Kashmir State Board of School Education) using a calculator is allowed. I think this is a big block in the path of education; their calculating ability has become disastrous!

However, now they have started working harder and improving, as at Avanti, we make sure students aren’t using calculators during class exercises. How do I motivate them? By telling them that this dependency on calculators won’t help them for their entrance exams!

Raising Questions

I always encourage my students to ask all their doubts, feely. But at times, this has backfired. One of my kids in 11th Class had to withdraw his admission from one school and is now going to another school just because he asks too many questions! After this happened I had to spend a whole class explaining to children that they could ask questions at Avanti only, and not in their schools. It really pained me to do this, however, such is the approach towards education these days.

An odd question I get all the time is inspired by the notion in Kashmir that only those who have pursued MSc in a subject should teach that subject. On coming to know I am an engineer, one kid looked puzzled. “Is there a problem? Are you not able to understand,” I asked. “Sir, I am able to understand every bit of it. That’s why I am puzzled. I thought that you have done some extra course in chemistry,” he said!

During my childhood, my father used to sing to me a prayer in Urdu, which had a lyric about spreading the light like a candle. I always wondered how I would achieve that. Well, that is exactly how I feel about becoming a teacher. Additionally, you are always in a learning state when you are a teacher and that’s really the best part of being a teacher.

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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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