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A Team Of Young Educators In Mumbai Teach Skills That You Won’t Find In Textbooks

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By Swetha Ranganathan:

Amrita didi, best team mate and teacher
Amrita didi, best teammate and teacher.

After completing my engineering from Father Agnel College, Mumbai, I spent three months teaching children in a government school, where I met Harshad, a 12-year-old boy. Harshad, like all his other classmates, lived in a low-income community in Sion Koliwada. He would try hard to focus in class, but often seemed exhausted, not confident, and used abusive language. I found out that Harshad worked in a job before school, his father was an alcoholic, and the boy was witness to a lot of violence at home. I always wondered how a child his age would feel when surrounded by such problems, and what his school was doing to develop his abilities to deal with them.

We all know and agree that schools are purposed to deliver an education that ensures children emerge as conscientious and reflective citizens capable of bringing change in their own lives as well in society. But how many schools do we know who qualify to claim this?

What’s more – with the changing social and cultural scenario, it’s even more imperative that children are able to build excellent problem-solving, interpersonal relationship building and decision-making skills (also called life skills). These are skills that could help an individual break through the barriers that keep them from making the most of the opportunities around them.

Keen to do something about this, I joined TISS to pursue an M.A. Social Entrepreneurship programme, where I met two people who felt the same way. Amrita came with an educational background in psychology and later worked in the education space, while Anukriti, came with a drive for entrepreneurship and a will to cater to any need she recognised in society. Though we may have joined the course for different reasons, it was our experiences before we met each other that really brought us together, as close friends and co-founders.

In 2012, we started the Apni Shala Foundation, an organisation in Mumbai working with children, teachers and parents. The aim is to create a space that allows for the development of skills, attitudes and values that one needs to bring about a positive change in their own life and in their community. Today, it is a team of professionals working towards creating a wave across schools by integrating life skills into schools’ weekly timetables.

Sometimes streets are better classrooms
Sometimes streets are better classrooms.

Our focus area is design and delivery of life skills education programmes to create opportunities and experiences for children where they can develop essential skills such as teamwork, leadership, empathy, self-awareness, and communication. The highlight of our approach is that we ensure children are learning in a way that it really stays with them. When was the last time you learnt to be a good team player from a text-books? That’s why, we use a blend of exciting games, drama, art and community work that encourage participation, brainstorming, and reflection, but in a way that is fun and caters to different children’s learning styles. Till date we have worked with almost 3000 children, 100 teachers and over 200 parents, and the coming year we’re hoping to double our annual outreach.

We’ve made every attempt to measure our impact in numbers through objective annual assessments of the children. These evaluations show that 97% of the children we have worked with have developed a life skill. However, what motivates us and inspires us to keep going is stories like these:

Engrossed students and facilitator in an Apni Shala session
Engrossed students and facilitator.

12-year-old Simran along with three others in her class took up the topic of sexual harassment in July 2014. Although Simran was always one to speak up and express herself, she and her team took many weeks to narrow down on this topic – given all the awkwardness and silence about such issues in her community. However, this group was determined to do something about it. They decided, the best way to end sexual harassment was – get a policeman to patrol the area during ‘peak’ hours. Guess what Simran and her team went on to do? They roamed their community basti and conducted a signature campaign with 100 signatures! Next stop – Deonar Police Station! They filed their request – and got a request number from the police officer then. Next – we get a call from the police officer after a month saying that he’s going to take action!

We’ve come a long way, but we know we can’t make this journey alone. We need more people who care about the education system to join us in our endeavours. And so, we’re excited to introduce the Apni Shala Fellowship this year. This is a one-year paid fellowship for anyone out there who is passionate about working with children, and would like to make a huge impact in children’s lives, grow with a young organisation and rediscover themselves and their passions in the process. It seeks to build a platform for youth to become more aware of social issues and start out on their journey of self-transformation. Apni Shala Fellows will be frontrunners of the life skills education movement and the face of the organisation in schools. Following a rigorous training programme, fellows will work directly with children from low-income schools and communities.

We’re now reaching out to youth from across the country to come and join us in our efforts. Education is not an industry, but a movement. Working towards a shift in this sector doesn’t make you an employee but instead, a catalyst for change and a role model for future generations. We urge you to join us in our endeavours. We’re dreaming big. And we’re confident we’ll get there soon.

You must be to comment.
  1. Pradipkumar Vyas

    I am interested in working with you to understand how can i be really useful? I am a retired person but physically and mentally healthy.

    Please contact me at pvyas1943@gmail.com
    Pradip Vyas

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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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