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These Young Delhiwalas Are Going To Weddings And Parties For A Very Special Reason

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Image posted by Robin Hood Army on Facebook

On March 11, 2016, an estimated 20,000 weddings took place in the national capital. A whole lot of people ate hearty meals that night. But at the risk of repeating yet another obvious fact, a whole lot of food must have gone to waste as well. This, in a city that lost 1,027 people due to starvation between 1999 and 2011 (without accounting for the ones that possibly went unreported). The intention is not to reproach people for their desire to start a new phase of their life with pomp or to upbraid wedding planners who surely put in every effort to minimise wastage.

But the contrast, once you realise it, is hard to ignore, though many of us manage to do so. Twenty-something Neel Ghose is one individual who couldn’t. This SRCC and LSE alumnus has lived and worked in several cities. One of them was Lisbon where he was involved with an organisation called Refood which, as the name suggests, “re-takes food surpluses and feeds those in need.” It was an idea that, as an Indian, he felt his own country desperately needed and this inspired him to start the Robin Hood Army (RHA), which works with a simple philosophy – why let plentiful, nutritious food go to waste when there are people who could use some? Besides, our old friends – the wedding planners, the restaurateurs, and caterers – don’t want to throw food away either. A symbiotic relation was bound to happen. Someone had to take the initiative. And someone did.

RHA emphasize that they are a decentralised organisation, which is why they refer to themselves as a ’cause’ on Facebook. Neel might have started it in Delhi, but there are plenty of people in other cities – Hyderabad, Kolkata, Mumbai and even Lahore and Karachi – who were willing, no, waiting to join the movement. These are young professionals like Neel, who by the way, is VP International Operations at a well-known ‘restaurant search and discovery’ platform.

Their message has spread to many campuses in India like the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad, LSR and Jamia Millia in Delhi, St Xavier’s in Mumbai and DY Patil, Pune. In fact, Independence Day saw 141 colleges in India and Pakistan feed one lakh people in two days! The vigour of young blood ensures that the organisation runs just fine, without any centralised control because as RHA explains its mission and organisation in a simple manner: “…restaurants in [for example] Green Park, Delhi will contribute to the homeless of the locality via volunteers who live in Green Park.” To stay connected they use the power of social media, which they also use to spread the word.

There is another group of young men and women, which started a similar body in 2014, the same year that RHA came into being. Ankit Kawatra was a finance researcher. Now, he runs Feeding India (FI). His epiphany happened at a lavish wedding, where he realised there wasn’t a need to “buy food but use what is already available in abundance.”

FI initially grew through a 24*7 helpline, and they soon found allies in caterers, wedding planners, etc. They started out as a group of five and now have hundreds of volunteers in over 20 cities. Caterers can partner with them. Young chefs also support FI’s campaigns, and the organisation regularly has events to promote their work.

Managing one’s life with social work on the side can be tough. The reasons to stay motivated can often prove elusive. But altruism is not a psychological condition. It’s a choice, one that has unique rewards. An FI volunteer or ‘Hunger Hero’, as the organisation calls them, writes, “I cannot summarise the feeling that I get when I go to feed people, that feeling is out of the world.” For some, that is enough to be the change and keep going.

The goals of these teams are simple and quite similar – reduce wastage, reduce hunger – even though the structure of their organisations may vary. According to RHA’s Facebook page, they have served 511,143 people (as of April 19, 2016). But the truth is, even an impressive six-digit number such as this is a small contribution towards eradicating hunger, and they do not shy away from acknowledging it. However, the real achievement of groups like Robin Hood Army and Feeding India, is not the number of people they have served (although that is an essential part of it). Their primary accomplishment, for lack of a better word, is raising awareness among the youth of this nation, people like you and me. They have made concern fashionable! And for that, they deserve a tip of the giant hat on the head of our collective conscience.

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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.

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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 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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