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I Chose To Volunteer In Dharamsala Instead Of Holidaying, And It Was The Best Thing Ever

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By Dronacharya Dave:

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Nestled amid the lush green and exquisite Himalayas, Dharamsala is a valley city in the northern state of Himachal Pradesh, India. The spectacular natural beauty and the pious aroma that fills the air is a soothing and tranquil experience to have. Students in their gap year choose to volunteer abroad, and India is one of the most popular destinations for them. Since it is mainly around the summers that travellers arrive to volunteer in India, the Himalayas is the most apt location to visit.

I came across the concept of volunteer travelling during my early days of nomadic life, when I was travelling in the beautiful city of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. And, since then, this has been ‘my way’ of travelling across different destinations. There are a number of volunteer placement organisations that provide special summer volunteering in India at Palampur, which is at a short distance of 30-40 kilometres from Dharamsala; making it a perfect location to spend summers travelling abroad. Last summer, I chose to take up this stint in my own country, India, and chose Dharamsala for the same. What I experienced and learnt while volunteering in Dharamsala was an unmatched experience. And, thus, I decided to share my experience in the hope that it might motivate others as well.

That Dharamsala is home to His Holiness The Dalai Lama is just one of the factors that attracts the global community of travellers to this region. Here is a list of a few irresistible reasons to visit Dharamsala this summer to volunteer in India.

Awaken The Spiritual Sense In You

Dharamsala is home to his holiness The Dalai Lama, which is a strong enough indication of the piousness spread in the atmosphere. Apart from that, there are a number of Buddhist pagodas and temples spread across the region. In the Palampur area, I was accommodated along with seven other volunteers who had arrived from different countries, which showcases homogeneity in terms of spiritual environment.

Challenge Your Limits Trekking In The Himalayas

Palampur and Dharamsala both lie in the Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh, which offers a number of breathtaking adventure activities. During the three weeks’ summer volunteering trip in India, I got the opportunity to explore the destination and take part in a number of activities in and around Palampur. One such activity was the Himalayan trek to the scintillating Triund Hill. There’s this another trek option which takes you to the hilltop of Bir-Billing that is world famous for it’s international paragliding events. Yes! You guessed it. It was a breathtaking experience to fly over the beautiful valley of Palampur. Why walk, when you can fly your way down!

Experience The Summer With The Joy Of Giving

While it’s a summer travel expedition, at the end of it all, it is a volunteer trip you take. Which means there will be work for you to do for the community. During my summer volunteer programme, I worked at the childcare centres in Palampur. The first lap of the volunteer work, however, began in Delhi where I worked under the ‘Street Children’ programme. Both these programmes revolve around the welfare and development of underprivileged children who come from highly compromised backgrounds. Volunteers can also involve themselves in construction work at these centres to refurbish parts that need repair and give them a new and fresh look.

Introduce Yourself To A New Culture And Lifestyle

The Indian sub-continent is known for its diverse culture and traditions. The kind of culture and lifestyle that I found in Palampur-Dharamsala was a lot different from what I saw in Delhi, or any other part of the country for that matter. Every region in India has its own set of language, dress, lifestyle, food, and more. So, while volunteering in Palampur, it was a totally different experience for me to witness a culture I had never even heard of. Now, isn’t that what we call globe-trotting?

Look Forward To Explore Other Destinations

The summer volunteering in India programme was a complete three-week extravaganza which kicked off from the capital city of New Delhi and then took me to some of the best locations in North India. While most of my journey covered exploring areas in and around Dharamsala and Palampur, the first lap, however, started from New Delhi including visits to:

1) Golden Temple in Amritsar, Punjab
2) The Taj Mahal, Agra
3) Amer Fort and Hawa Mahal, Jaipur

In Jaipur, we took a pit stop at an elephant village where we spent time with the friendly giant while doing some volunteer work as well, such as making food for the elephant, taking them for bath, etc.

Overwhelmed with the number of fun activities? Well, guess what? There are a number of other reasons as well which can’t be explained or mentioned but can only be felt and seen. Summers here and there couldn’t be a better time to plan your summer trip. Keep travelling…responsibly!

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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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