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I Used To Think That Social Work Was Boring, But ‘Desire’ Changed My Mind

By Shubham Mishra:

While getting back to college after an exhilarating two-month vacation, I got to know about a social entrepreneurship cell Desire Foundation working in my college. At first, I wasn’t quite sure. “Why should I join a social organisation?”; “Wouldn’t it be boring and stuff?”; “Should I go for it?” Since I was quite busy with my branch change procedure, however, all this simply escaped my mind.

A few weeks later, while walking across the corridor in my hostel, I met a few girls distributing copies bearing the motto “You write, Help them write”. Intrigued, I went ahead to know more about it. These copies were being distributed by the same organisation for lower rates and surprisingly the quality of these copies was pretty good. While talking to these people, I got to know that the money collected by the distribution would be used for children, i.e., for their education and development. Not only that, the copies also contained pictures of their previous work in various slum areas in and around Bhubaneswar.

Later on, while looking them up them on social media, I learnt that this society was built on the values of dedication and hard work. Their team was made of college students like me, the youngsters which ‘our society’ considers to be too immature and spoilt to have even basic decency, respect or humanity. In front of them stands this society bearing the flame of service for those in need. To sow the seeds of hope in the budding generation of our country and to provide them with a platform to let their dreams take flight is the main vision of this society.

I got to know that here the interns do not just monotonously ‘do their job’ as members. Rather for them, it’s like an opportunity on a silver platter. I realised that a combined feeling of compassion and love coupled with an immense sense of helpfulness drives this cohort of young people to brighten the lives of those others. It was then that I took the decision to join Desire Foundation.

img-20160604-wa0006My first project here was celebrating Independence Day at a school in a slum and it was extraordinarily extravagant. The bustling excitement for the beginning of celebration for another year of independence was draped in the colours of the little ones. Several competitions were organised for the children and the stream of beauty and dedication was simply overflowing. The entire celebration in the sweltering heat of Bhubaneswar was exhausting but the big smiles on those little faces were like a cool breeze of bliss. There were many projects after that.

Desire had earlier done projects like ‘Liter of Light’ which is a national movement in which a simple device is used to for lighting up homes of the people dwelling in destitute areas of the city in an eco-friendly and cost-effective manner; ‘Rice Bucket Challenge’, in which 61 kilograms of rice were distributed to various families living in slums in Bhubaneswar; ‘Treatzza’, in which about a score of students were given a free treat at Pizza Hut etc.

Also, recently Desire has started working on RTE, i.e., Right to Free and Compulsory Education in India, by which every child between 6-14 years has got the right to free education. We have done many surveys across various slums of Odisha and are continuously in contact with government officials who can help us to improve the implementation of this precious Act in Odisha. A few months ago, Desire became the social partner of the fest Technext, IIT BHU, Varanasi and BITOTSAV, BIT Mesra, Ranchi to spread awareness about RTE in these colleges as well.

Throughout this journey, coping with the hills and crevices of destiny while taking up the burden of breaking the shackles of hegemony that have so far imprisoned the advancement of our society, Desire has played it’s part well in making this world a better place to live in. By believing in the motto “Poverty can only be eradicated by Education”, Desire has provided young kids with the hope to desire, to dream and to achieve the stars of infinity. And as for me, Desire has carved me into a better person. It helped me to unveil the ‘goodness’ of my heart by obscuring the mist of materialism. It taught me to be selfless, to be mature and to pamper the world with happiness and love.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.”

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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