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From Grooming Pets To Growing Food, Why I Want Schools To Teach More Than Subjects

By Aishwarya Dabhade:

Mrs. Sonia Philips, I still remember her, my senior kindergarten teacher, pretty, delicate. Sir Edward, my grade two class teacher, a grumpy and strict, tall man. I can’t even recall him smiling. And, yes! How can I forget Mrs. Asharafi, a teacher so serene and so loving? Mrs. Malvika was my mom in school and the beautiful Mrs. Uzma Rizwan Khan (known as “Khan Ma’am”) is the one who saw in me a confident leader.

I grew up, changed several schools and most of my teachers left a permanent mark in my memory. Their voice, face, qualities, style, their tone, their language, how they taught and what they preached is what I still recall. Every promotion faded my observation as well as my teachers’ impact on me. Today, pursuing my graduation, I hardly connect to my professors. They are indeed amazing and inspiring but their impact is, I know, superficial.

With this thought, we should really ruminate over the importance of primary school teachers in a student’s life. Children tend to follow and observe the people around them. Especially teachers. After their parents, they play an influential role in a child’s life. Children capture their image, body language, behaviour and expressions as well as ideologies and thought processes. Hence, it is very important to think about what quality of primary teachers our schools offer the children. Because the human we appoint to teach the basics of education to a child, somehow contributes to mould the child in several ways in the longer term.

While hiring a teacher the only basic criteria considered is their qualification. No degree can guarantee any kind of personal morals nor does it determine anyone’s character. Therefore, qualifications shouldn’t be the only substructure on what we appoint teachers for primary students who have stepped out on their journey of knowledge and education. These students need mentors with strong and promising personalities carrying high moral and emotional ethical values. Their character and ideologies should be aligned and they should be able to successfully project an improvised human in front of the kids because they are constantly followed.

In Finland, the primary education of which is considered one of the best in the world, teachers have to go through rigorous training to deal with kids. They are scrutinised for several months for what they teach and preach in the class. No doubt they are the best.

Even the content of what is to be taught in primary school should be rethought by the education system. We have, they say, a quality education system but we all have experienced it only conceptually and theoretically. Environmental studies were introduced as a compulsory graded subject so as to make us aware of the global environmental problems and concepts. But it is, even today, learned just to get a grade ‘A’ and clear the examinations. Students seldom care about the seriousness of the deteriorating environmental conditions, nor are they perceptive about the solutions.

Indians are good at solving mathematical problems as well as scientific equations. A 15-year-old well-practiced Indian kid would solve on paper any complicated mathematical problem, but in Japan (with the second best education system), a 15-year-old kid is making robots. The only difference between them is we are bookworms whereas they practise applied knowledge.

Our schools educate us enough to make us capable of getting a professional degree and a job but seldom are we taught what it actually takes to be a good human and citizen. We are rarely taught what actually matters in real life. Who among you was taught how to grow food in school? Sounds stupid, but teaching how to grow food in school should be part of a holistic approach towards educating the child. Are you aware of the actual process of planting a tree? How many of you have actually filtered water through sedimentation and preserved it? Did your school ever make you spend a day with pet animals and teach you how to groom them? Doing this would inculcate a feeling of sympathy as well as compassion towards animals. some believe that a person who isn’t compassionate towards animals cannot be the same with humans in general.

Was any art made compulsory in your school be it dance, painting or poetry? Was it made compulsory for every student to choose one sport as their sports routine? Was every edge of you as a student dusted and did your school try to pull every indispensable string in you? Were Sir Walter Raleigh, Ibn Batuta or Meo Zedong mentioned in your books as frequently as alpha, beta and gamma?

Were you taught how to socialise and start a conversation or the science of basic manners and etiquette? Were you ever taken to old age homes and orphanages once in a while and taught to donate your treasured belongings? Just like they take us to water parks and amusement parks for picnics, were you taken to any remote village to understand the life there? Were you ever given homework like, “Tomorrow the class monitor will check the money you have saved this week, and please be ready with the answers of how and where are you going to use it”? Were any efforts made to dislodge the fear in you of facing a crowd and speaking your heart out? Were you encouraged to discuss political, social and global issues rather than letting you debate upon “boys vs. girls: Who are the best?”

I believe in the exactness of science and mathematics. But I also believe in the importance of our intrinsic radiations and moral theorems just as the electromagnetic radiations and Euclid’s proof of prime. With 356 million 10-24-year-olds, India has the world’s largest youth population. If these millions are raised dynamically and are moulded as ideal humans, not with the superficial knowledge but real wisdom, there’s no stopping India’s progress towards a better tomorrow. A cosmopolitan outlook would widen their horizons from just India to the entire globe. And to achieve this we need passionate and dedicated teachers and mentors to execute better education to the living future of the world. Everything matters.

Featured and banner image for representation only. Credit: Chris Jackson/Getty Images.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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, 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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