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How Getting Through The College Of My Dreams Changed My Life

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By Dante Munnis:

When you are 17, one of the biggest life changing thrills you can experience is getting accepted into your dream college. After all, it’s not just like you apply one fine day, and then a week later, you get admitted. The importance of college is something that’s put in your head from a pretty young age. I think I was around 12 when I started thinking about it and it pretty much became the driving force during my high school years.

Of course, it is not just any college you’re looking at, we’re all seeking for the ‘dream school experience’ and in my case, the school turned out to be The University of Wisconsin.

How Did I Choose UW?

Well, to be honest, it started with the football stadium when I was around 16 . I always loved Camp Randall Stadium and being from the midwest, the Badgers were a natural team for me to root for. On top of that, I liked the images of the campus they showed during the games and that was enough for me to go online and do a little research. I checked out the school’s academic rankings (among top 10 public universities of the nation), tuition cost, scholarships, and the various academic programs it offered and excelled in.

The next step was a little road trip I took to Madison the next summer to see the town and campus in person and from that point on, I was hooked. The city was great, urban but with the heavy college-life feel to it, the grounds of the school were beautiful, and there was a serious thrill about the sheer size and scope of a university which was home to 45,000 students. Factoring them all in with its very competitive Football and Basketball teams and academic reputation (even though I had no idea what I wanted to do my major in back then), I knew I wanted to be a Badger.

So now that I’d zeroed down on my dream school, I suddenly had a razor sharp sense of focus, and after spending too many hours of studying for my ACTs (American College Testing) and doing everything I could to pump up my G.P.A. (Grade Point Average), I applied during the summer of my Junior year. And two months later, I was accepted.

And then life began changing.

Not right at first actually, because I still had to wrap up my final year of high school. It didn’t even happen during my freshman year of college to be true.

Don’t get me wrong, my first year was a blast. Everything was new – you no longer had the parental units watching your every move, and you’re suddenly able to do things like going for a run at midnight on a Tuesday and then finding yourself at a house party on a Thursday.

But this wasn’t anything I would have called profoundly life changing. And to be honest, the first year is still pretty much a blur to me.

However, during my second year and the two years that followed, life at my dream school began to impact and alter me in some pretty profound ways.

For starters, I began thinking about my health and taking care of myself in a way that I probably could never have imagined when I was younger. Gone were the nice and neat daily school days scheduled from 8:15 am to 3:57 pm, the set dinner times at 6:30 pm, and bedtime by 10:30 pm.  Now life seemed to go on for 24/7.  With times ranging anywhere from 8:00 am to 10 pm and various ‘social activities’ happening every day of the week, I for the first time became aware of the need of sleep and daily workouts in order to keep myself from losing against the oddball lifestyle of college. That new-found health consciousness is something I’ve taken with me to this very day.

Another major change came when I became financially aware. Yeah, I knew what a dollar was back in high school, but I never had to really think in terms of a budget.  The money I made from working was easily more than enough to pay for my CDs, movies, and computer games, and I’d never had to think about running out of dough before the end of the month.

But now I was effectively on my own in college and I had a sudden realisation of what true expenses were (rent, electricity, going to the market etc.).

This was all for the better, though, because from that point on I saw the concept of saving money in a whole new light, one which has helped me control my expenditure and differentiate between my wants and needs during the post-graduate life.

My dream college changed my life more when it taught me to become more aware of how others felt. I learnt that the things you say and do can affect people in ways I’d never known before. Listening to my friends’ problems, doing more to verbalise my own thoughts, and dealing with a variety of personalities helped me a lot to get a better grasp of how individuals often see the same thing in very different ways. Knowing that made me far more adept at seeing other people’s perspectives, which is a skill that has helped me greatly during my adult life.

Finally, going to my dream school taught me to push myself.  You don’t know what you’re capable of until you’re tested by those who are just as much or more talented than you are. And being in a place with a ton of really bright people, who had their own gifts and ambitions, made me dig deeper into myself to find out just how sharp, strong, or mentally tough I could be. Discovering that I could be something more, had the most profound effect on my life and from that point on, it is what has made me braver and more confident and enabled me to face tough challenges in life.

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Image source: Mail Today/ 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.

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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.

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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.

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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 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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