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A Priceless Lesson From A.P.J. Abdul Kalam On The Power Of Change

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Excerpted from a book by A.P.J Abdul Kalam:

Dear friends, I strongly feel that no youth today needs to fear about the future. Why? The ignited mind of the youth is the most powerful resource on the Earth.

Let me give you some examples of those who made a change in their lives and became true ignited minds.
A unique experience happened when I went to Madurai to inaugurate the Paediatric Oncology Cancer unit at Meenakshi Mission Hospital on 7 January 2011. After I completed the task, suddenly one person from the audience approached me and his face looked familiar. When he came closer, I found out that he was once my driver when I was the Director of Defence Research and Development Lab (DRDL) at Hyderabad in 1982–92. His name is V. Kathiresan, and he had worked with me day and night for those ten years. During that time, I noticed, he was always reading some books, newspapers and journals during his waiting time in the car. That dedication had attracted me and I asked him a question. ‘Why do you read during your leisure time?’ He replied that his children used to ask him lot of questions. Since he didn’t always know the answer, he would study whenever time permitted in order to give them the best answers. The spirit of learning in him impressed me and I told him to study formally through distance education and gave him some free time to attend the course and complete his 10+2 and then to apply for higher education. He took that as a challenge and kept on studying and upgraded his educational qualifications. He did B.A. (History), then he did M.A. (History) and then he did M.A. (Political Science) and completed his B.Ed and then M.Ed and he worked with me up to 1992. Thereafter he registered for his doctoral studies and got his PhD in 2001. He joined the Education Department of Tamil Nadu government and served there for a number of years. In 2010, he became an assistant professor in the Government Arts College at Mellur near Madurai.

When I was invited to address the students of UPMS School, Kovilpatti, I again met Professor Kathiresan who was sitting on the dais. I introduced Professor Kathiresan to the gathering and brought out how he, a native of that same town, has transformed himself, earned a doctorate and was teaching in a college after two decades of hard work. This incident cheered the entire young audience.

Friends, I visualize a scene. A school having about 50 teachers and 750 students. It is a place of beauty and for fostering creativity and learning. How is it possible? It is because the school management and the Principal selected the teachers who love teaching, who treat the students as their children or grandchildren. The children see the teachers as role models not only in teaching but how they conduct their lives. Above all, I see an environment in which there is nothing like a good student, average student or poor student. The whole school and teacher system is involved in generating students who perform to their best. And above all, what should be the traits the teacher should possess based on teachers’ life both inside the class room and outside the school? When good teachers walk among them, the students should feel the heat of knowledge and the purity of their lives radiate from them. This race of teachers should multiply.

As a child moves towards teenage and then adulthood, his carefree attitude is slowly taken over by many pressures. What will I do after my education? Will I get a proper employment?

Teachers and parents should preserve the happy smiles on the faces of their children even when they complete their school education. The student should feel confident that ‘I can do it’. He or she should have the self-esteem and the capability to become an employment generator. This transformation can only be brought about by a teacher who has the vision to transform.

I have always liked to sit in a class. When I visit schools and colleges in India and abroad, I like to see how teachers teach and students interact in the classroom. Recently, I was in Andhra Pradesh, in a one-teacher school classroom. The school had classes only up to the fifth grade. I was with the students and the teacher was teaching. How happy were the children? The teacher was telling the young students, ‘Dear children, you see the full moon, the beautiful scene in the sky brings smiles and cheers. Remember, as you smile the family also smiles. How many of you keep your parents happy?’ The whole class lifted their hands. They said, they would do it. I also lifted my hand along with the students.

Another experience was during my visit to UAE. I inaugurated an Indian school in Dubai. When the preparation was going on for the inaugural function, I was moving from place to place in the school. I visited classrooms where students from class five and six were being taught. As soon as the teacher saw me, she asked me to take the class. So I started interacting with the students. Instead of loading them with the lessons. I asked them how many planets does our sun have? Many hands went up. One girl said, there are nine planets and some students said, there are eight planets. I said the right answer is eight planets, since the ninth planet Pluto has been removed from the list of planets, because it does not meet the criteria of a planet, in size, weight and orbital motion. I asked, ‘Tell me, which is our planet?’ There was a chorus in reply, ‘Earth’. Then I asked, ‘Who will talk about the Earth?’ One sixth class student got up and said, ‘Our Earth rotates on its own axis.’ Many students said, ‘It takes 24 hours for one orbit that’s how we get day and night.’ I was very pleased with the knowledge of the young on the solar system. Then I asked the class, what does the Earth do, there was pin drop silence. Again a fifth class student said, ‘Earth orbits around the sun.’ How much time it takes to complete the one orbit? Many hands went up, they said 365 days. Our sun belongs to which galaxy? Only one boy responded, ‘Milky Way’. How much time our sun takes for one orbit of our galaxy? No response. Of course, it is difficult. I gave the answer: 200 million years. The children had a great surprise. I was impressed with the class and greeted them and left.

I am giving you these examples to illustrate, how students can be encouraged to build their self-confidence. I am sure teachers may adopt several methods to make the class dynamic and creative for promoting sustained interest among the students.

(From Address at Villa Nazreth English Medium School and other schools, Aryanad, Thiruvananthapuram, 22 February 2015 and Address and interaction with the students of CRPF Public School, Hakimpet, Telangana, 20 March 2015)

Note: Excerpted with permission from Rupa Publications from “Learning How To Fly: Life Lessons For The Youth” by A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.

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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.

Find out more about the campaign here.

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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.”

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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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