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What You Can Do To Improve Healthcare For Residents Of This Rajasthani Village

By Lavanya Garg

It was in the winter of 2013 that I first visited the village of Soda in Rajasthan, which is home to 10,000 people. The village is around 60 km from the capital city of Jaipur and falls in one of India’s most backward districts – Tonk. I was nineteen then and ready to change the world. I still am – ready to change the world – but perhaps I’m a little less starry-eyed at the age twenty-two. It was, however, exactly my lack of ‘experience’ that led me to take the plunge to co-found Asmat (an NGO), along with Kavya Saxena, a friend who shared my enthusiasm. We wanted to change the realities of rural India, by organising young people in urban areas – and it is safe to say that together, along with the help of similarly motivated people, we have been able to achieve that goal to some extent.

Since its inception, Asmat organises bi-annual volunteer programs for young people from colleges across the country, to work on education issues in Soda. As an organisation, we haven’t limited ourselves to the education of children but have worked relentlessly in the field of adult education as well. Often, our activities have stemmed from surveys conducted to gauge the current situation. For example – from a survey conducted in 2014 about the National Social Assistance Programme, which covered 150 elderly, widowed and citizens with disabilities in Soda, we were able to understand that 35% of the people were not able to receive a pension due to errors in or lack of documentation. Another 23% cited lack of awareness as the main reason. Moreover, those held back due to illiteracy or dependence were mostly women. This propelled us to help around 200 people fill up bank and pension forms, teach over 100 women in Soda how to write their name and inform the general populace about the Right to Information Act and various government schemes that they can avail.

Another survey conducted in 2015 about the Anganwadi system in Soda, covered 58 residents across all hamlets, in which 86% respondents were women with an average age of 30 years. 41% of these, were not happy with the functioning of the Anganwadi system and another 15% were only moderately happy. Moreover about 60% of them just wanted the Anganwadi workers to provide better food. We are in the process of conducting more detailed surveys regarding the functioning of Anganwadi workers with a two-fold objective: one to inform the Sarpanch to facilitate better governance and two, to find out areas where our model of adult education can help the Anganwadi system function more effectively.

In the course of the past three years, Asmat has tried to touch the lives of as many people as possible in Soda – children, adolescents and adults, by taking steps often guided by a detailed study of the village, as in the examples above. A testament to our dedication is the fact that all of our activities that often involved walking 5 kilometres every day in the scorching Rajasthan heat have been carried out by over 120 young people from the country, without any monetary remuneration.

I hope that this movement that first took shape around three years back and brewed over conversations in coffee shops with friends only continues to grow. You, the reader, can help us by donating to our crowdfunding campaign. For every 2500 rupees that you contribute, this winter, we will be able to educate 30 women about government health schemes that they can avail, sensitise ten adolescents about the ill effects of substance abuse and make 20 women financially literate. For every 2000 rupees that you contribute, we will be able to arrange for a doctor to conduct a general check up of about 35 residents of Soda, saving them crucial money from their income and pensions.

We have provided a platform for young people from rural and urban areas, two groups that are often cut off, to interact with one another. While our volunteers have shown the young girls in Soda, Youtube videos on the scientific process behind menstruation, the youth of Soda have helped many of our volunteers find peace, by offering them a cup of chai under the clear (and pollution free) skies of Soda. Help us here to make this bond, this process of collaboration and change stronger.

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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.

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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.

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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 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.

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