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Beauty From Barrenness – The Change Makers Project

As you walk down the street into “Friend’s Colony, Nagpur” where the University of Westminster design competition participants labour over the neglected piece of land, you witness the growing apprehension of neighbours, the excitement of children and a sense of pride in the eyes of the participants.

The work, taken up by the students of Priyadarshini Institute of Architecture and Design Studies, Nagpur, commenced almost two months ago. And since then, the interest and enthusiasm of the students has only gone up. Returning from school, going for a stroll, elderly and young all alike, seem to be waiting for this grand project to take shape and present to them the new garden on their doorstep, which they had been so eager to help construct.

The journey begins at the office of our municipal commissioner, Mr Shankar Hardikar, who when looked into the project guidelines, enthusiastically shared his ideas and encouraged such efforts to transform the urban pockets, left untended due to the rapid unplanned development of the city. The under-utilised spaces which turn into dump yards due to neglect is a great concern for not only urban planners but also the citizens living in close vicinity.

The site chosen lies within the locality of the residents in friend’s colony, which also has a slum abutting alongside. The residents, when approached for the first time, by the college students with the proposal to make their wasteland into a playing area for their kids, showed mixed reactions; some sceptical to the abilities of the students to complete the task by their promised sustainable materials, some warming up to the idea of participating in the process themselves and some enthusiastic to witness the change for their kids.

Once the site surroundings had been surveyed, authorities informed and support gathered, searching for materials which could be used for sustainable use and easy installation began. The site, triangular in nature with roads along two sides and the boundary wall of residential buildings on the third, was stripped off of what broken tiles, stones, and weed it had grown.

Every day, while the beautification of the boundary wall was underway, one could notice the curious eyes of the residents and the hesitation which followed seeing their kids interact with the slum children. The aim was to involve all kids without any heed to “who” belonged “where” and instil a feeling of this is “ours”. A place where everyone felt an ownership and responsibility to take care of what is theirs’. Thus, young, adolescent and adult alike, lend a helping hand in the plantation of trees, painting of the walls, gathering waste materials like broken tiles and bricks and painting of various stones and tires. One could see, the line of division between the communities, taking a turn to become the thread of friendship.

The play areas which had been designed by the students were tactfully thought of, to improve the physical as well as mental activity amongst the children. These include the “maze of tires” which were created by burying tires vertically into the ground halfway through. This game was enhanced by tying off ropes across the pathway of the route for children to find ways to cross over and under the ropes. The centre of the maze holds a very innovative installation made out of waste plywood, PVC pipes and metal sections which held LED lights in position. This interactive play area includes a placard which asks the children to gather various materials and further beautify the tree. Not only are they children made to think creatively, but also their physical activity is catered to by means of this maze. Another play area which has had a great response from the kids is the “monkey bar”. Made out of timber posts creating a cubical frame, many coloured tires hang from the ropes.

The sand pit, which is the favourite play area for the toddlers holds their interest in a such a way that kids forget the passing of time and rejoice their free will to do as they wish in the sand.

To invoke a sensitisation towards the waste produced in the locality, a compost pit is constructed which aims at converting biodegradable waste into manure. This pit is so designed that, the biodegradable waste is decomposed and its nutrients directly supplied to the adjoining plants. This kind of a pit is known as “keyhole gardening” and is prominently used in various areas of the US.

The very interesting and unique feature of this garden is the pathways which are constructed with the use of waste tires. The pathway is constructed out of 40% of waste tires, along with stone dust and broken bricks making up the filling material. This is an excellent example of economic yet eco-friendly construction. A bounce in the step is definitely seen in the morning walks of the residents out to enjoy the fresh and active vibe of the garden.

An enormous amount of people has been connected to this project via the college of the participating students. All faculty members, students from all years and surrounding neighbours have helped take this project to the level it is at now. It is a matter of great pride to see, such brilliant acceptance of change in the society and a yearning for ‘more’.

We all have this notion of making a change for our society, we all crave that what is not yet achieved, and dream about what can be done ‘better’ or ‘more’, but how many of us have had the courage, the spark to light the fire? How many have we seen who ‘did’ and become the ‘doers’? The ‘changemakers’?

Unanimous efforts to bring a better lifestyle to the people, irrespective of their state of living will lead our cities to grow better and healthier, not only in terms of surroundings but also targeting the deeper roots of societal norms and welfare.

We must all share the fire to be the change and thus consume all the preconceptions that hinder our path to a greater city, a smarter city in all its aspects.

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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.

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.

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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.

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.

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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
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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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