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From Engineering To Educating Underprivileged Children: One Man’s Inspiring Journey

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India fellow logoEditor’s Note: This post is a part of a campaign by The India Fellow program on Youth Ki Awaaz. India Fellows spend 13 months working at the grassroots level to bring about real on-ground change. They are also mentored to be socially conscious leaders and contribute to the development of the country. Apply here to be a part of the change.

By Anupama Pain:

At 26, Prashant Sharma has added a list of impressive achievements to his kitty. Currently, he is working to set-up a learning centre for underprivileged children at the IGNOU campus. For the past year, he has been working with the Delhi chapter of Agastya International Foundation – a renowned nonprofit working towards improving the condition of primary education across India. A fairly new initiative, the Delhi chapter needed complete setting up and operationalising, requiring constant energy and enthusiasm. And that’s where Prashant and his team came in.

The team began its work from scratch, with the setting up of a learning centre, promoting a fun and interesting method to teach concepts of Math and Science to children. They also had on their agenda monitoring 20-odd instructors from different public schools in Delhi, which was no easy feat. Many would find this a soul-crushing and stressful occupation, but not Prashant. It was his dream role- the more challenging it was, the more competitive and motivated he got.

Prashant’s journey to his current position was no easy one, however. He has certainly had his share of rough times and it’s a testament to his indomitable spirit to spring back.

Prashant’s work at Agastya International Foundation

Born and brought up in Jamshedpur, Prashant completed his graduation in aerospace engineering from Jain University Bangalore with flying colours. Good grades got him thus far, but what made him stand out was that he was truly interested in learning about what he did.

Aerospace engineering was only one of his interests, and his need to venture out to fresh terrain at the age of 22, was strong. Generally considered a doer, rather than a thinker, Prashant took up a couple of internships to figure out where he wanted to go next. One project was in engineering, his core study field, while the other was with the Children’s Movement For Civic Awareness (an active citizenship forum in Bangalore). When he found that the latter attracted him a lot more than the former, he decided to take it up and exploring the development space became his new obsession. So much so, that it was the reason why he applied to the India Fellow Social Leadership program.

Prashant joined the fellowship at a time when it was still running in bootstrap mode, and therefore, pursuing it had its share of risks. Undeterred, he took up the challenge with every bit of required zeal.

As part of the fellowship, he was placed with Chaitanya – one of the founding partners of the fellowship, and one of the leading community-based micro-finance institutes in Maharashtra. Given that this was a place where every individual gets to learn by doing, the project was a fit with Prashant’s interests and he began his assignment with gusto, operationalising the agri value chain for marginal women farmers, by providing forward market linkages. The pilot project was a year long one and Prashant’s experience during the first six months was as enriching and educational as he could wish for.

In the 6th month however, Prashant met with a car accident. Having been driving the vehicle in question, the fact that he and his co-passengers suffered injuries left a deep impact on him, and it took him a considerable while to recover. During his recovery phase, the requirements of the projects were steep, and his lack of prior work experience was finally catching up with him.

But it’s worthwhile to remember that perseverance often rescues us when the all else fails. Prashant stuck around, and it paid off. The second half of his fellowship was slow, but it also offered him maximum learning, both professionally, as well as personally.

Prashant volunteering during his Fellowship

During the final month of the fellowship, he even took up a small volunteering assignment. As part of this, he put the lessons he’d collected over his year of fellowship to use and helped a small organization in Ladakh (called People’s Action Group For Inclusion & Rights – PAGIR) sell their handmade products in Delhi retail. The products were crafted by differently-abled artisans and the project worked decently, restoring Prashant’s lost confidence, enabling him to complete the fellowship successfully.

Today, following other enriching experiences, Prashant has settled into yet another impactful and exciting journey with Agastya. When one visits the mobile learning centre that he and his team have been building, one cannot help but be impressed. With a world of possibilities ahead, Prashant constantly looks to the future with optimism, because to date, he stands by his mantra of learning something from whatever life teaches you, truly setting him apart from the herd. And that is the core ingredient for a changemaker!

Read more about his experiences here.

Just like Prashant, you too can do your bit to give back to society and solve one of our most pressing problems. Apply to be an India Fellow today, and get ready for an unforgettable experience!

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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.

Read more about her campaign. 

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.

Read more about the campaign here.

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.

Read more about the campaign here.

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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