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How Teaching Kids At This NGO Changed My Life Completely

“Why did you get punished?”

“I was talking to my partner.”

“What were you telling him?”

“There’s a spider on the teacher’s back.”

Grinning in amusement at the banished child’s predicament, I walked past him and into the classroom. I slid my way through the rows of desks, long-jumped over the school bags on the floor, and squeezed myself into the last bench. When I sat down and looked up, I saw 40 pairs of curious eyes staring back at me.

They were all fascinated by this new creature in their midst. Not sure what to make of me yet, they would steal a glance at me whenever possible. After all, carrying out mischief while the teacher isn’t looking is the one inevitable life lesson learned in every school. Guilty as charged.

It was the summer of 2013. I had decided to take the what-are-you-doing-with-your-life route of a gap year before going to university, and was contemplating my options: “How do I best spend this time? What really matters to me?”

I had just finished four whirlwind years of high school, and was thoroughly disillusioned with the Indian approach to schooling. What sort of education rewards memorisation over genuine learning? As students, we deserved better. So, in order to do my part to make things right, I decided to join Teach For India as a volunteer.

The schools were a world of their own. Each had an incredible energy, a zest for life, and a unique personality hand-crafted by the children and teachers alike. Every time I walked into a new classroom, I would enter this custom-made, one-of-a-kind world of colour: science charts adorning peeling walls, blackboards sporting multiplication tables in neon chalk, school bags and water bottles with prints of superheroes, and notebooks where verbs and adjectives sat comfortably beside doodles drawn in glitter ink.

One day, I was trying to teach one of the girls how to write a few simple sentences in English. She had been sitting at her desk, yellow pencil in hand and left cheek all but pressed against the table, for hours. I could see that she had been trying – the pink eraser at the end of the pencil furiously bobbing away. But even after I tried explaining it in seven different ways on her notebook, I wasn’t successful.

The next day, by sheer luck of trial and error, I discovered that she loved writing on the big blackboard. So, when I told her that she could use it to practice, she suddenly began grasping concepts much better. I know it sounds weird, but it dawned on me that her notebook was simply too small a canvas for her ideas. My biggest lesson from this experience was this: If your student fails to understand what you teach, it is not your student who has failed.

The most strangely beautiful thing about all this was that I changed. I began to care – really care. For the first time in my life, seeing someone else succeed made me genuinely happy. And because I cared, I was even more motivated to understand their way of thinking so that I could figure out yet another approach that could work for them. I learned that being a teacher is an extreme lesson in and test of sheer resilience, conviction, empathy and belief. If your motivation to teach is just clocking in ‘community service’ hours, it really isn’t for you.

You have to be fully present and engaged everyday. You have to empathise with the students’ parents to understand their situation at home, because more often than not it will affect the behaviour and performance of the children at school. You have to negotiate the sharing of resources with obstinate school administrators who dislike the fact that you are this ‘English-speaking’ outsider who is telling them what to do. Over time, the students will come to see that you really are fighting for them. That you really care. It is only when this understanding occurs will you be finally able to earn their respect and lead the classroom.

Although the change you seek to implement will be slow, it will be permanent. If you want the next generation of citizens to vote, to not throw trash out on the road, to be ethical in business dealings and respect one another’s religious beliefs – then this is how you deliver that change. You will empower your students to be the best-possible version of themselves – to be independent thinkers and doers. I urge you to bring your creativity and skills to this cause, and to donate your most precious resource – your time – to give back to your country. Do this for no other reason than the fact that you can. And even though it is an incredibly demanding proposition, I promise that you will get more out of it than you could ever possibly imagine.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Teach For India. Do visit here for more information.


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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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