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These Engineers Are Creating Products To Join The Fight Against Autism

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Did you suffer from depression and couldn’t summon the courage to talk about it? Did you have apprehensions that the world would oust you and not accept you when you told them that you thought differently? Depression and loneliness are completely understandable states of mind. According to a survey, 1 in 20 Indians face depression at one or the other point of their lives and we stand in support of those who face it.

We all have grown up watching “Devdas” (2002), “Koi Mil Gaya” (2003), “Taare Zameen Par” (2007), “3 Idiots” (2009), “My Name Is Khan” (2010) and “Barfi” (2012). These movies got us acquainted with taboos around mental health in India. Yet, we realise the seriousness of these different states of minds only when we meet and work with people who actually have some form of mental health issues. There is a wide variety of nuances associated with mental health we don’t know of and may never know of unless another legendary filmmaker or actor brings them to light. We may be hurting or even harming someone unintentionally.

One such mental disorder is autism. Yet, we know so little about something so severe. Imagine yourself being caged inside your own brain, where you listen to everything, understand little and are able to express a mere fraction of what you interpret. You look different, you act different, you struggle to get integrated into the society because its thoughts are just too fast for you. And the worst is that you can’t discuss it with anyone. Most children with autism are expelled by their peers in group activities. Everything around them is too much for their sensitive self, and realising something as trivial as a sense of their own body is something they cannot take for granted. Many people who are on the autism spectrum get misdiagnosed, or worse, never get diagnosed at all.  They spend their lives not being understood, criticised and ridiculed, every moment of their lives.

People with autism are different and so are their needs. They learn much slowly than others and have major difficulties in focusing attention, social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication. They face sensory issues and repetitive behaviours where they are either lesser or over-reactive to sensory stimulus, making them struggle with regular motor skills, transitions, organisation, memory and emotional control. It is extremely hard for them to look at the world the same way most of us do. Autism has been on a rise, with more than 10 million children believed to be suffering from it.

Regular therapy and education are required to integrate them into society and these therapies imperatively require special products to assist them. These products are either unavailable or are sold at very high costs and subpar quality in the market. When cliques outside autism community can’t understand autism, how can we expect them to understand these special needs?

Founded by a bunch of IIT and BITS engineering grads, Hope and Happiness is an NGO and an organisation in India that develops special personalised products for people with autism and sells them at affordable prices and zero profit. Not only this, they turn concepts into reality in an efficient manner, solving the prevalent problem of ideas not resulting into products. Hope and Happiness is leveraging the technological knowledge and expertise of its team to help people with autism get the products they daily need without paying exorbitantly for them. Started only six months back and with no marketing team, this startup has already served 130+ children and is growing by word of mouth.

People with mental health issues do not break covert, leading this vicious cycle of unawareness and unacceptance to continue. And this article is to show support and solitude to everyone who have had to overcome a mental illness at some point in their lives. Our society might go to any lengths to avoid the prevalent question. Is your child normal? We might believe that the child’s poor performance is because of their indiscipline and lack of attention and punish or spank the child, but refuse to accept that our child could be facing a developmental mental illness. And then the child turns aggressive, rash and guarded with their own insecurities, eventually settling into their own deep pit, worsening the situation and probably never coming out of it.

Hope and Happiness through its products addresses many of these sensory, communicative and other issues. Its products include a weighted blanket that uses deep pressure therapy to provide a child with peaceful sleep, a portable weighted textured cushion that reduces impatient movements, a shoulder snake toy that reduces fidgeting and increases attention span, a compression belt that helps to keep the children’s arms and legs straight, avoiding permanent deformation, hand weights that assist fine motor skills development and a ‘talking book’ that helps a non-verbal child to communicate along with several others. Yet, they have just begun.

A little girl with the startup’s flagship product, a weighted blanket.

These products are a result of years of extensive research and field work. Not only this, the team trains and employs persons with disability to manufacture these products, turning them into entrepreneurs for the multi-level advantage of the society. Following this model, Hope and Happiness aims to become a self-sustainable NGO.

Hope and Happiness is also open to any new suggestions or requests that could be given by a patient’s family, therapist or well-wisher. The best thing you can do to someone is to help them in a way that can never be repaid. So, if you know anyone diagnosed with autism, depression, anxiety or other sensory issues, put them in touch with ‘hope’. Because hope is real. Help is real.

Hope and Happiness can be contacted at hopeandhappinessco@gmail.com
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Image source: Alok Aditya/ Facebook, Nishtha Gupta/ Facebook
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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 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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