Meet The Woman In Meghalaya Creating One-Of-A-Kind Shoes For People With Disabilities

“Keep your face always toward the sunshine – and shadows will fall behind you.” – so said a wise person. I have often wondered how true this statement is and what example would portray it best. Today, I found a story that aptly depicts the essence of this quote.

We have often frowned upon certain people who cannot walk in a proper manner due to their deformed limbs. Consequently, these people cannot wear footwear (like we do) – and they generally have to walk barefoot over muddy terrains, wet, hot, slippery and even thorny paths that may cause them injuries for no fault of theirs!

However, have we ever thought of customising footwear according to the needs of these people? Even though we may have thought of it, we have not implemented it. But, this period of pain is soon coming to an end. Bethany Society, Shillong, Meghalaya, in collaboration with CBM India Trust, have come up with an orthopaedic shoe-making unit at Roilang Livelihood Academy, Bethany Society, Shillong. The unit was inaugurated on July 9, 2017. With an aim to remove the stigma attached to deformities, especially of the limbs, Bethany Society under the leadership of its executive director, Carmo Noronha, introduced the creative concept of shoe-making for ‘people with walking problems’.

Footwear on display at the orthopaedic shoe-making unit

In his inaugural speech, Noronha said, “This initiative is a culmination of the efforts of many stakeholders – including the unselfish support of the Christian Brothers, the Government of Spain (who aided in designing the present building of the Bethany society that was founded in 1981), the undying support of CBM India Foundation – and not to forget, Jurgen Thomas Schord, the Deputy Consul General of the German Consulate, Kolkata, who made it possible to avail the required machinery for the orthopaedic shoe-making unit at Roilang.”

However, the story behind the successful inauguration of the orthopaedic shoe-making unit is one of sheer determination and hard work which involved two rigorous years of training by Eldalyne Kharsati, a 43-year-old instructor at Bethany Society. After being sent to the Vietnamese Training Centre for Orthopaedic Technologists (VIETCOT) for learning the art of orthopaedic shoe-making, Kharsati became the only lady from northeast India to have earned a degree from Vietnam as a certified orthopaedic shoe technologist.

Other products at the unit

Speaking to The Northeast Today (TNT) News, Eldalyne said, “Although I had to stay away from my friends and family for two whole years, it was worth the effort. The long term objective and the positive mission kept me motivated – and now I am happy to have become a certified orthopaedic shoe technologist.” She smiled and added, “I am thankful to Bethany Society for giving me this golden opportunity. Through this, I will now be able to make lives better for many by making shoes fit according to their needs – while also helping people, including persons with disabilities, to learn this art so that they can sustain themselves and also create a multiplier effect.”

At the orthopaedic shoe-making unit, Eldalyne proudly displayed her work, so that the others could see and learn. It clearly portrayed the efficiency and qualities of the determined lady. From July 10, 2017 onwards, four students (three of them having disabilities) started their training under Eldalyne in advanced shoe-making.

Eldalyne Kharsati interacts with people while showing her craft.

All dignitaries present at the inaugural function were spellbound by this noble yet effective initiative, and spoke out in admiration for the same. In an interview with TNT, Karamai Kharkongor, the commissioner for persons with disabilities, said, “This is a very noble initiative that will empower people through honing their skills and helping them stand on their feet – thereby helping them to attain their livelihoods and becoming independent individuals.”

Ferdinand Marshillong, special educator for children with visual and hearing impairments at Bethany Society, said, “It will really be of great help if persons with disabilities can get full support by ensuring their full participation during the training process.”

[It may be recalled that Marshillong is the only person from northeast India to have received the Lalji Mehrotra Foundation Award for Excellence (Outstanding Employee) from the National Society for Equal Opportunities for the Handicapped (NASEOH), India, on December 9, 2016, in Mumbai.]

It should be mentioned that Eldalyne is a multi-talented person with several skills at her disposal. She has completed several courses – training in manufacturing leather/synthetic products (theoretical as well as practical), business enterprises and export management, entrepreneurship development programmes (EDPs) on jute-based soft luggage and leather products, a turnkey EDP, skill training in participatory learning and action (PLA), a diploma concerning the field of leather goods, a training in domestic methods of fruit and vegetable preservation, as well as courses in design and product manufacturing and development. These facts clearly justify the reason why she was chosen by Bethany Society to undergo the rigorous two year training in Vietnam.

Dignitaries pose for photographs at the end of the inaugural session.

This initiative is just one of the various facets of Bethany Society and its noble initiatives. These initiatives have spread far and wide across various regions, not only in northeast India but also across the whole nation!

The undying determination of women like Eldalyne proves that it is never too late to learn anything new. Life is always full of surprises for people who are willing to go beyond their limits and challenge their own abilities in the process!

A version of this post was first published here.

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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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