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After Training 700 Teachers In 5 Months, This Educator Is Revolutionising Education

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By Ananya Damodaran:

The first time I visited the community, I didn’t know it would be that way. It had open drains and garbage dumps. But I still consider it a part of me, because I taught those kids,” says Raman Bahl. He’s an engineering student turned education professional, who taught children belonging to the low-income community in Jahangirpuri, Delhi, during his Teach For India fellowship.

Raman dabbled in teaching to pass his time productively while a student at Apeejay College of Engineering, Haryana. Five years, three schools and countless experiences later, teaching has become his life.

Raman tutored class 10 students during his final year of college and saw first-hand, the appalling inequity in education. “I used to compare my life to theirs,” he says. “While I always had everything I could’ve possibly asked for, and had good teachers, these kids were desperately in need of a math teacher for three years before I even started!”

Raman saw the opportunity to do much more as a teacher. Teach For India’s vision, that one day all children will attain an excellent education, resonated with him, and he applied to join the fellowship. Raman walked into class on his first day, excited, but clueless as to what awaited him. His students needed a lot of work, and he had to overcome slight issues with the school management. At the end-of-year assessment, Raman was dealt a big blow – his class performed poorly.

Learning from his mistakes, Raman spent the second year of his fellowship focusing on increasing parent investment. He sat with parents to find out how they viewed their children’s futures and relocated to a house near the same low-income community as his students, to become more involved. Community leaders who had never seen children from the area speak confidently in English, began to realise that Raman was making progress. They even offered him space, free of cost, to conduct extra classes and recreational activities after school.

Aarti, one of Raman’s students, knew only basic letter sounds and some numbers when he first met her. Her parents had reservations about sending her to an English medium school because they were afraid they wouldn’t be able to afford the aspirations it might generate in her. Raman explained to them that “by getting a good education now, Aarti will be able to reach a level where she can start supporting the family.” After a year in Raman’s class, Aarti’s father’s business forced the family to move 45 minutes away. Despite the distance, her parents insisted that she continue in Raman’s class, so she began commuting to school by bus. Just as Aarti travelled across Delhi to learn, Raman began commuting to the opposite end of the city, to Bab Ul Uloom school at Seelampur, to train teachers. “I wanted to reach out to and help other schools as well. My mission is to make the system more self-sustaining,” he says.

Raman with a student.

Realising the importance of effective teacher training, Raman then began working with Learning Links Foundation, a Delhi-based non-profit, when his fellowship ended. As part of his job, he travelled across North India – from the hills in Kinnaur, down to the Pink City. In Himachal Pradesh, Raman noted that most schools pooled students of different ages into one class. He trained teachers to make these multi-level classrooms more assessment driven and used data to better their instruction. It was easy for Raman to forget that many of his trainees had almost 15 more years of experience in teaching than he did. As a result of this, some of them were slow to trust him. Raman’s patience helped him train more than 700 teachers in a span of five months.

Wishing to spend more time inside classrooms and see the impact, Raman narrowed his focus to a single school – Shanti Niketan, in Mahemdavad. He was hired as the principal, a position he held for almost three years. He took on every aspect of school management: teacher development, operations, promotions and enrolment. When he began, Shanti Niketan had a strength of 35 students – it’s now at 135.

Shanti Niketan ensures that ‘learning is not confined to textbooks’, and follows an integrated curriculum designed by LeadSchool. When teaching students about different types of water bodies, a teacher might take her class to a nearby reservoir – to bring classroom material to life. The school’s theme-based curriculum focused on community helpers last year, involved taking students to meet professionals like doctors and police officers. The children interviewed people and reflected on their contribution to society. Shanti Niketan aspires to transform its students into independent leaders.

Located at the intersection of a small town and a village, the school’s student body comes from diverse backgrounds, including children of farmers and police officers, from the main city and nearby villages. The school’s vision is to bridge the gap between the education children receive in villages and cities. Raman chose to live on the school premises despite having the option to reside outside of it – devoting himself to the goal.

The teachers come from a very different community than I do,” he says. “In the beginning, I found it very tough to explain to them what I wanted for the children. But what helped me was the sense of possibility – the thought that if I could do the fellowship, and bring about reform in teacher training, then I could do this as well.”

Raman’s approach to teaching was a huge leap forward from the way his teachers understood classroom instruction. One of his nursery school teachers couldn’t speak English when he joined and is now confidently teaching the language to an entire class of 3-year-olds. That is the impact Raman’s work has had on both his teachers and students.

As principal, one of Raman’s duties was to support the curriculum design team, provide feedback, and make changes to enrich it. The experience inspired him to shift his focus to curriculum design. Raman is now working closely with the core team at The Aarambh School in Raipur, Chattisgarh as the academic director. He’s enhancing the learning experience for both his students and teachers, while simultaneously pursuing his bachelor of education degree.

Raman’s finding new opportunities to revolutionise education every day. “There is no limit to what you can do in the education space,” he says. Here’s to those pioneering ideas and working relentlessly towards a limitless future for every child in the country.

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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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