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This Fashion Designer Turned School Teacher Has Created A Unique Time Table For Students

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In 2014, a classroom in Vidyaniketan School Chennai, transformed into a fashion show. Nathaniel Seelan divided his students into groups of choreographers, models and designers, and took them through the entire procedure of organizing a show. But why bring fashion into the classroom?

After graduating from the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT), Nathaniel spent three years in the fashion industry. As he went from designing clothes to providing brands with creative direction and fashion forecasting, his interest gradually shifted to process design. Mulling over pursuing his Masters, Nathaniel decided to try his hand at teaching. “I was taking a break, so I applied for the Fellowship. Because the way I looked at it, teaching was a process also. The plan was to get back to my Masters and design if I didn’t like teaching. But I fell in love with the work that happens here and the creativity and design that takes place at Teach For India,” he says.“Design has got a lot to do with problem-solving.We are taught to arrive at the best solution given the constraints. At Teach For India, I had a bunch of kids, we had a bunch of problems to solve, and it was all about thinking critically and being creative,” he states further.

During the summer break between the two years of his Fellowship, Nathaniel was a resident volunteer at the sadhana forest in Auroville. Apart from taking up environmental protection activities at the reserve, the volunteers spent four hours on weekends with children from the local community, practising a method known as ‘unschooling’.“The children were given practical, hands-on experience with the environment. Some days they were taught how to grow pineapples or take care of baby rats! We also had sessions to discuss topics like politics, to encourage an exchange of ideas,” explains Nathaniel.

His experiences at Sadhana and in the mainstream education system shaped his current vision of creating a legitimate middle-ground by taking the quality of alternative education to the scale at which mainstream education is functioning now. After his Fellowship ended in 2015, Nathaniel spent six months as the Chennai City Coordinator at Youth For Seva, an organisation that mobilizes volunteers in health, sanitation, education, environmental protection and women’s rights. “I realized that each sector is massive and has multiple battles to fight. So I decided, after dabbling in all of them, to focus on education. I felt like we could impact all these other sectors via education,” he says.

In January 2016, he went back to work with Vidyaniketan as an assistant school leader and has been there for the past year and a half. Quite early on in his Fellowship, Nathaniel had begun to see that the education system was not as much broken as it was lopsided. “There were kids in my class who were academically inclined – ones who were good with numbers, or languages, or at memorising stuff; and the system catered to them fairly well. But I felt like there were these other kids, with different skill sets, that the system just refused to see,” he explains.

It was this imbalance that he went back to try and correct. After conducting research, he discovered that talent exists mainly in three pools – academic, artistic and athletic. “The reason academics is taken so seriously is because it is assessed,” he says. His goal is to move towards a fairer system – one where all three pools could be at par, be assessed and help spot potential.

This is, of course, a complex task. It was at this time that Nathaniel came across RASA: an organisation in Chennai that works with special-needs individuals through theatre. He collaborated with RASA to devise an assessment rubric, dividing each pool into further sub-pools. The arts were categorised into music, visual arts, drama, and movement. “With music, for example, we broke it down into rhythm, tempo, form, and other elements. We assessed each aspect to determine the student’s aptitude.” The school ran this pilot program for the fourth and fifth grades, and explained to the parents that their children would be receiving three report cards that year – one each for academics, athletics, and the arts.“We wanted the parents to understand that their child shouldn’t end up becoming a mediocre engineer when he/she could’ve become an excellent something-else!” says Nathaniel.

He managed to reschedule the students’ timetables in order to devote more time to arts and athletics. He believes that “for the system to be truly fair, we have to work towards exposing kids the same or similar amount to arts and athletics as they have been to academics.”

This year the goal of his project, ImpART, is to develop intricate rubrics for each aspect that they focus on, create more transparent assessment procedures, and design a solid arts curriculum in consultation with professionals. Through this initiative, they also aim at providing support to artists who want to teach. Orchestrating such change was not an easy task. “My biggest strength is ideation and planning, and I feel like the Fellowship contributed a lot to it,” says Nathaniel. “My execution was relatively pathetic. I have now come to appreciate the people around me; I realized that I could not do all of this alone.”

This spirit of collective action is what’s helping Nathaniel and others like him work to give every child an opportunity to shine!

Written by Ananya Damodaran – Communications at Teach For India.

Applications for the 2018-2020 Teach For India Fellowship program are now open. Please visit apply.teachforindia.org to submit your application by September 3rd, 2017.

To learn more about Teach For India, visit www.teachforindia.org.

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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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