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How I Quit A Bank Job To Become A Teacher In A Village, And What It Taught Me

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India fellow logoEditor’s Note: This post is a part of a campaign by The India Fellow program on Youth Ki Awaaz. India Fellows spend 13 months working at the grassroots level to bring about real on-ground change. They are also mentored to be socially conscious leaders and contribute to the development of the country. Apply here to be a part of the change.

A year ago, I was working with an international bank in Gurgaon. My shift timings were Eastern Standard Time (New York) which meant that I was working from 8:30 pm to 5:30 am (IST) and slept by 7:00 am.

While coming back from office, I used to wonder why humans are made to work at night. Is it because they want to work at night or is it because there are fewer jobs available and more people in the world? I thought maybe the organisations have taken the latter as a leverage point to invite people and work in adverse situations. But was that not in a way exploitation of human resources? Whatever the case be, I was ill adjusted to this life and timing, and I often felt off balance.

Then, after two and a half years, I took the decision to quit my job and look for things that I love to do and started trying out different things for a year. A series of events later, I became part of the India Fellow social leadership program through which I now work in a school which is located in a remote village called Zaid in Rajasthan for an organisation called Kshamtalaya.

One day, when the students and I were learning about natural resources, everyone was coming up with what they think are natural resources and one student from the back of the class said ‘the sky.’ I thought for some time whether it was a natural resource or not but I was perplexed about it. So I did some research and found an article which says- “A dark night is a resource integral to many natural processes. Many of the darkest night skies in the country are found within national park boundaries. With the loss of night sky quality over the last five decades to light pollution, this resource has become nationally significant.”

We generally think of night skies as a scenic resource and sometimes forget the importance of natural darkness for the wildlife. Nearly half of the species on Earth are nocturnal—active at night instead of during the day. The absence of light, natural or otherwise, is a key element of their habitat. Many species rely on natural patterns of light and dark to navigate, nest, mate, hide from predators, and cue behaviours. The school campus has long eucalyptus trees in which there are lots of bats, who have made those trees their habitat, and thanks to them I was able to show them a live example of a nocturnal mammal.

Classroom under the tree in Kotra, south Rajasthan

Here’s when I thought that I was also at some point trying to pursue a nocturnal lifestyle which didn’t suit me. Some more research helped me find that humans are normally diurnal creatures and not nocturnal, that is to say, they are active in the daytime. Hearing from and paying attention to student’s matters and learning from them, is a way for me to rejuvenate myself and look at the same things with a different perspective.

The essence of this journey thus far, for me has been precisely that. With every question asked to me, I have learnt something new about what I already knew.

If you had noticed, at the start I wrote ‘the students and I were learning’ and not that I was teaching the students. Because I have learned as much as they have. And somewhere I have found the balance I was looking for.

Learning has been an experience I can relate to. It is like climbing a mountain which has a beautiful view on top. In order to climb up to the top, there are various obstacles. Each time you get stuck, you need to tell yourself that there is a beautiful view on top and so you need to overcome these obstacles and reach the top. As a student, I did not get interested in studies and took to playing football instead.

Of course, it was football that somewhere brought me to the point I am now, where I teach students different attributes and values through sports. My personal aim as a teacher this year will be to make the engagement with students pleasurable and fun with a variety of subjects to teach and learn so that they can find multiple interests in the hope of not repeating my history. Steve Jobs, during his Stanford Commencement Address of 2005, said

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. Because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart even when it leads you off the well-worn path, and that will make all the difference.”

If I hadn’t lost interest in my studies, I wouldn’t have developed the interest in football and learned a lot about it. Since my job did not give me enough engagement, I decided to move out, try different things, and applied to this fellowship. And, if none of this would have happened, I wouldn’t have got the opportunity to work with these kids of Zaid in Kotra, teaching them life skills through football, and meet new interesting people and see the world through a different perspective.

The idea is that don’t let society’s labelled image limit you from what you can do. I now work in a government school after coming from a finance background. You may be a science person doing arts but as long as you believe in what you are doing, you will eventually find the resources to do it either through friends, strangers or self-learning. I would like to conclude by asking everyone reading this to look at the night sky tonight and realise that as beautiful as the stars are, there is a pattern amidst the chaos. And the day you decide to look for it in your life, you will find it.

 

About the author: Stephen Charles is a 2017 cohort India Fellow working with host organisation Kshamtalaya in south Rajasthan. He lives and works in village schools to improve learning outcomes and community fostering via engagements like sports.

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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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