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Why I Left A Thriving Career In Healthcare To Become A Teacher

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Vibha Chabra became a teacher after a successful 13-year career in the pharmaceutical and public health sector. Presently, she teaches at two schools: Saksham Balvikas Sanstha, Gurgaon, where she teaches language via reading literature, storytelling and dialogue with students 13-17 years of age, and mentors new teachers; and The Riverside School, Ahmedabad, where she works as a thought and documentation partner for the creation of an online platform on ‘best practices in pedagogy and school culture’. She is actively involved in the content-building process, research and prototyping of the platform.

“Breaking The Monotony: Maverick School Cultures”

I was on a sabbatical after an intense 13 years of professional life in the pharmaceutical and public health sectors  – when, by chance, I came across Saksham, a school run by an NGO in Gurgaon for less-privileged children. It was one of those things that happened without me having planned for it or even seeking it consciously. The simplicity and joy that the children expressed with complete abandon to both strangers and the known, blew me over. I knew I had to come back to this place in some capacity.

And I sure did, not knowing at the time that it was just the beginning of my association with children and education. What started as workshops with adolescent kids on health/ hygiene, HIV and adolescent issues, has evolved into a full-time association with schools – as a teacher, mentor and writer focusing on school education. And this connection only deepened when I came across The Riverside School in Ahmedabad – once again by mere accident!

My work extends to two schools today – both women-led, but at different ends of the spectrum in terms of its student demography. One is a niche school in terms of its philosophy with all possible resources and privileges at its disposal; the other is niche in terms of the selfless change it has brought about in the community, with minimal resources at hand. Both schools have made a great impact over the last 15 years.

I have often wondered what makes the culture of a workplace vibrant, collaborative and joyous.  The interesting thing about elevating cultures is that it has the power to impact all stakeholders, and thus, engender lasting change.

In my experience of being with these two schools, I gathered the following insights that go into creating such lively spaces:

1. A maverick founder/leader at the helm of affairs – who is fearless in their intent, clear in purpose, keenly aware, has a sense of humour, and is ready to adapt, mid-course (one woman begins with infectious passion and many come along!).

2. Leaders who have the stamina to work for the core vision day after day, and inspire others as well.

Key To A Strong Learning Culture

3. The learning space provides freedom to explore and innovate, for all. Creativity thrives in freedom.

4. Members of the school community understand that fear can never be a driver for teaching. The love of learning is far more vital.

5. The school must be a place where rules and regulations are in the service of compassion and creative intelligence – and not the other way round.

6. An environment where learning is not limited to books, but encompasses life in all its finer and vital forms – whether it is the arts, language, fitness, life skills, etiquette, relationships, kindness, working with your hands, etc. Education should be considered and treated as inseparable from life outside the school and mere academics.

7. A place where appreciation for each other’s uniqueness is woven into the school culture. This helps build camaraderie.

8. Affection and care is the core of all work that happens at the school. Never lose sight of the innocence and vulnerability of the central characters – our children!

9. A place where students are unafraid to speak up, and are encouraged to think for themselves. Enquiry and independent thinking are demanded and encouraged.

10. A place where the environment is light, and where loads of masti (fun) happens.

Sometimes, I am asked if I feel sad or depressed working with kids who do not have many privileges. I am a little surprised with that question. It has been the absolute opposite. I have known joy in an entirely new light. I realised all over again that innocence trumps sorrow and all forms of scarcity!

The question that I am left with often, though, is – how does one not lose simplicity and the confidence that comes with innocence? We talk about the confidence that comes with opportunity and talent – but we don’t worry enough about the confidence that gets lost when the bug of ambition and comparison starts to erode a child’s natural creativity. These schools are live examples of how it is possible to create school cultures that attempt to build competence, without the sting of fear and comparison.

Privileged or underprivileged, armed with compassion, freedom to innovate, a sense of humour and a clear vision – schools can become a sanctuary for change that matters!


Featured image source: The Riverside School/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, 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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