This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Rahul Makkar. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

How We’re Saving Uttarakhand And Himachal From Becoming Garbage Dumps

Back in December 2008, UK-born Jodie Underhill came to India as a tourist and then volunteered at the Tibetan Children’s Village in Dharamshala. The garbage situation was something that bothered her every single day, so in April 2009 she decided to do something about it. Jodie’s first mass clean-up drive was in McLeod Ganj, the home of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and was attended by over 100 people. It proved to her she wasn’t the only person who wanted a cleaner India. Soon after, she formed the voluntary organisation Mountain Cleaners and started a weekly waste collection drive from Triund, a remote but garbage stricken mountain camp. Volunteers were recruited to segregate and sort the waste from the chai shops and guesthouses but also to clean the hiking trail and clear the backlog that had been thrown over the side of the mountain. The result, Triund is now known as one of the cleanest hiking destinations in India.

In April 2011, the model was rolled out to the sacred Gaddi temple Guna Mata, a three-hour hike from McLeod Ganj, and, in November that year, extended to Bhagsunag Waterfall. Dustbins were purchased and installed so that people in the surrounding areas no longer needed to burn or dump their waste. It was then that we recruited our first employee, Lok Man, to manage these bins. And so the Waste Warriors came to be. Today, we have a diverse range of staff and volunteers, both Indian and non-Indian, and from different backgrounds.

One of the first projects we started was back in 2010. The Jakhan forest – otherwise a beautiful forest area just before Johri Gaon – was heavily littered due to people throwing things out of their car, and open dumping of household, medical and construction waste. It took several months to fully clean the area and dumping grounds. We realised the best way to reach out to adults is through their children, and so we had lots of help from Kasiga and Shigally School students. They not only helped clean, but also made “anti-littering” banners for us!

By 2012, we turned our attention to the main road of the city, Rajpur Road. New businesses, hotels and malls are popping up every day! Dehradun was once known as the “Land of grey hair and green hedges,” but those days have long gone. We started conducting cleanup drives in these areas, painted awareness raising wall murals, went door to door to raise awareness, installed dustbins and hired a full-time Green Worker. We even carried our project to areas like Astley Hall and Anekant Palace in Dehradun.

We had a similar experience in Dalanwala Dalanwala, an upscale residential colony, with a number of well-known schools and learning institutions. In 2014, littering was a problem, as there were no dustbins in sight. With support from local schools and residents, we installed bins, set up an area for composting and started garden waste collections.

In July this year, we began raising funds on ImpactGuru, for waste sorting and storage facilities. Within 90 days, we exceeded our target, collecting ₹3,00,637! It meant a huge deal for all of us Waste Warriors.

India produces over 500 million kilos of waste every single day, and for too long, we’ve ignored the journey of that amount of waste. Over 90% of it ends up in open dumps, many of which are now turning into mountains of trash. One in Bhalswa landfill caught fire, because of harmful greenhouse gases being emitted by decomposing organic waste. Another in Ghazipur became a landslide! And when it comes to inorganic waste, we are slowly becoming aware of the harmful effects of micro-plastics and dioxins on both animal and human biology as they built up the waste and mess with the food chain.

Much of the waste could have been recycled to begin with, but that requires a thorough implementation of a system to educate the public on how to segregate their waste at source (like they do in Indore).

India needs a strong understanding of how to minimize the damage being done to the environment by mismanaged waste. Coupled with that is the willingness and determination to make a difference in the face of such a huge problem.

Waste management that is implemented sustainably and with financial transparency as well as proper public feedback mechanisms is extremely important because of all the fact-based, peer-reviewed, statistically-proven evidence and problems that concerned scientists, academics, organizations, and public service authorities are publishing, discussing, and trying to implement solutions for.

Waste Warriors is open to all volunteers, for both short-term activities like cleanup drives or art projects, or long-term projects like conducting school up cycling programs or assisting in local and online campaigns and administrative work.

Because of the exceptional diversity of India, there are several aspects of the Waste Warriors model that can be replicated, while other aspects will face their own set of challenges, whether it is demographic, topographical, political, financial, or even psychological. However, this is a model that can be learnt and implemented based on a thorough understanding of a locality and municipality, and what exact solutions need to be planned for and implemented with the help of members of the community and local authorities to tackle their specific issues on waste.

To be a Waste Warrior means to recognize the impact of our waste on a global scale, to reframe our perspective on the reality of our waste, and to rethink our reservations about responding to our waste. We only have one planet, and we have been using every inch of it as a bin. We must all become Waste Warriors to change that.

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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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