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

The Fix-It Generation: Why The Under-20s Will Change The World

“You know Rupi Kaur?” 15-year-old Sandeed Farooq asks me. He’s at least two generations away from my withering 29.

“Isn’t she a poet? Something to do with women?” I scratch my head. “She’s so inspiring. Everything I know about feminism, and I don’t claim to know everything, comes from poets like her,” he gushes.

Over the next hour, I learn a lot more from him as I fiddle to clip a mic on his starched collar. Sandeed looks like a young hero of a romantic ballad, his hair a natural henna-dye colour. I ascribe my own gendered norms to him. He’s looking to break some. “Its wrong that women are considered lesser than men. That’s so crazy.”

Sandeed, and his co-founder Sakshi Agarwal, started ‘Flawless Flaws’ together for acid attack survivors in their school. “An acid attack is a constant reminder of what was done to you,” says Sandeed. He’s just returned from Kolkata where his team put on a street play about women who’ve survived vicious acid attacks on their bodies and lived to tell their courageous stories. “Their faces are a constant reminder of their violation,” he says, about his survivor friends and mentors.

My office is swarming with these young heroes. They’re sharing their stories with me to prep for video interviews. Stories of great courage and success, but also of struggle and reflection. I’m dwarfed by their ridiculous passion to change the world. What made them want to anyway?

The Freedom In Caring

I ask Sandeed more about Rupi Kaur’s feminism, and his decision to tackle obnoxious hate crimes like acid attacks. Sandeed looks confused. “How can I not care?,” he shoots back, “How can scores be settled by throwing acid?”

Sandeed raises money by organising fairs in his school, and stays in regular touch with his survivor-mentor Ms Sonia. “She’s very happy we’re helping and that we care,” he says, smiling.

Anya, 17, and Rohan, 15, from Gurgaon, bring the same fresh-faced earnestness to their interviews. They’re trying to solve problems in their own backyard, by helping villages around Gurgaon connect with the right corporate social responsibility (CSR) development projects. Rohan doesn’t quote Rupi Kaur. Instead, he uses Tagore’s seminal poem “Where The Mind Is Without Fear” to explain why he spends his afternoons with rural families instead of his tennis buds. “I can choose to be unafraid and change things. This is the freedom everyone should have,” he says.

I hear this word — freedom — used liberally in conversations between these young people.It connects to the ‘why’ behind their actions. “It’s our responsibility to do something,” they say, “with all the freedom, choice and opportunity we have.” Quite the manifesto.

Being Resilient For Others

The cheerful pace of discussion takes an unusual dip when the group starts to talk about suicide. Suicide is a sticky topic. Everyone has a heartbreaking story to tell about a friend they lost in school because they couldn’t face the pressure of poor marks, bullying or a broken relationship. They discuss the need for suicide hotlines, easy access to counselling for depressed classmates and dealing with peer pressures exaggerated by social media. They talk about resilience in the face of fear and disappointment.

Akshat,13, has risen to the occasion. He’s developing a website that will connect students anonymously with counsellors online and over the phone. “Kids worry about being singled out if they seek counselling openly. The anonymity makes it easier,” he says. Akshat’s best friend killed himself at 12. Skilled in coding, Akshay turned a personally tragic moment into a crutch for those who want to seek emotional and psychological support, but are too young to ask for it. His face is stoic as he speaks to the camera.

These young people are burning with a need to convert their privilege to positive action. Indeed they may have had the luxury of an environment, of parents and school teachers that made it easier to act. But there are teenagers in this group who didn’t grow up with the same confidence of social comforts. Their barriers to action were much stronger. They had to be resilient to follow their truth.

Rumi Kumari

Rumi Kumari has a quiet smile on her face that makes her look strong. She is strong. She’s stopped five child marriages and helped 12 young women stay in school.

“If you’re not educated, you won’t develop yourself or contribute to society,” she says in her interview. Ever since she was a kid, Rumi’s had to fight for this belief. Trafficked at eight, and placed in a Benaras household as a domestic worker, Rumi showed incredible courage in standing up for herself. Realising that this family wasn’t interested in her well-being or in educating her, she insisted on being taken home. They left her on the side of a lonely road to make her own way back. Rumi survived this and reached home, only to find that a few years in, she was being pulled out of school to get married. She resisted, and lobbied the Block Development Officer, village elders and her parents to let her — and other young women like her — stay in school. She now wants to recruit other young women to protect the rights of all the children in her village, prevent them from getting married off too soon, and keep them in school. “I will never let what happened to me, happen to anyone else,” she declares.

There is strength in the spark. There is even more strength in what continues to burn.

What People Like Us Need

What can I do for young people just like me? This is the thought that jump-started Ashweetha Shetty’s life as a social entrepreneur. She isn’t here in office today or else Rumi could’ve been her next client. Ashweetha’s from an earlier batch of Ashoka’s Youth Venture programme, selected for her attempt to bring career counselling to India’s rural graduates.

The daughter of a humble village family, she started Bodhi Tree Skills right after her own life as graduate seemed to go south. “My friends and I realised we had degrees, but no clear path to the future,” she says in a fundraising video.

Ashweetha Shetty

The first person in her family to attend college, Ashweetha knew she was stepping into a new kind of life, where the great opportunity of higher education could quickly become a bane if she didn’t know what to do with it. Ashweetha started coaching centres on life-skills and job essentials for people ‘just like her’.

Her video shows classrooms filled with young men and women graduates in rural India, hiding their smiles from the camera. Ashweetha doesn’t look any different from them, except that she’s on a podium up front. She could just as easily be a student at Bodhi Tree. There is no distance between the role model and the aspirant.

She ends the video appeal on a plaintive note, urging us all to help because, “All we have is each other.” There is a deep power in this line. Its an indication of how the fix-it generation plans to spread its wings. If they’ve had the chance to change something about their lives, they want everyone like them to have the same chance. This is their version of equal citizenship in a true democracy.

At 356 million, India has the largest number of young people below 25. There is no doubt that what this generation decides to do with its privilege, or lack thereof, will determine the future of our country.

In my office today are 25 from this huge group who feel compelled to solve the problems they see around them. Their reasons to act may vary but they’re united in the belief that they individually have the power to change things for themselves and others. What would happen if all 356 million believed that too? Now that’s a future worth dreaming of.

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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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