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My Memoir Is A Case Study For Students For Life’s Challenges: Valson Thampu

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Many ask me, why should students read Principal Thampu’s memoir?

Well, because they are at the centre of it! The book is all about them! They’d agree; if they believe, as I do, that education is student-centric. There isn’t a single event dealt with in this book to which they are irrelevant.

The sanity of the sphere of education is far more crucial for students than it is for teachers, administrators or the management. The integrity of the learning milieu is of utmost importance for them. Why else would they struggle so hard, so long, so deeply, to get into a ‘good college’? What is a good college?

Secondly, they must read this book, if they want to know what really happened and did not happen. All the while the tumult raged, they were dished out one-sided versions. Surely, truth cannot be one-sided, just as the road you travel cannot be only the left side, and not also the right side! Those who respect themselves would not wish to remain dumping grounds for the falsehood fabricated by others. Just ask yourself, why are some people so scared of this book?

One of the strengths of this book is that it offers a perspective on St. Stephen’s, which most people lack. That includes teachers too, which is a pity. I find it strange that we take pride in being Stephanians, but remain ignorant of the essence of our Alma Mater!

Third, they must read this book to see how adversity can be transformed into an advantage, suffering into strength and calumny into creativity. We cannot control how life will treat us. But we can decide how we shall respond to the challenges that are thrown at us. What matters is not what is done to us, but what we do with whatever happens. That’s the secret of being human!

For that to happen, we need to enrich our intellectual life, broaden our perspectives and heighten our inner strength. When life puts us to the test, we will have only our inner strength to bank on. All labels fall away. All props crumble. You will have only yourself, who you are and the stuff you are made of, to draw from. I share my experiences candidly with my readers to drive this point home. Innumerable people have asked me – “How did you survive the ordeal?”

The book answers that.

Life becomes an adventure, not when you take the path of least resistance, but when you stand on your feet and fight the good fight, not because you love fighting but because the ideals under attack are so dear to you that compromising them is worse than death.  As I have written in the book – “Life becomes worth living when there is a goal worth dying for.”

Students of St. Stephen’s College, in particular, should read this book because this is, very substantially, a continuation of the morning assemblies! Many of the insights and principles embedded in this book have been introduced to them through the assemblies.

Yet, there is this one thing that you will not fail to note…

When you encounter those insights on the pages of this book, they will, I assure you, strike you with a touch of freshness that could make you feel you are meeting them for the first time! That’s the alchemy of writing.

Finally, we all need touchstones to test the mettle of our being. Who are we? Where do we stand? How strong are we? How far can we go? And how long can we endure?

We need to know all this, but how can we know? Mostly we take these things for granted and drift along. So, we remain under-prepared. When the sting of life touches us, we burst like balloons. We need not.

My memoir is a case study, for young people, on being ready for the challenges of life. Life without challenges is flat and boring. It is not different from the life that animals lead. Life is great because of the storms too. Life is beautiful, as Nietzsche said, because it is painful. And pain, says Khalil Gibran, is the raw material for joy.

India has 40,000 college principals. How many of them write memoirs? In half a century? Why is this such a scarce genre?

Because most people prefer an easy passage. So, they sit out their tenures. The chair becomes larger than them. They become ‘chair’ men and women. That is to say, the only relevant thing about them is that they occupy chairs. Then, one day, the chairs go. They are reduced to nothingness.

What a pity!

It does not have to be like that. It should not be so with you. Believe me, it is not like that with me. I continue to be as vital and significant post-retirement as I was while in office. Without this spirit, one is only a scarecrow ensconced in a chair.

Stephania, remember, is not a label, but a quality of being alive. It is a benchmark for vitality and a seal of stature.

This I say without fear of contradiction: a work like “On a Stormy Course” would not have been born in any other educational institution in India. So, in that sense, it embodies the essence of the college. Surely, you would welcome an opportunity to feel it!

Finally, you must read it also because this book is a gripping narrative, splendidly written.  This is not what I am saying, but everyone, who has read it. And I find it hard to disagree with them!

Read it here and tell me, if you can.

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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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