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A Bhopal Girl’s ‘Samvedana’ Is Set To Change The Shape Of Local Primary Education

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₹72,394 crore is a lot of money. It’s a large budget for educating a nation.

But after we’ve considered the fact that 37% of the country’s population is of school-age, and that only about half the national education fund is allocated to state-run schools, judicious distribution of funds becomes an onerous methodological challenge for policymakers, bureaucrats and educators.

The State Of Education Affairs, Primarily

Not surprisingly, the dominant priority in densely-peopled, low-income geographies is to keep institutes running in the education system, or at any rate, to not let them close down.

This means that Indian government-sponsored schools stay open for a vast body of students but offer next to no infrastructural support to learning. There is no space, and so students are crowded into one or two cramped rooms. They try to follow lessons from a book shared by four, or – in some cases – without any book at all.

There is a lack of furniture so children often have to sit bare-legged and barefoot on the floor. They feel grateful if someone has arranged some sort of floor cushion or carpet.

Often, there is no toilet. Children take to bushes, shrubberies and thick undergrowths for relieving themselves. Sometimes, a single teacher is assigned in remote, poorly connected rural areas to teach grades one through ten.

It goes without saying that the median learner at this sort of school has limited access to learning materials. Investment in children’s textbooks, notebooks, stationery, school uniforms and shoes for that matter, are not overriding concerns in poor farming families. Many children are sent to school so they can have their free mid-day meal there, after they have helped in the fields in the early mornings.

This state of affairs is roughly representative of the more cash-strapped states. Go to Jharkhand and Rajasthan or into the interiors of Andhra Pradesh; go into the hamlets of Chattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. This is, in all likelihood, the picture you will see.

They Need So Much More

And in fact, this is what Jhanvi Patel observed on her trips into the far-flung villages dotting the Bhopal district in Madhya Pradesh. The long drives through the countryside were usually to visit relatives scattered across the district, and stopping at small village schools on the way due to curiosity.

When we talk about her mission to raise funds for renovating rural schools (the broader scheme includes a plan for setting up a self-help group network of foundational support to promote primary education for girls), Jhanvi acknowledges that she has a full plate.

There is so much room in the way of providing these schools with the essential supplies they need – the cheapest of sturdy desks and benches that will survive some years of wear and tear, thin coats of whitewash, repair works for roofs, and segregated lavatories for boys and girls at ten schools identified as having the lowest standards of sanitation.

Jhanvi thinks it is a good idea to also buy books and stationery for the pupils at each of these ten schools; these children, she says, are vulnerable. She knows she is aiming high. And she is willing to be patient. She is crowdfunding online in cycles to split her goals into independent projects so that someday, all these requirements will be met and school children in India’s villages will look forward to going to school.

This is the willpower of an altruistic 18-year-old. This is a girl who’s had the best of everything, has never had to pause and count her privileges, but who knew intuitively, when she did her survey of ten government-sponsored primary schools in Bhopal, that the chasm between the life she knew and lived and the lives of these children could be bridged with nothing except education.

Crowdfunding For First Things First

Jhanvi is crowdfunding with Impact Guru to address pressing wants first. This is a method she learned about purely through coincidence on the internet, as she spent hours every day searching for ways to locate matching grants and philanthropists who might donate to school improvement activities in the nameless habitations of central India.

The concept of crowdfunding appealed to her because she could get started on it with no layout, work from home on publicising her campaign, and could leverage her substantial social media following for this important and vital cause.

Her campaign is called “Samvedana”, which translates to ’empathy’. The title strikes a ringing resonance with Jhanvi’s intent, and the ways she has adopted to bring change. Her focus is directed at a grassroots body of people, with whom she has nothing in common, except that she feels enough affinity with them to push herself to work for them.

Getting Things Moving

She spent hours writing, editing and revising her fundraiser story. She had a folder on her laptop with hundreds of photos she had taken at the schools she had visited. She chose the best ones and uploaded them on her Impact Guru fundraiser page.

Change Will Follow

In a span of about three months, she has achieved her target of ₹11 lakh. She had pulled out some funds in the beginning, as renovations are underway at two schools for girls on the fringes of Bhopal. Repairs and building a set of modern toilets for each school is her first priority. The rest will follow, she says, leaning back in her chair.
For the first time, I see her shoulders relax and the possibility of a smile on the young but serious face. A good thing, I think, that the young keep their faith in change.

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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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