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Debunking The Myth: Is Helping Someone A Way Of Exercising Control?

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“You have not lived until you have done something for someone who can never repay you”John Bunyan

What happens when the cornerstones of life one chooses to believe in are found shaking? Living alone away from known faces does draw you immensely close to yourself. It brings to you a great deal of soul searching. It unearths to you, the deepest of secrets of your heart. There is nowhere to run and you are forced to confront the most difficult questions, questions that rid you of any doubt of who you are or what you exactly stand for in life. This, though underrated, is by far the most difficult journey one embarks on!

It was up until July 2017, that I had imagined myself to be living by the words of John Bunyan. As I read more and more of the Gandhis and the Mandelas of the world, I could just marvel and attempt to fathom the greatness of their characters to have selflessly rendered their lives in the service of mankind.

Having lived as a little boy on the outskirts of Delhi in the early 90s, I saw my parents struggle each day and each hour to make our ends meet. As a result, I grew up with aspirations that (rather call it frustration!) millions of Indian kids grow up with. I wanted to earn exorbitant amounts of money to make up for all the miseries life had subjected me and my family to. As I think of this now, I understand the futility of this logic brought to me and many others by the society we live in. Education is seen merely as a ‘tool’ to unlock ones fortune. This, by far, is the gravest of the tragedies we live with, for education taken in the right sense must equip children to be able to make sound and independent choices, take risks and create avenues of collective growth for people around us. Sadly so, the best of the education systems in my country had failed me.

Fast forward to 2015, I had become a perfect product of the ever churning machine line. An emigrant working in the foreign land, masked and stamped as one of the best my country had to offer. As I grew in ranks, working harder than any previous day of my life, accumulating wealth and recognition for the merits I found myself deficient of. There was a deep dissatisfaction – this was not something I had longed for, not something I had left my country and family for. No matter the money I brought home, it never seemed to fill the void of the past. I found myself lonely and dejected like many others in a foreign land.

With whatever little experience I have in life, I have come to believe that all good things come from opportunities unplanned, the ones you stumble upon by chance. One such opportunity came my way, it brought the long lost vitality in my life. I chose to adopt and fund education for two of the most underprivileged kids (as they are called in the mainstream development lingo) in Maharashtra. As I reached out to more and more people, the desire in me to be of value to the ones in need grew. It was then that the Ebola Crisis broke out in West Africa and I secretly volunteered for a grass-roots organisation in Nigeria – the bigger the cause the bigger the gratification. I felt important.

It was July 2016, I had finally quit my job and was back in India. During my fellowship at the Ashoka University, I came across peers, professors and practitioners of exceptional intellectual capacity. All aligned to the cause of making a difference to the lives of the marginalised. One such voice which had a deep impact on me was that of Shri Bezwada Wilson, whom I met at the Delhi office of Safai Karamchari Aandolan (an organisation that works for the rights of manual scavengers across India.)

Interaction With Bezwada Wilson- 7th April 2017

Convinced by Wilson’s ways of activism, I read thoroughly about the deficiencies in the Faecal Sludge Management Systems in India and the long standing injustice against the dalitsthrough works of eminent social scientists like Bhasha Singh and P. Sainath.

Meanwhile working for a well known International Education sector NGO, I kept on looking for volunteering opportunities in prominent organisations supporting the cause. Turned down by each one of them, I finally stumbled upon a small organisation working for the upliftment of rag pickers and scavengers in south Delhi. In my very first field visit, I was devastated and shaken to the core. I was made aware of my biasesI was taken to a community of rag pickers living just 200 metres away from my house in Chattarpur. I felt dejected for the fact that I had been completely oblivious to the existence of many who were forced to silently live a ‘lesser human life’. 

As I tried to delve deeper into understanding  the gravity of the symptom I had discovered in my own character, I found startlingly similar references to graver problems of our society in works of social scientists like Shri Harsh Mander and Shri Saeed NaqviThey brought me closer to the root of the biases of my generation in general and my own in particular.

Our way of looking at what is demanded of us is a little misplaced. People from the elite classes and educational institutions in the recent years have taken upon themselves the responsibility of bringing about the social impact. I have somehow come to strongly dislike the word ‘impact’ and find it synonymous to ‘control’. Thus with the biases and the injustices we are taught to live with as normal.

It was not until a couple of days that I had thought of putting together this piece. The sad reality of our times is the fact that the simplest of things are brought to us by the tiniest of hands and so was this learning. I had an opportunity to visit a bunch of high spirited kids (all in the age of 4-13 years and all HIV positive), ignorant of what lay ahead they gave me the most refreshing 20 minutes in the past six months.

I have always considered myself to be a detached person, and thus never knew that I would carry the two beautiful kids, but as I lay in bed that night, I started imagining a better world for them. My choices had been heavily drawn from the deficiencies of my past. As I think of it now, tears well up my eyes for I am sick of not being able to let go of my own selfish needs each time I wish to be of value to someone. For the kids that I have come to admire, don’t need our financial or moral help, but they need their rightful place in our society through advocacy. As I think of them, I am reminded of my need to feel important.

Thus I dread the very words of John Bunyan that I have dearly loved:

You have not lived until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.”

These words talk highly of self importance and self worth even in the act of giving.

However, what I have learnt from the two kids above in the picture is that what one is able to give, is never a function of what one has.

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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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