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A Quick Guide To Writing A Powerful Personal Story On Youth Ki Awaaz

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In almost 3 years of working at Youth Ki Awaaz, I have read, edited and published thousands of personal stories. Users have shared powerful narratives that have gone on to reach millions, some have even created on-ground impact. And it doesn’t take much to write a strong personal story that resonates with thousands.

Here’s a quick guide to writing a good personal story on Youth Ki Awaaz:

1. Make Sure The Story Is Socially Relevant

Youth Ki Awaaz is a social justice media platform, so stories, even personal ones, that connect to an issue that affects more people are received better than others.

For example, in 2016, YKA user Jolly Mohan wrote about how the lack of an accessible toilet in the MNC she works at was forcing her to wear adult diapers only because she is a wheelchair user. Her story threw light on how much disability and accessibility are ignored in the country.

Despite Being Perfectly Healthy, I’m Forced To Wear Adult Diapers To Work

For the last 29 years, answering nature’s call has been one of my biggest struggles – because finding an “accessible toilet” in our country is like finding a needle in a haystack. When I took up my first job at a domestic call centre, I knew it had no lift, was on the first floor and came with toilets not designed for a wheelchair user like me.

Jolly’s story has been read over 180,000 times, and the MNC she works at reconstructed the toilets to make them accessible.

However, the issue does not have to be a huge national crisis that needs solutions. It could be a small, local matter that many people relate to.

In September this year, Sujayendra Krishna Nellore wrote about an everyday problem we’ve all faced at some point, but never thought much about – cars using high beams at night.

An Open Letter To All Indians Who Drive With High Beams In The City

As I rubbed my eyes and tried to spot the things around me after parking my motorcycle in my house’s parking lot, I decided I had had enough and needed to vent. Before we begin, however, let me preface this by saying that when I say all Indians, I’m quite aware that not all Indians do this.

Sujayendra’s story started an important conversation on the platform and was read over 120,000 times.

The story can also entirely be focused on your personal experience, but a reflection of the society we live in, like this one by Isha Chitnis where she shares a horrifying encounter with a man on a train who masturbated at her and a friend, and how the police responded when she complained about it.

I Caught A Guy Masturbating To Us And The Police Did Nothing

“Isn’t it a natural thing? Don’t make a big deal out of it.” “This is normal in India, just ignore it.” These are the reactions I got when I told people I took a video of a guy jerking off while staring at a friend and me in our train coach at CST Station in Mumbai in the early hours of the morning.

This story reached over 100,000 people and got the attention of Mumbai police who sprung into action and caught the perpetrator.

2. Write In First Person:

It’s your story and no one can share it better than you. So make sure you use pronouns like ‘I’, ‘me’, in the narrative and keep yourself at the center of it.

3. Give Your Story A Structure And Timeline:

It’s important to hook your reader right in the beginning to make sure they read the whole story. Start your story by coming straight to the point. You can then move on to provide some background information to set context.

From there, make sure your narrative has a defined time sequence to it. You could be going from one phase in your life to another, even going back and forth between past and present, but make sure that gets clearly highlighted. You could do this by using dates, your age, or even different formatting to differentiate phases.

For example, in a story about your experiences as a child and how they have shaped your thinking today, just a change in tense (was, is), can make a distinction.

4. Be Descriptive, But Be Honest:

While narrating events in your story, try your best to use descriptions that can help paint a picture in the reader’s mind. The idea is to let them experience what you did. This can be done by describing the emotions you went through at the point, the expressions/behaviour of the people you’re mentioning in the story. Even describing the location of your story can help.

For example:

There are two ways you can describe walking down a street:

“I walked down a street to get home at night.”

“I walked alone on an isolated, poorly-lit street in the middle of the night.”

Sometimes, to make our stories seem more interesting, we tend to embellish and exaggerate. So instead of 3 people who trolled you, they become 15. You don’t need that, your story is as important as any and staying true to it will resonate with hundreds of others.

5. Add Layers With Emotion, Dialogue, Anecdotes And Examples

Each personal story stems from a strong emotion you’ve experienced at a particular point. It could be anger, fear, love, hope, confusion, but it was obviously strong enough to make you want to write about it. Channel that emotion, and let it reflect in your story. As you’re narrating, also describe what you felt at that time or how you feel about it now.

Another way of adding this emotion, and keeping your story active, is to use dialogue. ‘He said’, ‘she said’ with quotes keeps the story alive. Giving examples and anecdotes help break down a particularly complex situation.

6. Talk About What You Learned

Conclude the story by talking about why this experience was significant and how it has shaped your outlook and actions. If you’re linking it to a bigger issue, this is where you talk about it – could be in the form of news reports you’ve read, data, or even something a public figure said. Close the story with what this experience means to you today.

7. You Don’t Need To Have All The Answers

The point of your story is to share something you experienced, and your learnings from it, not to save the world. It’s perfectly fine to not delve into finding solutions to bigger issues. Stick to talking about things you are certain of than forcing unresearched solutions.

8. Keep The Narrative Focused

When you’re sharing a personal story, it is common to stray to other aspects of your life that may not really be relevant to the narrative. Once you finish writing, put on editor glasses and chop off elements that are not adding anything to your story. You will need to take a step back and not let emotions cloud your judgement. If revisiting the story is too hard, ask a friend to go over it.

9. Anonymity And Accusations

If you’re writing about an experience that could threaten your physical or mental safety if your name is revealed, you can choose to write under a pseudonym or anonymously. Stories of abuse, harassment, fraud etc. would fall under this category. However, if the story focuses on achievements or positive experiences, then hiding your identity takes away all credibility, so don’t do it. If you’re sharing account of abuse or an incident that should have been reported to the police (or is under investigation), avoid naming the perpetrator(s) unless you have evidence to back it up. You could run the risk of being accused of defamation.

The final thing to remember is – don’t think your story is not important enough to share. Just because a lot of people may have shared similar experiences doesn’t mean yours doesn’t hold value. So if there’s something that’s been on your mind for a while, pen it down. Your experience could mean so much to so many.

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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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