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I Spent 2017 With 4 NGOs To Save The Himalayas, And This Is What I Learned

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The Himalayas are dying. The ecology cannot sustain the huge amount of tourist influx that the regions of Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Ladakh are facing. Every year, new hotels, cafes and co-working spaces (a modern trend) are coming up and so are the number of trekking companies who are exploiting the middle-class tourist’s #TravelGoals and ‘wanderlust’.

The amount of garbage in the Himalayas is getting higher every year

In 2016, I went to the Hampta Pass trek. Contrary to pictures, the place turned out to be a massive garbage dump. A spot outside Chattru had so many plastic bottles that it would cross the height of Mount Everest if arranged properly. These trek companies charge around ₹2000 as a part of their ecology sustenance program, but leave without cleaning the garbage that they have generated.

I got in touch with Waste Warriors, an NGO operating in Dharmashala with the sole aim of reducing the amount of garbage plastic consumption in this beautiful spot in Kangra Valley. They needed someone to take care of their content and I found a nice opportunity to do so. Soon, I realized that sitting in Delhi and sending articles on a monthly basis won’t change anything. So I left my job in June 2017 and joined the NGO as a volunteer.

Waste Warriors does regular cleanup drives in Mcleodganj

I spent the next six months working at different Himalayan organizations who are working towards restoring the Himalayan Ecology without harming the tourism industry in different parts of the Himalayan states in India. Here are some of the NGOs I worked with, and how you can contribute your part.

Waste Warriors, Mcleodganj

The beautiful Mcleodganj is highly affected due to tourist boom in the last five years. This small town in Dharamshala recently shut down more than 30 hotels declaring them illegal, so you can guess the scale of the issue.

Triund Cleanup Drive

Waste Warriors has been working in Mcleodganj for the last five years. They have been doing weekly drives for Triund and Bhagsu along with local education drives in the schools.

I joined Waste Warriors to help them out with their content but the biggest issue that they have been facing is the lack of volunteer turn up during their clean-up drives. The team usually consists of eight people who have to collect almost 10 kg of waste during a four to eight-hour cleanup drive. During long weekends, this amount increases to a greater number, and if it rains then it becomes worse. Lack of funds and the attitude of the local municipality and Public Works Department (PWD) do not help.

How can you help them – As a volunteer, you can connect with Waste Warriors to join them for one of their cleanup drives. They clean Triund on Monday and Tuesday and then Bhagsu Waterfalls on Thursday. Apart from that, you can also join the NGO for an internship, research, or if you have any educational or art campaign in mind. You will also have to contribute towards the office and kitchen if you are planning to volunteer for a longer term.

You can find them on Facebook.

Jibhi Cleanup Program

Offbeat tourism has ended up destroying the local ecology of a lot of places. When Manali and places around it got heavily crowded, these companies started exploiting Tirthan Valley, a small region with a such a fragile ecology that the Great Himalayan National Park was declared a protected site by UNESCO.

Jibhi is an hour away from the main valley and while not a part of Tirthan, it is also being exploited in the name of tourism. The new hotels and hostels in Jibhi have contributed highly towards surrounding the place with plastic bottles. Since the locals are not aware, they contribute towards the issue equally.

The small team that went for cleanup at Balunag temple

Since the garbage issue in Jibhi is still in its growing stage, the requirement of educating the locals was higher than going on a cleanup drive. For this, Mr Lalit Kumar came up with the idea of a cleanup and education campaign and invited volunteers from all around the country. On the day his program started, a total of six volunteers turned up. Amazing, right?

The locals joining us for the cleanup

After we had a meet and greet session with the locals, we were joined by more than 20 people who came with us to clean a local waterfall where the number of plastic bottles and chips packets was the highest, thanks to new campsites coming up. Education is important than a once in two-months cleanup drive because then, the locals don’t have to depend on outsiders to come and clean their garbage. They take the charge and make sure that their home is clean.

How can you contribute: The garbage accumulation in Jibhi is still in its initial stage so if you have an educational or an art campaign in mind then you can connect with Lalit Kumar and he’ll happily help you in taking it forward.

You can get in touch with them on Facebook.

Snow Leopard Conservation Society, Leh

Apart from the garbage issue, another issue that the tourist influx is creating is the way it is driving away the animals from their natural habitat. In South India, elephants and snakes are the biggest victims of this issue. In the Himalayan regions, the Snow Leopard has almost left the Indian mountains and moved to the higher sides where they can hardly survive.

Post meet and greet, the locals volunteered to make their enclosure

Snow Leopards like to stay hidden but thanks to a zillion trekking companies operating in Ladakh, their habitat has become endangered. To restore the balance between these elusive cats and mankind, SLC India has come up with a number of programs. While my work at SLC India was primarily content along with working for their campaigns and newsletters, I had also joined them for one of their programs in Western Ladakh where the Snow Leopard was hunting and killing livestock.

Ladakhis depend on their livestock as a primary source of income, but lack of resources prevents them from making solid predator-proof enclosures. This allows Snow Leopards and even wolves to enter inside and kill the livestock. The volunteers of SLC India had to take material from Leh to these villages and help the villagers build a big community enclosure where the Snow Leopard wouldn’t enter.

Iron mesh prevents predators from entering the enclosure

My work included lifting iron bars and wooden logs. Trust me, even after cleaning mountains, this was the most difficult thing I had to do.

How can you help SLC India Snow Leopard conservation program requires a huge amount of dedication from their volunteers, and you have to contribute for at least a month. The job requires a lot of office work in Leh and travel only depends on how soon their campaign programs get approved. You can join SLC India as an intern, research scholar or a researcher. And if you are hoping that their campaigns will show you Snow Leopards then keep your expectations low. They invite volunteers only in summers when the sightings are the least.

(Be prepared for an extremely late reply as the internet connect of Leh is very erratic and slow).

Contact them on Facebook.

Ecovita, Uttarakhand

Ecovita is a small NGO with the aim of restoring balance in the villages making the locals dependent on other ways of earning their livelihood, as farming has failed in recent times. More and more villagers are taking up jobs as trekking guides, porters, or starting rafting companies in Rishikesh.

The local kids love taking part in these drives.

Ecovita came up with a tree plantation drive in a small village called Singtali with the idea that the ingredients of Triphala, that grow on different trees, will help the villagers develop a skill and start manufacturing the product by themselves.

I spent the September and October of 2017 helping them with their blogs and social media. They are working with farmers of Mukteshwar and Haridwar.

How can you help – Ecovita needs volunteers for their plantation drives and social media campaigns. If you want to be a part of the team then you can connect with them and join them for their upcoming campaigns.

They can be found on Facebook.

What I Learned And What You Should Keep In Mind Before Joining An NGO

  • Patience is a virtue. You’ll be working with 10 different people with 10 different ideas so you’ll have to consider everything before coming to a final conclusion.
  • It requires a lot of physical work. These NGOs, as I said, require a lot of hard work like carrying garbage bags, waste segregation, planting saplings and more. So you should be prepared for that.
  • Working at an off-site NGO is not a license for free travel.
  • Most of these NGOs don’t provide free stay.
  • You’ll have to deal with government officials who are not at all serious about their job, so be diplomatic.
  • These NGOs spend a lot of time developing their trust with the locals. Don’t do something that will break it in a moment.
  • If you have cooking skills then they’ll accept you wholeheartedly.

How You Can Help An NGO

  • Content for their websites, newsletters, campaign reports, PR pieces.
  • Sending volunteers to these places if you know someone is travelling and wants to help.
  • Helping with social media.
  • Coming up with ideas for new campaigns.
  • Artwork installations.
  • Taking part in education drives.

Remember, you don’t have to spend a month at an NGO to bring visible change. You can stop using plastic bottles, beer bottles and chips packets. Even if you use them, try to carry the waste to a place where you can dump it properly. Instead of hotels, stay at stay homes and try to spend some time speaking about the harmful effects of plastic consumption. Encourage locals by purchasing products from local artisans. If you are a blogger or someone with a huge following on social media then you can also spread the message of responsible travel from time to time.

You can connect with me on my blog or Instagram for more information.

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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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