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A Mother Of Two Left Everything In Kerala To Run 300 Successful Micro-Enterprises In Bihar

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Mother’s Day is celebrated worldwide to honor mothers – and the influence of motherhood and maternal bonds in today’s society. On this day, we often thank our mothers for all they have done – right from giving birth to feeding and educating.

As I am a somewhat unexpressive person, and since I cannot express my love and emotions to my own mother, I thought of writing the story of a mother whose journey has touched my heart and has inspired me.

Annamma Varghese, a lady hailing from the Idukki district of Kerala, is the mother of two children – and she loves her family just like other mothers do. From her childhood, Annamma was sincere and hardworking. Because of these qualities, she got a job in Kannur Medical College as a nurse. But, after marriage, her husband didn’t allow her to continue with her job. This decision brought a world of darkness in her life. Though she was happy in her small world with her two children and husband, her inner passion to be self-independent ate her up from the inside.

When Kudumbashree arrived in her panchayat, she became part of the self-help group (SHG) and got an opportunity to become a president of the group. Here, her leadership abilities came to light – and she was selected as the Chairperson of the Community Development Society (CDS). This post is the topmost level in the 3-tier community structure in Kerala’s local government.

After getting the opportunity to lead the panchayat, she was encouraged to work more and contribute to the needy people. She observed that more than 90% people in her panchayat faced abject poverty. She also observed that the younger generation here was extremely addicted to alcohol and other harmful substances.

Therefore, she thought that it was high time that she gave full attention to these issues and dedicated her efforts for the betterment of the people. She worked day and night, selflessly, and brought all the poor women under the single umbrella of the SHG. She helped them stand on their own feet by enrolling them under the MGNERGA scheme. Under her leadership, the panchayat succeeded in setting up 1,600 micro-enterprises to combat the poverty among the people. Because of her dedication towards uplifting the poor people, she has been honoured as the best CDS person continuously for five years by the Kerala government.

 Miyuki Miyabe, a Japnese author, says“As long as there is happiness, there will be sadness. As long as there is fortune, there will be misfortune.

She further says, “[…]What’s real is something that not even the strength of the Goddess can change. The only one who can change it is me. If I don’t change my destiny, if I don’t cut through the obstacles in my path, then no matter where I go, I’ll always be standing in the same place, doing the same thing over and over again, for the rest of my life.”

Annamma Varghese’s happiness was shattered when her husband died from cancer. Back then, the doors to happiness seemed completely closed for her. Instead, she was faced with many questions: who would take care of her children if she devoted her time to community development? If she prioritise her children’s career, she would have to let go of her dream of being a self-sustaining woman. She knew it would be a tough decision for her – and she was also aware that her upcoming life wouldn’t be an easy one. Understandably, she was tensed as the number of opportunities seemed to be reducing for her. Her income was also not sufficient enough to provide quality education to the children.

However, one should remember the saying, “When one door closes, another one opens.” Same was the case with Annamma. She got another opportunity when Manu, a member of a mentor core group (MCG), introduced her to Kudumbashree.

In 2015, she has selected as a mentor for the SVEP project in Bihar. Though she knew little about the outside world, she took the bold step to come out of her small world and landed in the Muraul Block in Bihar. This marked a new beginning to a life full of challenges and hurdles, since she was completely unaware of the language, cultures and traditions of the place. Though she came to the place with the aim to support the people here, her language barrier made it difficult for her to get closer to the people and gain their acceptance.

In the beginning, she was frustrated and depressed as her life wasn’t panning out as she had wanted. She even thought of quitting her dream. But, her children inspired and motivated her to keep struggling and believe in her own dream.

She always remembers the words of the CRPEP of the Muraul Block, which still inspires her to keep working in this sector: “Didi, aap Kerala se yaha aaye hai, aur hum logo ko madat kar rahe hai – wohi badi baat hai. Aap baat kijiye toote-phoote Hindi me – hum log samajh lenge (You have come from Kerala in order to help us – that, in itself, is a big thing. Even if you are not able to speak Hindi properly, we’ll understand you).”

It is in this fashion that her journey started in Bihar. Today, she is one of the most successful entrepreneurship mentors in Bihar, with 300 micro-enterprises registered in her name.

Indeed, this is the inspiring journey of a mother who seemingly sacrificed her love for her children so that she can support the lives of poor women in Bihar. However, a mother’s love cannot be compared to the other precious things in the world. Her love for her children has never faded away, irrespective of where she’s been. This simple story is a tribute to this amazing mother, who should be a role model for every other mother in the world.

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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.

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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.

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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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