This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Erik Solheim. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Refusing To Quit Even When Harassed, How Afroz Rid Versova Beach Of 13 Mn Kg Of Plastic!

When swathes of plastic debris washed up on Versova beach, 33-year-old Mumbai high court lawyer Afroz Shah didn’t just complain. He did something about it. Since October 2015, every weekend has been a ‘date with the ocean’, wading through debris to pick up plastic waste along the coastline.

It was Afroz who first drew my attention to the true devastation caused by plastic pollution in our oceans. From Bollywood stars to slum-dwellers, thousands of volunteers have since joined him on his clean-up mission. They have turned the coastline eyesore into a near-pristine beach.

He almost gave up. He nearly quit when a group of his volunteers were harassed on the beach. But month-in, month-out, these combined efforts have dragged around 13 million kilograms of plastic waste out of the sea in the world’s largest beach cleanup project.

Work in progress.

He could never have imagined that three years on, instead of watching plastic debris wash up on the sand, he would witness around 80 baby Olive Ridley sea turtles crawl into the waves. For the first time in nearly 20 years, the turtles were visible on Mumbai’s shore.

This World Environment Day we’re calling on everyone who uses plastic to refuse single use-plastics. The plastic straw in your drink will be used for less than 20 minutes but will take 100 years to degrade in the environment. The same can be said for plastic bags, cutlery or cups – in fact, countless things that we take for granted.

Plastic pollution is a defining environmental challenge for our time. In the next 10-15 years, global plastic production is projected to nearly double. Meanwhile, up to 13 million tonnes of plastics leak into the ocean each year, killing 100,000 marine animals.

Beating plastic pollution will preserve our precious ecosystems, mitigate climate change, protect biodiversity – all with positive knock-on impacts on human health. Confronting plastic waste is a fundamental battle that we must fight today for a sustainable tomorrow.

As India hosts this year’s World Environment Day, communities will lead a global charge to beat plastic pollution through civic engagement and celebration. With support from an inspiring cross-section of Indian society, ranging from cricket pitches to boardrooms, we’re witnessing an unprecedented national commitment to this global cause.

You can be part of it. I believe the success of the Versova beach movement can teach us all three things. The first is that we are never too young to act. We need leaders of all ages to stand up for our environment; to act out their solutions today. It is through individual efforts like these, that we move forward.

Afroz Shah is one person. However, ever since he started out on this journey, he has attracted thousands of volunteers and inspired millions. His efforts show us that each one of us has the power to make a difference. Whether we are lawyers, designers, engineers – we all have a role to play in beating plastic pollution.

We must all make individual efforts. But we must also embrace the efforts of young people and make them central to our global movement. We can’t just talk about the need to get young people involved in decision making, or the importance of addressing ‘youth issues’.

We must bring young people to the table and hear their solutions to the major environmental challenges that face us today. We must ensure youth are included in panel discussions on environmental action; encouraged to speak at global events; included in important meetings.

The second thing we can all learn from the experience of Afroz is that we are never alone. When we courageously step up, we forge stronger networks among like-minded people, who will help us along the way. I believe that our Young Champions and Champions of the Earth – of which Afroz is one – are living examples of this powerful truth.

Whether organising a clean-up activity; going to an exhibition or having coffee with people engaged in something we are passionate about, we will meet other strong and inspirational women and men, who can help us build ideas and have a positive impact on the environment.

We will also face enemies – and this brings me to the third lesson that we can take from our friend Afroz Shah. You may fail. People may not believe in your ideas or support you at first. If you are an entrepreneur, you may think your idea is not yet good enough.

But if you persevere and continue, you will win supporters. And ultimately, your idea may be the one that unlocks a solution that our planet desperately needs. From growing demands for the Earth’s limited resources to more unpredictable and extreme weather, our environment faces unprecedented threats today.

We must find better solutions and faster than ever before. I believe that giving young people a platform is critical to solving our planet’s most pressing challenges. Giving up is not an option for us. Now is the time to act together – regardless of our age – for the sake of our planet.

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Image source: Shashi S Kashyap/ Hindustan Times via Getty Images
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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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