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‘Michelle Obama: A Life’ Is A Story Of Hope, Resilience And Deep Conviction

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Emma Gulliford once said, “Reading a good book is like taking a journey.” I feel enriched to have taken this journey and to have experienced “Michelle Obama A Life” of the extraordinarily gracious former First Lady of elegance, grace, intellect, strong values, and purpose. I have immense admiration for Michelle Obama and have watched most of her interviews available on YouTube. Five months ago, I decided that I need to know more about this extraordinary woman. When I finally had this book delivered, I was filled with joy with this amazing book cover I stared at for five minutes and subsequently started reading.

As I read the introduction, I realized that this is one of those books I need to read with a highlighter. The book starts with an incredible introduction followed by the first chapter titled ‘Chicago’s Promise’ which covers her ancestors, her family background. The first chapter enabled me to establish a foundation of American politics and the adversities and the discrimination faced by African Americans.

The second chapter starts with her journey. Reading the initial chapters of the book which covered her upbringing is crucial. In many interviews I watched her emphasize a lot on strong values. I also wondered, in this distracted era of moral ambiguities, Michelle’s integrity and values have never wavered and I got my answer in the chapters that covered her upbringing in this book. She definitely had an unconventional upbringing. She was very disciplined and she is definitely a product of incredible parenting.

She was constantly tested by adversities as an African American woman. Her initial years tell us about her unflinching determination to give her best in anything and everything she did. Her parents have played a significant role in shaping her. She was greatly influenced by her father Fraser Robinson. Throughout the book, all the narratives of her father display his compassion and resilience. Early on in life, she and her brother realized how hard her father worked to earn a living. She describes it very well in her own words. She once said, “I came from a very articulate, well read, highly productive, strong moral background. We weren’t rich but we had the same aspirations and my parents had strong values.”

One of her cousins mentions in the book about how hard she worked. She would study day and night. They were often told they are nobody and they won’t be able to accomplish anything and that was driving force for her to push harder and prove herself. Michelle’s parents were certainly ahead of their times and they encouraged Michelle and her brother to make choices, understand their self-worth and not get affected by external circumstances and if they put their head, heart, and hand into something they can accomplish anything they desire. The initial chapters are very insightful and the amount of hard work they put during their school days is incredible. The biographer has successfully covered many incidents from their school life, followed by Michelle getting into Princeton University and then Harvard Law School.

After landing in a leading law firm in the United States with a Harvard degree, she met Barack Obama. In these chapters, there is a shift in mindset and how she embarked on a journey to find meaning and get closer to her community. It was delightful and motivating to read about her initial years and what she went through followed by her marriage to Barack Obama and his years of struggle. I enjoyed reading how tough it was to strike a balance between her work, her children and her husband campaigning for the most powerful position in the country. As the reading progresses, one can understand how her strong values and her upbringing shaped her countless unconventional choices. The role she played in campaigning for her husband Barack Obama and choosing an unchartered path as the First African American First Lady and opening the White House for people, not hesitating for speaking her mind and the role she played in Barack Obama’s decision making.

Firstly, Peter Slavin has done an excellent job. The biography is written so well. I appreciate the fact that facts are highlighted but, in a storytelling format and testimonies from people which make this biography riveting. One thought that kept coming to my mind while reading the later chapters which covered her years as the First Lady, every speech of hers or anything she says, I only think about her upbringing which was full of strong values and she only emerged stronger. The best part is that throughout her life, she has always emphasized that she is like every one of us. She is a daughter, a sister, a wife, a mother and that makes her relatable and the leader that she is. One thing I admire the most is how mindful she had been while campaigning for her husband. These lines of her “Hope is making a comeback” resonate in my mind. Undoubtedly, hope has made a comeback and for me, Michelle Obama’s story is a story of hope, resilience, determination, deep conviction and most importantly leadership with a purpose.

As a 19-year-old, as I stand on the threshold of my future to make a career for myself, I am greatly influenced by this book and her life is truly a testimony of hard work and of being hopeful and pushing harder each day and that excellence is not an act but a practice.

I can go on and on because there are so many anecdotes and series of events of her life which are remarkable and worth reading but I have tried to be to the point. I recommend this book to everyone.

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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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