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This Organisation In Delhi Is Changing The Face Of Public Education For The Underprivileged

Ten years ago, Pramod Rajesh was taking odd jobs all over Delhi to pay for his sustenance, while ensuring he can get his sons educated. Today, his elder son is a student in an engineering college and a new light of hope glimmers over his family. He may have left his village in Bihar and moved to Delhi for a better life for himself, but he chose the simple route of educating his family and now he knows that his children have a much better chance at securing their future then he did.

“Humko padhne ka mauka hi nahi mila. Agar main apne ladke ko vidya de sakta hu, toh usse badi cheez main aur kuch nahi kar sakta (I didn’t get the opportunity to study. If I can make sure my son gets to study, then I cannot do anything greater than that),” said Pramod.

This shows that the importance of education cannot be understated. It is said to be the foundation of our society, and that just relays one thing. If education is as important to modern society as we have been told then, how is it alright for millions of people to be uneducated or poorly educated?

Lack of adequate teachers coupled with complete disregard towards the educational outcomes of our students have led to a significant decline in their literacy and numeracy skills. On top of that, one-third of India’s primary schools lack proper infrastructure and one-tenth lack basic materials such as blackboards. Failure to properly implement the Right to Education Act has resulted in continued deterioration of the Indian public education system.

Looking at the holistic picture in India, ever since the inception of the country in 1947, fears have always prevailed that the workforce and the electorate are uneducated. Now in 2018, as the country looks to break into the ‘superpower’ tiers in world politics, those fears haven’t been allayed. India is making a push to be the major influencer in world politics, and the only other country apart from China to represent Asia. However, we have a largely uneducated populous backing these efforts up.

Students are highly disillusioned with the public education system in India, even as 65% of them get their education from public institutions. On the other hand, other countries in the world see a much higher rate of students in the public education sphere. In the UK 93%, in USA 92%, in Finland 98% and in Sri Lanka 97% of the children are enrolled in public schools. When private education was supposed to be a system for the elite to ensure that their children stay in privilege, now it has become imperative for Indians to study in a private institution to ensure that their education is of quality.

Even though this discussion has been plaguing the general public for a while, the talk never seems to be translating into the walk. However, it does look like things are changing, as some quantifiable action is being taken.

Currently, there seems to be a renewed focus on public education in India, especially in Delhi. The State Government and the Municipal Corporations of Delhi have shown active interest in engaging with the education crisis in the capital. They have identified gaps that exist within the system and welcomed non-profit organisations and other educational institutions to engage with the problem and work together to solve them. These organisations have also taken up this opportunity and have done some incredible work inside the schools and across the larger system. One such organisation is Simple Education Foundation (SEF) who have partnered with the South Delhi Municipal Corporation to enhance the quality of education in a few schools in Delhi.

One of the schools run by SEF is in Bhim Nagri, Hauz Khas in South Delhi and what happens there is truly inspiring. The government-appointed teachers work with the SEF staff to implement advanced pedagogical practices and routines that create a holistic learning environment in the school, something that you rarely see inside our government schools today. The teachers teach with passion and facilitate spaces that are truly effective and enabling. Students are interested and actively engaged inside the classrooms, students who have joined the school in this academic year are excited to come to school.

Chandni Chopra, the School Leader of SEF has a very simple goal in mind with the organisation. “With SEF, we want to achieve excellence in education. Being good isn’t enough anymore, and we want to work with the government and other bodies to make education very good. We want to experiment with alternative teaching styles so that the kids can learn easily and we want to devise ways and methods to create equality within education and the quality that everyone receives.”

Apart from that, there is a student learning centre set up in Gular village in district Tehri Garhwal in Uttarakhand, in an attempt to spread quality education into rural spaces. After speaking to a teacher teaching in Gular, one will realise how important a project like this is to the community there. Most of the people that send their children for education in a school like this are farmers and daily wage labourers who think their children will do the same thing as them.

Watching their children and their personalities grow has given them hope for the future, that their child will do something greater than they ever got the opportunity to even dream about. The community has formed strong bonds with the teachers and now the students have believable role models around them.

Prerna Kalra, a teacher at the school in Gular has spoken very emotionally about her bond with teaching. “I didn’t think that I would be in teaching. I was doing my B.Com Degree in Delhi University and came across the Teach for India fellowship. Being part of that made me realise how important teaching is and that I am perfect for teaching. It is the best sector to be a part of and it helps me grow. I learn from my kids and they learn from me. It is a beautiful relationship.”

SEF and these teachers, along with several other non-profit organisations in this country are changing the very face of public education in India. All these organisations work tirelessly towards improving the lives of the underprivileged, as they have built strong bonds with the community that they serve in and everyone works towards a common goal. That goal is to transform the public school system into a beacon of excellence and quality.

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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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