As an educator, I’m Running A Programme To Help India’s Youth Become Educators For The Environment


Reflections on the first few steps towards a mission


“Can you point to the direction towards Tahiti?” asked Mau.

Nainoa pointed to the ‘star direction’ – south-southeast.

“Can you see the island?”

Nainoa said, “I cannot see the island, but I can see the image of the island in my mind.”

“Good,” said Mau. “Don’t even lose that image or you will be lost.”

An image was being conceived in my mind after 11 months of a total immersion fellowship spread across eight countries around the world. Affected by the destruction of environment and forests since childhood and inspired by stories (such as revival of Polynesian way-finding), I envisioned a million young people becoming environmental educators, re-envisioning environmental education in schools, and connecting millions of children to nature through eco-literacy.

This is mathematically possible. In India, 65% of the youth are below 35 years of age. This is a staggering 86 million and 730,000 young people! If a million of them – about 1/8th of this population – become environmental educators, a powerful youth-led environmental education movement can be created in schools. This, in turn, will lead to communities of active citizens taking care of earth.

This is practically achievable too. There are enough open-source learning materials on nature, though they might be worded differently – eco-literacy, environment, sustainability, conservation, permaculture and many more. There are hundreds of amazing educators too. The best practices, principles and facilitation tools to connect students with nature emerge from such people. In addition to these, many schools are now receptive to host-sustained environmental education programmes that not only highlight environmental values but also benefit the personal development of students.

However, bringing them together requires us to transcend ego and logo boundaries and what’s-in-it-for-me boundaries to move towards “What is best for the society and the world at large?” These thoughts in today’s volatile world become chaotic, especially when dealing with trans-disciplinary challenges in areas of environment, education, youth development and early childhood education. In such a scenario, the best practices emerge when we sense, respond and take action.

So, I took action when I came back to India after my fellowship. Having worked with children for over eight years, I launched a non-profit, citizen-action initiative called YOUCAN. Unfortunately, I had to call myself ‘the founder’, though I am actually a lead coordinator in creating a space for citizens to take part in environmental education.

Along with the support of a diverse community from a few parts of the world, we started to develop a youth-led environmental education volunteering programme called YOUCAN Ambassadors. We invited young people with an inclination to apply to this programme, save the environment and work with children in schools. An online soft launch received seven applications! We analysed the motivational factors that led them to fill a detailed application.

“I applied because I longed for sessions on nature during school. I aspire to revive my institution’s nature club,” said the first applicant.

“The Environmental Science class, as I remember from my school days, was something we saw as ‘another piece on pollution’ that we had to learn for some easy marks. Only later did I realise how vast, important and interesting the field was,” said the second applicant.

“I believe that change starts from the classrooms and educating the next generation of children about eco-literacy will be the first step towards the conservation of our environment,” said the third applicant.

Some were a part of beach clean-ups. One of them had conducted outreach programmes in schools. Some had no prior experience but were willing to learn.

Sensing a pattern in their motivational factors, I felt that the programmes too should stem from their motivation. I thought, “Why don’t we give some of the best practices, principles and resources and guide young people to design their own programmes? How can we craft a self-discovery process that enables them to find the storyteller and teacher in them?”

While asking such questions during the interviews, many issues were raised by the young Ambassadors. These issues concerned gaining knowledge on environment and conservation, the lack of guidance in designing a curriculum, retaining the attention of students, designing an engaging classroom and outdoor experience, working with different age-groups, facilitating citizen science projects and public speaking. While combining these through a volunteering programme would be an ambitious task, overcoming many of the challenges are possible with the available expertise.

But, at the same time volunteer-participation for such a programme is complex. Ambassadors have to design sessions, learn both content and facilitation approaches, approach a school, get the permission to volunteer two hours a month, introduce nature to children, facilitate activities, review their work, evaluate their progress – and finally, organise an ‘open day’ through which the students’ work is shown to a larger community.

Are these possible? I don’t know. What I do know is that we can identify, nurture and support the youth to become environment leaders. Can’t we find a hundred promising individuals to begin with, among the 86 million and 730,000 youth in India?

As I write this, a promising young individual is designing his own environmental education program that can inspire Ambassadors to work on their own. A dear colleague from Brazil is developing a training manual for the youth to become environmental education facilitators. Another dear colleague with many years of experience as a non-profit programme manager will be stepping in with her expertise, during the interim period. A nature center in Hawaii where I volunteered is helping us build outdoor nature-education pedagogies that can be used by people to form self-sustaining communities and connecting students and families with nature, in the process.

I am making a personal decision to pursue what I believe is right for the environment and forests I value. And I am walking with the image of a million young people becoming environmental educators, re-envisioning environmental education in schools, and connecting millions of children to nature through eco-literacy. This, in turn, will create conditions for communities to become active citizens taking care of the earth.


The author is an environmental educator and lead coordinator of the Youth Conservation Action Network.


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Featured image used for representative purposes only.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)’.

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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.

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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
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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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