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In The Face Of A Sudden Adversity, I Discovered My True Calling

From designing homes to becoming a household name, I have come a long way! This is the story of love, perseverance and the will to face adversity. An unfortunate incident had dramatically changed the narrative of my otherwise normal and exciting married life, but we faced the hardships together and managed to thrive despite the odds. My husband Shishir and I had met with an incident, and he was rendered quadriplegic with this body becoming completely paralysed below the neck. Shishir’s job as a Merchant Navy officer had us travelling half the year around the world on ships and the rest we spent travelling around local cities and meeting friends, relatives and in short, we were living a dream life.

It’s been more than seven years and nine months since the incident! For me, it feels as if time has passed in the blink of an eye. A lot has happened during these years, and yet it just feels like a dream now. When I think of it, I see how life has turned upside down for us. By accepting the unexpected and still believing that we shall overcome because our love, persists and keeps us going.

Shishir and I had met in Delhi through family friends. He had qualified as a Master Mariner and was ready to get hitched. For him, it was love at first sight. “I fell in love with you, the moment I laid eyes on you, Nishi,” were his words as we had instantly hit it off. Though he tried hard to make me understand the hardships of being the partner of a Merchant Navy officer, that did not stop me from taking the leap either. Finally, we got hitched in October 2009.

Life was beautiful and blossomed as we wanted it to be… until tragedy struck!

We had flown to Goa along with our family for Shishir’s cousin’s wedding. We had left immediately for the venue as coincidentally, it was our second wedding anniversary too, and a surprise cake cutting ceremony was planned for us. The party was by the poolside, and a few of the guests had already jumped into the pool. During the celebrations, Shishir accidentally fell into the pool as there was no safety rope or rails placed around it. His head hit the pool floor and ended up fracturing multiple vertebrae in his neck and damaged his spinal cord.

He was immediately rushed to a hospital, but by then his body had become paralysed below the neck as he was unable to move his arms or legs. “I thought I would drown and no one would notice it. Luckily, Nishi saw me and asked my uncle who was in the pool with us to turn me over thereby allowing me to breathe. He pulled me out of the pool and rushed me to a nearby hospital. All this while, I couldn’t feel my body but my eyes were wide open, and I could see and hear what was happening around me,” he recalls. With an unfortunate twist of fate, Shishir was rendered quadriplegic; with no sensation below his neck. His entire life had changed in that one instant. Two weeks after being operated upon, a titanium plate was placed on his neck. He was flown to Delhi in an air ambulance to begin his rehabilitation program.

For the next eight months, he had to spend eight hours a day at a rehabilitation centre undergoing physiotherapy, occupational therapy and counselling. Eventually, he had to learn everything from scratch again! Currently, Shishir works for a Hong Kong-based shipping company as a Nautical Consultant. The thing that bothered him most after the incident was that he had to be dependent on others for all of his daily requirements. From brushing teeth to eating to everything else, he needed assistance. Fortunately, we met a number of peer mentors who showed us that they were not just living a normal life but enjoying it to the fullest even after a spinal cord injury. After the incident, I remember being numb for a long while. I was in a state of shock, and the only thought that kept running in my head was getting the best help for my husband. I had made peace with the fact that he would be in a wheelchair, but I wanted to provide the best assistance for his mental health so that we could strongly face whatever fate had in store for us.

Adversity Breeds Opportunity: How I Became An Entrepreneur 

I was an interior designer, (which demanded travelling and being out of the house for long periods of time) and I quit my profession to get things back on track. Luckily for me, I was introduced to chocolate making by a neighbour. Once I tried my hand at it and got the hang of things, I found it pretty interesting as I could do it from the confines of my home. I thought of taking it up professionally and managed to bag a few orders during Diwali and ended up delivering them in record time at clients’ utmost satisfaction.

I was delighted, to say the least, and started taking more orders and started to bake as well. This led to the birth of “Chocolate Therapy by Nishi”. It gave me peace and calmness in my otherwise chaotic life. Baking helped resurrect a life staring at an abyss. I feel there’s no better therapy than chocolate and hence, the name Chocolate Therapy by Nishi. I feel living with a partner with a disability is not worrisome at all. Nobody said it’s going to be easy, but it isn’t that difficult either. You just need to pick up the pieces and put them back together.

Every person is special and has the ability to do something if the situation calls for it. I also lose my calm once in a while, as one can’t be strong all the time. I am thankful for what we have instead of complaining about what we’ve have lost. Our story is not just an example where an incident changed the rhythm of our lives. It is to show others that they can manage to thrive and live happily too; proving that disability is not debilitating in the face of love.

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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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