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Working With Children Taught Me Lessons In Empathy And Love

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Chamber of Reflection

There are some questions to which there are no answers.

Sometimes a question can lead you to a way of life.

As a dismantled individual climbing back up the same swirling stairway I fell from, hitting hard on the edges of the innumerable steps – I was all broken bones, torn skin, and bleeding emotions. Prior to being introduced to ISDM, regardless of my past ventures, there were instances which opened up new perspectives on life.

I didn’t learn much from institutions and books. I learnt more from people, places and events that occurred in my life- ones who brought me up; ones I grew up with; ones I shared my homework with; ones with whom I tried my ‘firsts’ and vowed our ‘lasts’; ones with whom I challenged my limits; ones I shared my passions with; and most importantly, the ones who tried to bring me down – I love and treasure all of them.

Now I look back at everything like a film strip rolling in the dark, and realise the value of every moment and find so much authenticity in the spontaneity itself. How could I forget my own roots?

Digging Through My Roots

My ancestors were from Nepal who settled down in India as plantation workers in Margaret’s Hope Tea Estate run by the British during colonial rule. The family tree is huge. My grandfather and his siblings made a whole football team. His parents were illiterate, but he got the opportunity to get some degree of schooling. He along with his brothers and sisters used to help out in the plantation work as well and led very difficult but simple lives.

When he finished schooling, he was forced to join the army but eventually fled and came back looking for a better life in main-town Darjeeling. He began to work in an accounting desk of a hotel for several years and was sustaining his wife and children. He then managed to get a job in one of the most elite schools in India at that time. Working in St. Paul’s School changed his life. He made himself and his family proud. It was not easy to be a part of such a reputed institution. There was something in him that reflected his personality, his values and principles.

I have primary evidence of this as I spent the early years of my childhood with him and my grandmother. I was his best friend for the first fourteen years of my life. I learnt a lot just by observing him. Irrespective of where he was, with family or at work – he was always himself, and I always felt a genuine sense of comfort whenever he was with me. I’m sure this feeling resonated with everyone who knew him in person. He made people feel appreciated and valued; he was strong and confident in carrying forward his words. Being very social in nature he helped everyone who came to him. People respected him for that.

His passing away had a strong impact on me, I began to idolise his life and still do. He is the only anchor I have whenever I tend to drift away in life.

The Question Of Authenticity

When I am asked the meaning of authenticity, I don’t really have an answer, but when I look for examples, I picture him and the life he led, the work he did, the struggle he went through, and how he contributed to the people around him as a pure specimen of the definition. This may seem idolatry but looking at the big picture, there are so many people in the past as well as today who’ve lived lives worth taking note of and learning through their way of life.

Sometimes I wish I could be like my grandfather, but I am not and can never be like him. Authenticity doesn’t mean being someone else at the cost of being yourself. Right now, I am struggling to be myself! What I mean is that there are always things that we can take away- like the core values he carried as an individual and the way he put it into action, the way he carried forward not just himself but his whole family, always reminding himself where he came from, never forgetting his roots!

In Search For Meaning

When I got my first job, I was a wreck – I was going through the darkest days of my life. Calcutta Social Project gave me an opportunity to see the light again. The children I was working with made me feel alive again. They gave me a sense of belonging and in my sixth month with them, I learnt a lot more than what they learnt from me. They tested my patience and broke me down to my emotions and gave me the most important thing in life I was devoid of – love and empathy.

Looking back now, they reiterate the meaning of the word authenticity for me. I can still see their eyes glaring at me, full of energy and intensity, filled with hope, optimism and emotions that no one can snatch away. They taught me what humility is. Initially, I was very clumsy at work, but slowly the children made me feel at home. I could not imagine myself not going to work for a single day. I was so fond of them that I used to spend time with their families on Sundays and they were always inviting me to join them in their meals.

They subconsciously imbibed in me the notion of work ethics. I loved my work and tried my level best to do what I could for them in my own capacity and limitations. I had never felt so much pain as on my last day of work. I left with a heavy heart. But I knew this was not the end of the relationship I shared with them.

The next four months got me engaged more in the office than in the groundwork. I worked for Crayons of Hope Foundation where I was involved heavily in their flagship project called Wall-O-Books which set up libraries for children. Though the areas of work were completely different, I was given a tremendous amount of space to learn new skills and also understand the processes in their work. Terms like professionalism, work ethics, teamwork, collaboration, stakeholders, were very new to me over there. I was so full of energy during that time.

The organisation was a team of nine very motivated people of all age groups, and though I was the youngest, there was never a time that I felt intimidated or felt undervalued – instead, they gave me tremendous amount of respect and valued my work. We bonded more like family than as colleagues, and it was so much fun going to work every day, sometimes we could stretch it to Sundays as well.


On looking back and forth in my own instances of life, I had never realised how much I could learn from that itself. Here at ISDM, the first thing that struck me was that the practice of reflection was so effective to give clarity and also articulate my thoughts and indecisions into words. It helped me silence the babels in my head, understand them further and create meaning and influence action in everyday life. I understood how Personal Mastery is the key to becoming a genuine human being first, and then an authentic professional while discovering and developing our core values, strengths and weaknesses and paving a way of life for ourselves and for others, to an extent.

We have been exposed to a lot of things right from the Orientation week till today. From listening to people from various fields of work and experiences to sharing our own experiences; from learning the practice of reflection to creating models and mind maps; from working as an individual to working together as a group, the whole structure of the process has had a dynamic impact on our growth and progress. It has shone a light to various perspectives and ways of understanding ourselves and the development sector and how everything is interrelated and interconnected. This whole term, we have been putting together our thoughts and actions to come up with answers to the questions put forward, and there seems to be no end to this quest.

-What does Development mean to you?

-Who is an Authentic Development Professional?

-Why is there a difference in the meanings of the word Professional and Practitioner?

-Why do we use the word authentic and what does it really mean?

We have been trying to break down these words and put them back together all this while. But what I believe is that these questions are not seeking any articulated answers from us. What it is seeking is whether our understanding of these questions can test our dispositions in our way of life and how we can contribute to society as individuals and as a global community.

Nehal Raj Pradhan is a student of PGP in Development Leadership at ISDM.

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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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