My College Seniors Helped Me Open Up When I Was A Fresher, And I’ll Always Be Grateful

You know that defining moment? When the results are out and your fate for the next few years is being decided, the college you wanted and all the little things? Yes, a lot of us can relate to these exciting, but also tensed moments in life. The last two grueling years of school – studies along with the tuitions, hard work, failures and success – we know it wasn’t easy.

I walked in my first day of college at the PEC University of Technology, Chandigarh. Of course, the first day was super easy, because all it comprised of were introductions. But, as the days passed, I began to realize the first hardship was to get along with the classmates. They were people from different places of India and different attitudes which I wasn’t accustomed to. In midst of such diversity, it was a challenge to find someone who can be a supportive friend. Someone who compliments your nature. We will always need someone who is enthusiastic, and similar to us. The next challenge was to get along and make genuine friends with my seniors, because they’d be the biggest help and guide us through college.

That is when I started feeling left out. I was an introvert, who just wouldn’t open up easily in a group or in co-curricular activities, but I desperately wanted to change it. My biggest personal struggle was to find acceptance in the activities of my choice. I wished to know, to learn, to grow and improve my personality. But, I was also convinced I wasn’t really someone others would pay attention to.

We had a big group in the activity club that I chose, discussing everything – right from the kind of events we’d be conducting to who’d want to participate and the like. Here, there were first year students too talking and interacting with the seniors as if they knew each other for far too long. I wanted exactly the same thing – to fit in. I tried to get my voice heard in that group too, but there wasn’t any response. That is when I realised getting along with seniors isn’t a piece of cake.

Over time, I became better at communicating and things moved on, but I knew that it was going be a big task to make myself heard.

But, I also realised, college isn’t always unfair. There were events and their promotions for one of the biggest fests we were organizing. And as a newcomer, I took part in the management, setting up stalls, etc. That is where I met two of the loveliest seniors I admire till date. They knew their priorities. I was just another enthusiastic fresher in college and they understood me. They did see that I was worth a lot, if not at my current position, maybe at another, and they helped me to get to that position. That’s when I started realizing that, hey, maybe, it isn’t that bad after all. This brought confidence to me, and motivated me to do more. It made me sure that I was on the right track, just had to be patient and do what I was already doing – be myself.

Oh, no mentions of studies you say? Well, that is something everyone wants an off from, especially in college. Of course we had professors, but most of them just gave importance to their positions rather than the actual teaching. There wasn’t really talk about innovation or passion or enthusiasm. No professor actually took the pain to motivate the students.

If I were to summarise my challenges, they would look something like this: there will always be a desire to become like someone else, to change and be able to blend in. And for many, there will be a desire to be understood, appreciated and accepted. You might have a different way of going about than others. Also, a lot of people will talk about being original, yet few will follow the claim. It’s easier said than done.

But, it’s essential to not be shaken by that awkwardness and be what you feel defines you. Yes, make mistakes, lose out on things, if need be. Let the bad happen. Believe me, it’s better to let the bad happen to you now than any time later. It is now when you will find yourself facing that one moment, that one instance where life screams out to you that you are officially in a pool full of the varieties you should face. This is just another test, only at a bigger scale. There is no failure nor success. It’s all about learning and being better than what you were earlier.

It’s not going to be easy. It never was meant to be easy. But no one said it’s impossible. Everything you dream is possible, but it’s just the way that it is made possible that seems tough. It will happen. The universe shall listen, maybe not now, not today, but eventually it will happen – have faith and be patient.

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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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