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My Journey With CRY

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By Spandan:

Seven, the number, might have a significant importance in the field of ‘Number Theory’ – in Ramanujan-Nagell equation, but to me it has a different significance in a different context. When I go back seven years from today, I see myself getting into an engineering college right from my school. You might be wondering how an engineering degree in India suddenly has become significant, but, what was significant in my story is the reality I got exposed to during the same time.

Every time I crossed the broad streets of Kolkata, I came across deprived faces of all varieties – from infant to old all-around. With my fresh adulthood, I wanted to do something about it, leveraging the ample freedom and leisure that the age eighteen could offer. In April 2011, I stumbled upon CRY – Child Rights and You’s website and came across some incredible stories of change. It inspired me to write to CRY and within a week’s time I landed up in their Kolkata office. (Well, landing up in that office was a journey in itself, for which my treasure hunt skills owe a round of applause). And you know what, after a day-long session, I was fully convinced to be associated with the vision and mission of the organisation.

Since then, I never left a single opportunity to make a spot under CRY’s umbrella. Over these seven years, I have worn different hats in the organisation. The very first was that of a field volunteer. It was only two other people and I who began to explore one of the most deprived pockets of Kolkata, with scores of underprivileged children residing in it. It was a mammoth challenge in waiting – a migrant community which spoke a different language, practiced a different culture and lived in one of the dirtiest and complex slums.

Forget about making a change, it was challenging for us to find our ways without losing ourselves in the labyrinthine allies of the Rajabazar slums in central Kolkata. It was very hard to even make a scratch on such an ‘alien’ land. The parallel task was to start dealing with different local administrative entities most of which were resistant and critical of what we approached to do. In the first one to two years, there was very slow progress in terms of change – so slow that it was not unusual to lose all hope.

But, slowly, with very trivial stories of change we started to gain visibility and credibility. The community finally accepted us, and things started rolling a bit faster as the three of us grew as young leaders leading a larger squad of volunteers. Amidst all these challenges what was satisfying was to be working with a team of diverse individuals tied by the same vision, and the small changes that made the community smile brighter.

It was mid 2013, and I chose to collaborate more and took an internship position for over 10 weeks. In this phase I created several pieces of content for children, helped CRY design multiple fund-raising and advocacy campaigns and initiatives. Even after my internship, along with the regular field work, I continued working in the content creation team to help design, maintain, and increase reach of the blog of the CRY volunteers in Kolkata.

This continued till mid 2014, and I had to move out of Kolkata with a job opportunity. It was personally challenging to leave a team that you have built from the scratch and been through ups and downs back in the city for nearly four years. To keep the volunteer in me alive, I started volunteering as an online volunteer where I took up different tasks ranging from creating content to different skill-based data analytics jobs.

As I have lived the life of a volunteer, I know how much even a small contribution helps the volunteer teams or CRY at large. After I started earning, I have also become a donor where I donated my share occasionally to different CRY fund-raisers and campaigns.

These different profiles have helped me shape my values, grow as a leader and taught me few of the very fundamental learnings for life. As I got exposed to the reality at an impressionable age, and worked closely with different individuals, it shaped my value systems considerably. This experience complemented the books I read and the values my parents tried to inculcate in me over the years.

Today, when I lead teams in a true corporate environment or lead different CSR activities for the organisation, I often fall back on the different leadership learnings I gained solely from my journey as a volunteer. I couldn’t thank myself for deciding to join CRY at that early age and submerging myself to reality.

The author is an active volunteer with CRY – Child Rights and You, works as a consultant at Ernst and Young’s Analytics practice where he consults different global organizations and lead projects to address their business problems using sophisticated analytics techniques. He is associated with CRY since April 2011.

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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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