This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by India Fellow Social Leadership Program. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

I Studied To Be A Civil Engineer, But My True Calling Lay Elsewhere

More from India Fellow Social Leadership Program

India fellow logoEditor’s Note: This post is a part of a campaign by The India Fellow program on Youth Ki Awaaz. India Fellows spend 13 months working at the grassroots level to bring about real on-ground change. They are also mentored to be socially conscious leaders and contribute to the development of the country. Apply here to be a part of the change.
In image, Mahir Bhatt (left) with his colleague Dr. Sandeep during his India Fellowship journey with Swasthya Swaraj Society in Kalahandi, Odisha.

I am a Civil Engineer by qualification. Data management, monitoring, evaluation and analytics were part of my engineering training. I completed a project on Chemical Grouting to increase Soil Stability with the Pandit Deendayal Petroleum University, Gandhinagar, India. I worked with AIESEC, the world’s largest youth leadership organization, for three years as a student (2012-2015) and one year as full-time employee (2016-2017). I led a team of young individuals in the department of incoming international volunteers in Nepal. I helped the team design multiple short term projects of six weeks duration in the areas of health and education. The projects were designed based on the needs of local community via the Business Model Canvas approach. This sums up my experience till June 2017.

If some of you are already losing interest in the rest of the read, thinking it is a string of good things about me, let me add—I completely understand that a lot of the dear readers here are qualified and experienced to have done this and much more, as a list of their accomplishments. The reason is that I wish to build my credibility as a writer and ensure that you do not discount my skills, just because I chose to do a self-discovery journey in early career. That has been a stereotype I have long had to carry the weight of and a mistrust of my ability to have an alternate career trajectory may make you discount the one I have chosen to make and want to speak of here.

By June 2017, it was clear to me that I wanted to build my career working in the development sector and so I decided to apply for India Fellowship. I was selected, but I was not at all sure what awaited me in the journey ahead.

Two crucial events happened in this phase. In the beginning of 2016, one of my family members was involved in an accident. Upon hearing about the accident we quickly rushed to a private hospital in Ahmedabad. There was no major injury, but a small surgery was required in order to heal the dislocated shoulder. A month after the surgery there was pain in the shoulder again and we went to consult the same doctor—who suggested that there is one more surgery required in order to fix the problem. I was not convinced. At that time I was working in a start-up company focusing on telemedicine; founder of the organization was a doctor and he suggested me to visit another orthopedist who was a friend of his and so we did. He said that no surgery is needed and that mild exercise on day to day basis can resolve the issue. We followed the advice and within a few months everything was back to normal.

This experience really scared me because I felt really handicapped in terms of knowledge on medicine. I could of course not start studying M.B.B.S all of a sudden, that was not the solution. This experience did make me think a lot about the situation of health care as a system in India. Then I went to Nepal. The condition of the health system that I saw in there was also not very pleasant. We designed one project with the government hospital there to understand the cases of rheumatic heart disease in the city of Kathmandu. The project was done in collaboration with a government hospital. I am bound by the confidentiality of the project to share any detailed information but that experience again sparked my interest in not just understanding and learning about medicine but health care as whole.

Mahir (extreme left) with the Swasthya Swaraj Society team of all doctors!

As part of my India Fellow field placement, I worked with a charitable, not for profit organization called Swasthya Swaraj Society in the remote, tribal predominant villages of Kalahandi in Odisha, India. I supported the education project of Swasthya Swaraj Society. It consisted of improving the quality of education using the Health Promoting School framework of the World Health Organization within government higher primary schools located in deeply- forested hilly, tribal villages of a community development block of Kalahandi. I worked with a team of trained community workers to support and supervise the education activities in the tribal schools. I coordinated with technical experts such as doctors and social scientists to improve the quality of education. During the year, my role looked like a lot of fragments and odd jobs. I did not know how I was doing the most justice to me and the organization’s time by being the only non-doctor on the team, which predominantly focused on healthcare. But I knew I was learning at an exponential rate.

My experience in Kalahandi for one year was extremely crucial in helping me decide the trajectory of my life. Before I knew that I wanted to work in the development sector, but the development sector is pretty vast, the fellowship helped to understand that I want to strive to achieve equality in health for allI crystallized this resolution by spending another year, post the fellowship, in public health again. Only this time in the Himalayan belt—giving me a comprehensive exposure to multiple health challenges we as a nation face, but most importantly, sealing my decision to further my career and work in that direction.

A journey that was meant to be a self-discovery, turned out to be much more than that. Seemingly disconnected things fell in place, the meaning-making happened as I stayed patient with time. The perspective building was exponential and that was possible because I chose spontaneity over securing every single piece of information—to an extent that it renders you paralyzed. And above all, serendipitously, it gave me a purpose.

Mahir, during a training session for his field team of para-health animators in Swasthya Swaraj Society, Kalahandi, Odisha.

About the author: Mahir Bhatt is a 2017 cohort India Fellow (a social leadership program which helps young Indians explore the heartland of India and work with people at the grassroots), who went on to work on public healthcare from being an engineer.

You must be to comment.

More from India Fellow Social Leadership Program

Similar Posts

By India Fellow Social Leadership Program

By India Fellow Social Leadership Program

By India Fellow Social Leadership Program

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below