Inspiring Stories Of India’s Changemakers

Not every step in life is planned but at times it is consciously driven. Sometimes, things hit you when you least expect them to. And they hit you so hard that you can’t help but do something about them. Some encounters change your life completely. Today, I share with you the life-changing stories of GiveIndia’s partner NGO’s Founders. These changemakers of India share what triggered empathy within them and led them to impact the lives around them.

Ajeet Singh, Founder, Guria India

Ajeet Singh, the founder of Guria India
Ajeet Singh, the founder of Guria India. Source: ssciitbhu.org

“I saw this girl performing at the wedding in my home town near Varanasi, in 1988. The way people were looking at her and treating her, shocked me. It was then and there that I decided to do something to free girls like her from such a profession,” recalls Ajeet while talking to The Better India.

After the performance was over, Ajeet approached this girl and asked her if he could do anything for her or her children. After convincing the girl, he adopted her three children. He was just 18-years-old, studying in his first year of college. His family was not supportive but Ajeet was determined. He started teaching them in his spare time and also started going to the red light areas of Varanasi to teach the kids of sex workers. He didn’t take long to understand that the problem was much deeper and more complex than he had thought. It was then he started Guria in 1993 to fight against the sexual exploitation of girls.

Guria has rescued 2,473 people from slavery, including commercial sexual exploitation and bonded labour. It is also fighting a legal battle for many and has filed a new Public Interest Litigation(PIL) in the Supreme Court, for the rescue of 1.2 million minor girls from the brothels all over the country. Standing beside these girls and one of India’s changemakers, Ajeet Singh was determined to fight against sexual violence.

Anshu Gupta, Founder & Director, Goonj

Read about Changemakers in India : Goonj's Founder, Anshu Gupta
Anshu Gupta, founder of Goonj. Source: Governance Now

“It was one of the usual days of winters. I was on my scooter when I noticed this rickshaw which read “Laawarish Laash Uthaanewaala” (this rickshaw lifts unclaimed dead bodies). I curiously went to this man standing near it and asked him what it meant. Habib Bhai told me that he carries unclaimed dead bodies for Delhi police. He carries around 4 to 5 bodies every day in the summer, and during winter, there are usually 10 or 11 bodies. I couldn’t understand. I mean if I could survive that temperature then how could someone else die because of it?”, said Anshu.

He started going everywhere with Habib Bhai. One day, Habib’s six-year-old daughter, Bano told Anshu, that on some nights, when it got freezing, she would hug a dead body and sleep. It didn’t bother her, she said, as the body wouldn’t twist or turn. That’s when Anshu realised how a few pieces of cloth can mean the difference between life and death for some people. He went home and put together 67 clothes to give away. 

Over time, the initiative took the shape of Goonj’s flagship initiative ‘Cloth For Work’. Goonj started working with rural communities. Villagers would make roads, clean ponds, build bridges, dig wells and as a reward they would get a ‘Family Kit’. The kit is carefully made of all basic materials. Usually second hand but carefully chosen things including clothes, utensils, sanitary pads, sujni (multi-purpose mattress) and many other essentials. Goonj’s team members are working as changemakers in the lives of many. In 2017-18 alone, Goonj worked with more than 3,660 villages undertaking 4,200 rural development activities and distributed 1,40,000 Family Kits.

Purnota Bahl, Founder & CEO, Cuddles Foundation

Read about Changemakers in India : Cuddles Foundation's Founder, Purnota Bahl
Purnota Bahl, founder of Cuddles Foundation. Source: Cuddles Foundation

“I was crossing one of the wards, and my eyes fell upon the tiny foot of a baby girl, probably a few months old. Although I never got to see her face, her legs reminded me of my own daughter, who was around the same age at that time. The fact that the child inside could have been mine was the moment of epiphany which not just broke me emotionally, but drove me further to act upon it,” remembers Purnota while talking to The Better India.

Purnota used to contribute half of her salary for the treatment of children suffering from cancer. That day, she visited the hospital to follow-up on her donation. This chance encounter with a poor little girl changed Purnota’s life and that of many thousand children in the country. 

When Purnota realised that the hospital lacks funds to feed nutritious food to the children suffering from cancer, she started donating all her earnings towards them.

She soon realised that she could not manage to continue her initiative alone. She quit her job, teamed up with her friends and started the Cuddles Foundation in 2011. Today, this changemaker is saving little children in 13 cities across India with 22 hospitals on board as their partners to the cause.

Prakash Raka, Founder & Chairman, Asha Kiran

Prakash Raka, founder of Asha Kiran.

Prakash belongs to a poor family of Relangi village in West Godavari in Andhra Pradesh. Despite poor financial conditions at home, his father was very particular about his education. 

One day, when Prakash was standing outside his college, he saw an NGO distributing clothes and food to the old people on the roads.That sight moved him and he actively got involved in volunteering activities in his college. “Since I was from a BPL family, I could relate to how small acts can make a huge difference in people’s lives. When I was a kid, my brother and I used to celebrate Diwali with only a handful of crackers and that used to make our day.”

In 1987, a cyclone hit Andhra Pradesh and many villages were completely submerged. Authorities were reluctant to help due to difficult conditions. Prakash explained how he, with six other local volunteers came forward. The volunteers later started a society which is now called Asha Kiran, led by Prakash as the Chairman.

Asha Kiran is committed to facilitating the sustainable development of coastal communities in Andhra Pradesh, India. It is currently working in over 40 villages of the state. It runs various development initiatives including vocational training, community health, and environmental programs. It is also committed to reducing school dropout rates of children from economically backward families.

Jithin C. Nedumala, Founder, Make A Difference

Jithin C. Nedumala distributes books to poor children.

“I had gone to this shelter home in Cochin to celebrate one of my friend’s admission to a prestigious college. I was awed by the kids’ enthusiasm and more so by their request for books. Generally, nobody looks up to the youth, nobody expects much from them. When I went there, these kids actually started looking up to me. For the first time in my life probably, someone expected something from me. It attached a sort of responsibility.”

As promised, Jithin and his friend delivered the books to the shelter home. When they visited the home again, they were surprised to find out that children had not only read the books but had written reports on the same. Moved by their willingness to learn, Jithin kept going back to these children. He wanted to do something for them. Being a college student himself, things were not very easy. One of the greatest things he had was the support of his friends. He made a few calls and 25 of them agreed to voluntarily teach these kids and that is how MAD was born. 

Today, MAD is India’s fastest growing youth volunteer network, with chapters across 23 cities in India. 

Someone has rightly said that you need not be rich to help someone, you just need to care! The journeys of these changemakers reiterate the notion that there is no ‘right time’ to do the ‘right thing’. At times, you just need to follow your heart. Join these changemakers to change the world, one life at a time.

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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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