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How I’m Training Women In Rural Gujarat To Make Solar Cookers In Just ₹60

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By Alzubair Saiyed:

It is not news that the world is burning and the devastation of human life is in full view. The reckless consumption of fossil fuels and inefficient energy use in the last few decades are the major reasons for this grave climate crisis that future generations will have to face. The time to discuss and plan are long gone. We need to act, and act fast! My initiative, the “Smokeless Cook Stoves” is one small attempt to reduce the health risks faced by tribal women in Gujarat and the CO2 emission caused due to the dependence on traditional fuels.

Being a mechanical engineer with a master’s degree in thermal engineering, I understand the long term impact of our small, everyday actions like burning unsegregated waste or using firewood for cooking on our environment. We need to transform the way we have lived to reduce our carbon footprint. It is high time we reduce relying on fossil fuels and shift to more renewable sources of energy. 

On one of my assignments to the villages of  Gujarat, I noticed that houses still relied on conventional and obsolete stoves that run on firewood and cow dung to cook daily meals. Women and children used to travel long distances to obtain wood. With the huge success of Pradhan Mantri Ujwalla Yojana around the nation, I found this oddity appalling.  A report by WHO equated the exposure to pollution from burning firewood to smoking 400 cigarettes in an hour. On further investigation, I discovered that every year, 160 lakh hectares of forests are destroyed to obtain wood. It is threatening that more than half of the worlds’ population still relies on these traditional fuels for cooking. This is not only a major environmental issue but also a root cause for various severe health issues for those continuously exposed to its fumes.

As an assistant professor in an engineering institute, I took it upon myself to find a solution to this unhealthy and ungreen practice. After a lot of research, the most straightforward yet most efficient solution to the problem turned out to be a solar cooker! But in these villages where families earned around Rs. 5000 to 6000 each month, affording a commercial solar cooker of Rs. 2000 and above was not even a possibility.

Someone has rightly said, “There are infinite possibilities if only you wish to see.” Putting my technical skills to work, I found a way to make solar cookers more economical by substituting the materials. These women couldn’t afford a solar cooker, but they could surely make one for themselves with less than Rs. 60! 

Realising the potential for a huge positive impact, I decided to begin the ‘Solar Cooker Campaign’ in 2016 which involved training rural and tribal women, men, youth and students to make and use their own solar cookers. With free workshops and training sessions in several schools, NGOs, villages, and colleges, I’ve trained more than 1500 women till today. With some of my students who volunteered to join this initiative,  I’ve travelled to more than 100 villages in Gujarat and reached out to villages in Maharashtra and Karnataka, including Panchmahal, Narmada, Jamnagar, and Jetpur with our solar model, and the journey still continues. 

I have dedicated my life to building a more sustainable, stable and equitable world. But there’s a lot more to gain personally in this journey of impacting lives. In the year 2018, I was awarded V-Awards India, for being a volunteer for change in society. Along with respect and appreciation, it also gave me an amazing networking opportunity. The recognition gave a new phase to the campaign, opening doors for many new collaborations. Currently, as the Senior Manager at the Grassroots Innovation Augmentation Network, I am trying to develop a better and improved version of the solar cooker which can overcome the shortcomings of the previous model.

 Maurice Strong, Secretary-General of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development once said, “Sustainable Development will be impossible without the full input by the engineering profession”. For this to occur, engineers like me must adopt a completely different attitude towards natural and cultural systems and reconsider interactions between engineering disciplines and non-technical fields. 

Let us all do the little things we can with the little we have for a better and a brighter tomorrow. “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” – The world is one family. It’s time to act together.

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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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