By Manisha Bezbaruah:
“Nanhi cheeti jab daana lekar diwar par chadti hai, chadti hai wo 100 bar fisalti hai … Lekin uski mehnat bekar nahi jaati, koshish karne waalo ki kabhi haar nahi hoti.” (When an ant climbs a wall while carrying food, it might slip a 100 times…but hard work doesn’t go in vain, those who give their all never fail.)
My name is Manisha Bezbaruah. I am a student of Social Sciences by qualification, but a young volunteer by heart. I have been serving as the Tobacco Control Leader of my unit in Assam, as a volunteer with the NSS. A large part of my job has so far been about spreading awareness to curb the use of tobacco and to create awareness about the heightened risk of cancer that goes along with it.
It was 2018 when I got selected into the National Declamation Contest organised by the Ministry of Sports and Youth Affairs, that my course in life was completely altered. The experience of powerful speeches made me realise how to look at issues more holistically. I learned that being young, I could make an invaluable contribution to society, and do something for my country. The theme I was assigned was ‘Patriotism and Nation Building’ and somehow, I took this thought and made it my life’s goal.
I quickly learned that volunteering is not an easy job. It comes with its own set of problems. Dealing with tobacco, I found that I had to counter age-old established mindsets, habits, and conservative work environments every step of the way. The community that I am working with is from a rural area and constitutes mainly of farmers and daily wage workers. They have an age-old tradition of consuming Betel (areca) nut (popularly known as Tamul paan) as well as Ganja.
The success rate of tobacco control is quiet low among elderly people, but I could see a great difference in children. Awareness programs done in primary schools were of great help as they now counter-question their parents upon using tobacco products. I encountered many who didn’t feel the need to listen to someone younger than them, but the change in habits and mindsets of senior citizens can now be seen.
The experience has also taught me to be more sensitive towards what is happening around me, to gauge attitudes and to work with people better. If I ever come across a friend who uses tobacco products, I don’t hesitate to object to it, but I also back off when necessary.
My selection for the National Youth Parliament last year perfectly filled the gaps in my oratory skills and self-confidence. I was selected to play the part of the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Damodardas Modi, and was the leader of the house in the proceedings. The boost in my self-confidence even pushed me to apply for the Asia Youth International Model United Nation, for which I got selected!
I believe the lessons I have learned through these experiences will truly help me in working towards my area of interest in the future: women’s empowerment and cultivating a culture of peace through diplomacy.
It’s taken years of hard work and many setbacks, but I made sure to stick to my guns and continue to work hard with passion. That would be my advice to young changemakers like me too—to keep your spirits high and keep trying.
Manisha Bezbaruah is a volunteer associated with Nehru Yuva Kendra, Nalbari district. She is pursuing her graduation in Political Science under Gauhati University. Manisha finds great interest in dealing with social issues and aspires to become a civil servant through cross-cultural experiences. Last year, she was among ten candidates shortlisted for the National Youth Parliament organised by UN Volunteers and Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports.