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By N. Mehetab Nasreen:

When I first began doing volunteer work, I realised it was no cakewalk.

One of the first issues I ran into was an insufficient number of volunteers who could sustain the work. And, of course, it was difficult to manage my time between studying, volunteering, and spending time with friends and family. But there were bigger hurdles too. I remember my parents getting annoyed about how much of the time I had dedicated to volunteering. They were also worried about my safety. An orphanage I was working at was located in a remote area and commuting to and from it was risky.

That’s how my volunteering journey began in the Ananthapuramu district of Andhra Pradesh.

My motivation came from a deep feeling of empathy. I simply couldn’t stand the sight of people suffering—the homeless sleeping on the roads on freezing nights; the children begging on the street without even basic footwear; poor patients waiting at my district’s hospital for some kind of care. It was the last of these with whom I interacted the most. The moment I saw them, I asked, “What can I do to ease their difficulties, and bring a smile to their faces?”

Mehetab Nasreen (right)

I began speaking to my parents and reassuring them about what I was doing. I spoke to the parents of other volunteers too. And I kept motivating my team.

Today, I work as Vice President for the Vision Youth Association and an executive committee member at the Pragati Padham Youth Association, both rural-based clubs affiliated with the Indian Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports. Through my work, and looking back at the beginning of my journey, I realised that we needed a framework where volunteers are recognised for their work. I believe this is crucial in a country like India, where we can harness the demographic dividend into a crusading social capital.

While working on different campaigns, I found three main learnings:

  • There are a lot of completely preventable and curable diseases that burden the people of India’s villages. A major part of the solution can come from proper awareness and health education among citizens.
  • When working with people in a community, be they literate or illiterate, the simpler and more creative ways to communicate with people will work. I realised this during my menstrual hygiene campaign.
  • Depression and other mental illnesses are hidden, but major issues, especially in urban areas. I have seen how productive activities like volunteering can improve a person’s self-esteem and transform a person into a better version of themselves.

I’ve had a chance to represent my state at the National Youth Parliament not just once, but twice. The 2018 NYP was a very memorable experience and a proud moment for me. It increased my exposure to (and make friends with) many like-minded people all over India and was the perfect opportunity to form a network of change makers planning pan-India campaigns in the future.

Today, I work as an insurance medical officer at the Employees State Insurance Corporation (ESIC) Mangolpuri, Delhi. I am 24 years young and aspire to become a member of the IAS.

Administration is a versatile field with immense scope for creating change if efforts are put in the right direction. My areas of interest are health and education—especially female health and female education—and simple ways for people to inculcate the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals in their lives to make our earth a better place.

I learn something new with every campaign and activity I do. There’s a lot of satisfaction that comes with the work, and it has helped me become the person I am today.

To other young change makers: dream big, work hard, and, when you’ve achieved what you want, dream bigger.

The real feeling of satisfaction lies in being the reason behind someone’s smile.

If you want to change the world, start with yourself.

Never think “Oh, what can I do alone?” Small or big, your actions matter. You can make our world a better place. And our planet is in desperate need of such small but consistent action.

About the author: Dr N. Mehtab Nasreen is 24 years old and belongs to Anantpuramu district of Andhra Pradesh. Currently, volunteer at heart, she is working for as an insurance medical officer at the Employees State Insurance Corporation (ESIC) Mangolpuri, Delhi and aspire to join Indian Administrative Services. She was one of 10 candidates shortlisted for the National Youth Parliament 2018, organised by the UN Volunteers and Ministry of Youth and Sports Affairs. 

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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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