These Changemakers Want To Transform Education For Rural Kids Via A Powerful Initiative

The spirit of volunteering, particularly among the youth, is critical to nation-building and uplifting society. We must inspire and engage Generation Z (Gen Z), born between the mid-1990s to early 2000s, the greatest asset that India has. They just have to learn the importance of volunteering together with their primary goal of succeeding in their studies. It is not uncommon for many Gen Zers in Western countries to work, study, and volunteer. We share one such story of three driven and motivated Gen Zers of Indian origin in the United States.

They volunteered for a nonprofit organisation, Vidya Gyan, and made it richer by over $1,700 in just about 6 weeks, motivated 46 donors and engaged children in science learning in a hands-on environment.

More importantly, they enabled Vidya Gyan to expand its outreach in new ways and allowed us to connect the dots between the U.S. and India. Vidya Gyan takes pride in its motto “Every Child Matters” which began with the school children in government primary schools in rural India.

However, the recent experiences with and by these volunteers made us realize that children are children everywhere. Generally, they think, learn, and get inspired alike as long as they have motivated mentors and coaches, and the environment is conducive to learning. Additionally, the Gen Zers in our story used the power and influence of their network in developing a core of future youth volunteers and donors.

How Did It Start?

An accomplished 12th grader (Aayush) contacted Vidya Gyan for volunteering. What followed is an amazing story of his drive, leadership, and ability to act independently with self-confidence. Following a couple of brainstorming sessions, Aayush developed a two-week-long summer camp “Science Starz” for kids in grades 3-5.

Vidya Gyan was particularly attracted to the fact that Aayush will translate several of his engaging, hands-on science experiments in Hindi to be used by children in Indian schools. It was amazing that Aayush implemented everything (publicity, content preparation and delivery, and arranging instructional tools such as high-end microscopes and a mineral/rock collection from his school) in about 5 weeks. This youth offered classes on a voluntary basis but used his power of persuasion to motivate parents to donate for Vidya Gyan’s causes. 

Scholars To Schoolers (STS)

India has millions of Gen Zers who can be part of what is now Vidya Gyan’s newest initiative named Scholars to Schoolers. This can transform India’s education at all levels if we define the Scholar (someone with knowledge/wisdom and willing to share) with lower graders (Schoolers).

This powerful initiative has the potential for Scholars globally to engage Schoolers in their pursuit of learning. India’s tuition industry serves the people of financial means but volunteers in STS will meet a similar need for the underprivileged, underserved and/or those with fewer financial means. For example, a motivated 9th-grade Scholar can coach/mentor primary grade Schoolers in her/his village; an 11th-grade Scholar can coach middle grades, and a college/university-bound Scholar can tutor 9-12 grade Schoolers voluntarily. There are no boundaries for topics and the geographical location.

The Scholar must choose what interests her/him and what will motivate local school-going children. The Scholar has to be a passionate, engaged and motivated volunteer to do public/social good. While the volunteerism may not be for everyone, even one committed volunteer Scholar for primary graders in a village or community can create a spark and transform the culture of learning. 

Back to the Story: Aayush motivated a couple of his friends to voluntary assist in making the classroom experience for the Schoolers even more engaging. It is important to mention that the parents of Scholars and Schoolers were very supportive of the success of the STS model since its inception to its completion. Aayush’s STS model included 6 sessions over two weeks ending with the presentations by the Schoolers about a science topic of their choice. The Schoolers presented their project very passionately in a public forum, a critical communication life skill even many adults lack.

The Unexpected: The idea of STS influenced another youth in the local community. This 11th grader designed a similar program named “Little Biologist”, but had to cancel due to unavoidable conflicts. Another Scholar in Atlanta named Pihu, an 11th grader was inspired by her cousin Aayush. She designed and offered a ‘Science Enrichment Camp’. Pihu’s commitment, passion, leadership abilities, and scholarly drive were evident in the classroom with children being engaged in a hands-on environment. Pihu also used the power of mobilizing her network to attract two other Gen Zers to assist in STS, both younger than her, who we hope to nurture as future Vidya Gyan’s Youth Ambassadors cum Scholars. 

The Next: Behind the scenes work added yet another dimension in Atlanta. Another 12th grader, Sanya, with a passion for tutoring children got motivated. While she did not have enough time to organize an STS summer camp, Sanya created a fundraiser for Vidya Gyan. In fact, this fundraiser exceeded the target in a matter of days exhibiting her and her family’s considerable influence in mobilizing and engaging the donors through social channels. Vidya Gyan is now actively engaged in talking with other high schoolers and nurture them as our Scholars.

Opportunities in India: Undoubtedly, India has a huge reservoir of independent, self-confident, and motivated Gen Zers volunteers. The question is where to find them, how to engage, motivate, and retain Gen Zers as Ambassadors cum Scholars, and nurture their talent and networking ability to attract more of them for the greater good of the society. Vidya Gyan gets energised and blessed with the energy of  its volunteers and tax-deductible support in India by the donors who believe in our cause, “Every Child Matters.” 

The inspiring story will not be complete without quoting Aayush who defined his voluntary experience with Vidya Gyan as “dream come true.”  However, the truth is that he helped Vidya Gyan realize its dream of expanding the outreach in the United States, connecting the dots between India and the U.S and giving birth to a great STS initiative and more. So dreams do come true. It is now your (India’s youth) turn to volunteer and help make every child realize her/his dream through better and engaged learning. Let it be one village/school at a time served by one committed volunteer scholar and together we can transform education.

 

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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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