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To Battle Climate Change, India Needs To Look At Its Heroes Close To Home

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I had the privilege of listening to Sonam Wangchuk during a Press Institute of India(PII)-ICRC award ceremony. Although the evening at the India International Centre, New Delhi, was lit in anticipation of the awards, it was Wangchuk’s speech, with an emotional appeal, that drew my interest and heart. Of all his attributes, it was his humility and modesty that reflected more. He never irons his clothes, as the same amount of energy can be used to light a house in an Indian village. He even prefers taking a train instead of a flight, wherever possible, to reduce the carbon footprint. His sheer conviction, for me, was nothing less than being a guardian of the earth.

At the function, Wangchuk discussed his idea of dedicated ‘pledges’ where people swear to protect planet earth through their small actions. He further explained that this unique idea of ‘voluntary pledges’ was drawn on the background of decentralised planning which is indispensable to reverse the climate vulnerabilities. He said that he seeks every individual to contribute through their actions, not money. “Your efforts will be scored as money. Every step you take that saves energy, saves our climate.”, he said. He reiterated that small acts such as using a bucket instead of a shower, keeping your air-conditioner at 25 degrees, avoiding wastage of food, and saving electricity, if adopted well, have a compounded benefit which will minimise crises like that of Capetown or Shimla in the future.

As days passed after the event, I waited to check if ample coverage was given to what was said by him. After all, it was an event flooded with journalists attending the award ceremony with the theme ‘climate-change’. I thought, Sonam Wangchuk’s novel idea of ‘voluntary pledge’ to battle climate change was definitely newsworthy. However, to my bewilderment, not a single newspaper or many news websites whose journalists were present carried the story.

NEW YORK, NY – SEPTEMBER 23: Youth activist Greta Thunberg speaks at the Climate Action Summit at the United Nations on September 23, 2019 in New York City. While the United States will not be participating, China and about 70 other countries are expected to make announcements concerning climate change. The summit at the U.N. comes after a worldwide Youth Climate Strike on Friday, which saw millions of young people around the world demanding action to address the climate crisis. (Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)

Irony unsheathed itself, when Greta Thunberg’s debates comprehensively pervaded the Indian newspapers and websites, whereas, here, a local resident giving practical solutions with tangible results, was left unnoticed. The war against climate change will require building regional heroes rather than having a ‘global centralised nucleus’. Talking about India, there will be a significant proportion of the population that might not be moved by Greta’s emotional, yet passionate appeal. However, they may associate themselves with the individual that inspired the character of Phunsuk Wangdu, in the successful movie 3-Idiots, who was shown as an innovative spirit. It is here that the media must play its part, by being the appropriate channel to propagate the winds of change.

Wangchuk was bestowed with the Magsaysay award in 2018, Asia’s highest honour. He is known for his out-of-the-box inventions and is the founder of Student’s Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh (SECMOL) that has revolutionised education by adapting to local needs. Moreover, setting an example, the campus of SECMOL is a self-sustaining green building that has zero carbon emissions. The global community recognised Wangchuk’s efforts to restore the environment after his construction of ice-stupas. These ice stupas or ice-glaciers are today miraculously helping change the barren cold desert of Ladakh into a greenbelt.

Another significant challenge in our society is that although every individual appreciates innovation and an idea of change with a round of applause, only a handful among them incorporates these behavioural changes. This battle against the climate-change will demand more. It will seek participation from every corner of the nation. The current lifestyle will have to be adjusted towards a simpler and a more unadorned one.

At present, though the fight against climate change has begun, it remains non-proportional to the real efforts required. Amidst the swirling debate, it is with the same attitude that the 16- year-old climate activist accused the world leaders of failing us on climate. “How dare you!” resonated her ferocious voice in the halls of the United Nations, challenging the leaders and their modus-operandi. While it is good to have a billowing global wave demanding ample protection and restoration of our planet earth, decentralised projects in every country, state, district, and village will be the engines for climate restoration. And, it is for this reason why I feel the unfolding of regional heroes is a desideratum.

Created by Ivjyot Oberoi

Climate Change needs local heroes over global.
Featured Image Source: ICRC/Twitter, The Guardian
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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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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