Here’s What I Learned From Immersing Myself In Nature For 9 Days

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Members of Youth Alliance.

As much as climate change and increasing air pollution is an outer reality, it is also a reflection of our inner realities. Through our work at Youth Alliance, we have come to believe that the outer conditions in the world are because of the inner conditions of each individual.

Earth Shastra is a 9-day immersive journey taking passionate individuals on a journey into their ‘self’ and exploring ways to harmonise ecology, economics, and humanness. In October 2019, 24 individuals from across the country gathered at a beautiful farm in Himachal Pradesh, to explore the inner conditions of the present ecological devastation.

Earth Shastra as an inquiry into the present reality and a hope for a newer reality is a challenging process. We look for young people who are willing to root themselves in self-awareness and empathy and take this awareness to the systems’ inquiry. Navigating through self and system in the most grounded way possible was a great creative challenge. We feel we did really well, as we blended the program with bodywork, farm work, nature connect and building systemic awareness through the deconstruction of material’s economy and development narratives.

Here are seven learnings from the methods and madness of our experience to understand ecology, economics, and the human self. 

Discovering A New Rhythm Of Life

Our days began with morning circles that were reflective and aimed at connecting us with nature.

The rhythm of the program reflected the radical shift in how we look at our lives and what we give importance to. Our days began with morning circles that were reflective and aimed at connecting us with nature. Each day, we spent an hour doing work on the farm. The hands-on work was followed by sessions, that involved our intellect yet awakened our hearts. Some days, we also focussed on bringing awareness to our body through Yoga. The overall structure was rigorous and demanding, and we are yet to arrive at a well-balanced rhythm for each day, but the shift to more hands-on and bodywork, brought a great depth of understanding of our ecology.

Connecting With Nature

As our mentor, Nitin Das beautifully put “even the Eco-Warriors engaged in protecting our mother earth, are often unable to experience the healing, calming ways of nature.” Through Earth Shastra, we focussed on building the lost connection with nature. Nitin led a walk for us involving all our five senses, which opened up people to slow down and meditate in nature, through our sense of sound, touch, vision, smell and just being in the space. Each morning, we spent time in the forest, leading and being led, through different activities, that helped us deepen our connection with nature. By the end of the program, 80% of participants felt more connected to nature and have embodied the connection.

Hands-On Farm Work

For most participants, it was the first time working on the farm.

In this edition of Earth Shastra, we integrated working on the farm as an essential part of the program. The rigour of physical work, along with monotony of doing the same work, brought great reflections and a profound shift in perspective, to the food we eat and the hard work that goes into growing food. For most participants, it was the first time working on the farm. It provided a great opportunity to learn the art of growing food, with many seasoned participants and mentors sharing their wisdom ad learnings to grow microgreens at home. A few people even took back seeds, saplings of plants and have started to plant them at their home as a beginning. One of our mentors, Purvi Vyas, a farmer, shared that conscious eating and growing of our food can be a great tool to reclaim our lost connection with the earth, decolonizing ourselves, and having a healthy relationship with food.

Leading From Within

At Youth Alliance, we believe that change starts from within. When each of us transforms from within, with our increased consciousness, the systems shift. Ritika, a participant reflected post-program “My takeaways from Earth Shastra are: Being more aware of who I am and how I am impacting other things and people. And also in return how I get impacted. Knowing that I can make a difference. Knowing that money is not the end-all. I will only gain when everyone does. The journey is more inward than outward.”

Hope And Despair

A lot of larger narratives around climate change bring despair. With everything seeming to be going in the wrong way, life seems un-just. The entire problem of Climate Change gets reduced to high carbon emissions, and technological solutions seem to be the only way out. At Earth Shastra, our constant attempt was to keep the hope alive, holding the discomfort for us, to understand the problem deeper, and look at the interconnections. Beginning from healing ourselves with gratitude, we were able to honour our pain for the world, see a new vision, and go forth with small personal actions, to make the new vision a reality.

Effective Communication

Almost all of us who gathered there faced a similar challenge of not being able to have conversations with people in denial of the Ecological crisis. Most often in our own families, we deal with questions and remarks like “What can you do alone to save the planet?”. Through a session with our mentor Ravi Gulati, we learned the importance of effective communication. When we often approach the conversation from a moral high-ground, we lose empathy for the other person and the communication breaks down. Also the shift in the narrative from ‘one wins, one loses’ to ‘win-win’ is an essential shift and transition.

Intentional Communities

Community is a deep focus for us at Earth Shastra.

Restoring social connections, and overcoming the individual alienation, is what we believe that the world needs right now. Community is a deep focus for us at Earth Shastra. The intention is for us to connect with each other as humans, and grow with the collective group wisdom. Through the program, different multiple forms of intelligence, and expression came forward at different times. All 24 of us came from diverse backgrounds, representing different fields like Education, Crafts and Livelihood, Design, health, etc. All of us found ways and opportunities to connect with each other on deeper levels and left with life long friends. Ishika a participant remarked “At Earth Shastra, I’ve gotten some wonderful friends. I found myself in others, understood the meaning of a community and an alternative life of collective efforts.”

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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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