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Beyond Stats And Data: The Humane Side Of The COVID-19

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This post is a part of YKA’s dedicated coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak and aims to present factual, reliable information. Read more.

The global crisis we are facing due to the outbreak of COVID-19 has induced a great deal of anxiety and uncertainty within us, but every dark cloud has a silver lining. Stories of solidarity and positivity from all over the world are becoming a ray of hope in these unprecedented times.

Beyond the stats and data of this pandemic are the actions of the people who are uniting to fight the ill-effects of it, actions that restore our faith in humanity and make us hopeful about the times to come. Few such stories are from Ananthapuramu, a chronic drought district of Andhra Pradesh in South India.

We have always worked in diverse development sectors but given the crisis we are facing, we are acting as a single unit and have put our resources together to tackle the  spread of the novel coronavirus in rural areas through:

1) Distribution of meals and basic provisions to migrants and jobless labourers,

2) Healthcare,

3) Production of preventive materials like hand sanitisers and masks, and

4) Spreading awareness at the grassroots.

But at the heart of all the work we are doing is the will of the people to reach out to those who affected in whatever ways they can and that keeps encouraging us to do more.

Small Gestures That Can Change The Life Of Many

Accounts of the exodus of migrants from all over the country desperately trying to find a way to their homes is hard-hitting. They are facing the harsher consequences of this lockdown, and to alleviate their situation, RDT has been distributing around 7,000 meals on a daily basis, but what’s heart-warming about this is that most of the provisions for these meals are being supplied by farmers, vikalangula sanghams (self-help groups of persons with disabilities), and people in the villages.

Farmers from different regions are coming forward to donate their yield. ©RDT

We saw in the news that many migrants were left without food. We can’t cook in such large quantities for them, but through RDT, we are able to help them out by giving our yields,” says Narayana, one of the farmers who donated to the programme. The incoming food provisions were so large that RDT’s entire auditorium had to be converted into a storage room, and it made it possible for them to serve over 1,60,000 meals (from March 31 to April 28, 2020).

RDT helped us when we were in need, when our land was dry and crops were not growing. When we saw in the news that many people had nothing to eat we decided to help. There was no doubt. It was our time to give back to the society,” explains Kullay Reddy, owner of 3.5 acres of land, from Papampalli village, a small village 28km from Ananthapuramu city.

Involving The Community In Mask-Making

Another initiative happening in the villages is the making of non-surgical, cotton cloth masks. Since March 25, Integrated Development Trust, an RDT partner organisation, has produced over 60,200 such masks with the help of over 35 artisans (all of them women with disabilities) and hundreds of volunteers and distributed it among COVID-19 frontline workers.

The demand has been so high that RDT started conducting tailoring workshops in over 223 villages across the regions that RDT works in for local tailors on how to make these face masks to ensure self-sufficiency in villages. Even the Chenchu women, an indigenous tribal community living in Srisailam region, joined in this project to ensure that they can protect themselves and their community.

Artisans with disabilities at the IDT Handicrafts centre making masks. ©RDT

When the lockdown started we had almost no income, but thanks to the mask production we are working again and most importantly I am able to maintain my family expenses while contributing to the society,” says Obulamma, one of the local tailors who attended the workshop in Kalyandurg town.

These trainings are not only about mask-making but also about the importance of wearing a mask, how to wear it, how to maintain it and about the importance of ensuring the quality standards,” explains Safia Begum, the main trainer. Over 3,07,000 masks have already been produced at the village level by 914 tailors. “10–15 people participate in each workshop, but the interesting thing is that after it they themselves train other people in the village,” she adds.

Ensuring Healthcare For Women And Children

Doctors at the RDT Professional School of Foreign Languages that is now transformed into a temporary gynaecology centre ©RDT

Giving birth can be a daunting challenge in these times, especially in the rural areas where there is an existing gap of adequate medical infrastructure. In the eighth month of her pregnancy, questions and uncertainty started looming over Renuka who was nervous about brining a baby into this world in these uncertain times.

Renuka with her baby, who was the first to be born at the new centre ©RDT

However, on April 20, she delivered a healthy baby girl in the temporary Obstetrics Department set up in RDT’s Professional School of Languages since RDT Hospital in Bathalapalli was appointed an exclusive COVID-19 centre. What were once classrooms and offices, filled with students and books at this professional school are now occupied by medical equipment, pregnant women and new mothers accompanied by their families who feel more secure knowing the lockdown does no harm to their access to quality healthcare. Already 82 deliveries have been safely conducted in this temporary facility.

Hope For The Future

While the world grapples with this novel virus and it may seem too challenging for all of us, our comfort lies in supporting one another.

Poor people know the struggles of other poor people. These farmers are helping us through RDT and that is a big thing,” says Ramdas, a physically-challenged man from the Shikari community in Anantapur. He used to go to the temples to request for food but due to the lockdown is now solely dependent on the food distribution programme for his daily meals.

Moncho Ferrer, the Programme Director of RDT remarks, “My father used to say that ‘Poverty is the greatest violation of human rights’ and we are witnessing the desperation of thousands who are facing the harsher consequences of the lockdown. Only through solidarity can we defeat the virus of COVID-19 and poverty.”

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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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