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What’s The Stuff Changemakers Are Made Of? Three Lessons We Can Learn From Three COVID Heroes

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Editor’s Note: This post is a part of #EveryOneCounts, a campaign by Youth Ki Awaaz, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and Save the Children, to spark conversations around how in the fight against the coronavirus, everyone counts, and every voice, every action can make a difference. Join the campaign and publish your story here.

From opening our eyes to stark inequalities, to laying bare age-old social, economic and cultural issues and just how deeply entrenched in our society they are; the COVID-19 pandemic has served as a wake up call for us. But where it’s brought out the worst in us, it’s also prompted the best in us. In the chaos of the pandemic, we’ve seen stories of humanity, kindness and empathy from across communities. Stories that bring hope and inspire. Who are the people who make these stories though? What is it about them that gives them the drive to step out of their comfort zones and act with compassion?

We had some key learnings over an hour-long conversation with four of these COVID-19 heroes last week on an Instagram Live session organised as a part of #EveryOneCounts, a campaign by Save the Children India and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, India. Moderated by Pragya Vats, head of campaigns at Save the Children, here’s what each changemaker left us with:

‘Every Young Indian Should Use The Fire In Themselves To Create Change’

Shaaz Mehmood, Founder, Youth Feed India

The first guest in the conversation, Shaaz Mehmood, who began the Youth Feed India initiative right at the beginning of the lockdown, spoke about how it all fell into place for him in one moment, when he learned about the plight of the migrant workers and sent a message to his friends to take action. The response he got was overwhelming and started an initiative, which to date has managed to distribute over 50,000 meals to those who needed it.

The journey wasn’t easy, and a lot of learning happened over the two months, be it about the right precautions and way forward, or organisation and distribution using the money they raised. “The realisation that it’s not about what they want to eat, but just being able to get something to eat – that really hit me,” he said, when asked about what drove him to keep at it, despite the challenges.

His experiences and the stories he’s seen have convince him that any young person who is able to feed themselves at this time should take a step to help those who can’t.

‘A Pandemic Should Not Ever Take Away A Girl’s Dreams And Education’

Farhana, an aspiring IAS officer

The second guest, Farhana Roshan, a child champion from a small displaced community, spoke with passion about her work in ensuring that the lockdown wouldn’t deter her neighbours from sending their daughters back to school.

As an aspiring IAS officer, who idolises education activist Malala Yousefzai, Farhana, at the age of 14, won’t stop stressing on the importance of personal hygiene, safety and precautions at this time. As a confident young leader in her community, she’s spearheaded several conversations to ensure there’s a balance of formal and informal (madrasa) education in her community.

“Log kahte hain ladki padh kar kya kar legi?” she said, saying that she wishes to change this mindset when she becomes an IAS officer in future. To her, ensuring every last girl in the community is educated and skilled is the biggest force resolving her drive to create a gender equal community.

‘Anger Is Important For Activist Energy, But Listening Is Equally Important For Change’

Suhani Jalota, Founder, Myna Mahila Foundation

A 24-year-old founder of a company, Myna Mahila Foundation, Suhani Jalota was the third panelist in the discussion and spoke at length about what made her take up the issue of women’s healthcare in Mumbai’s slum communities.

“I’ve always been compelled by women’s stories,” she said. “It really angered me to hear about how women are treated in so many sections.”

During this pandemic, Suhani’s organisation has been responsible for providing ration and sanitary relief , creating a sensitisation prgoramme to address rising domestic and sexual abuse of women and children, and more. Learning, listening and finding out about others’ stories has been what she bases her experiences and work upon.

‘Preventive Measures, Not Panic Can Help Us Survive This Pandemic’

Mohammed Razib, a young man who worked in spite a lot of difficulties to complete his education is a poet and writer, who’s helping create awareness in his community about COVID-19 through poems, which he’s sharing on WhatsApp.

Mohammed Razib, poet and writer

“Helping my community channels my creativity,” he said. “And to win against this pandemic, we need preventive measures to replace panic and fear.”  

Inspired? Catch the whole conversation here:

Know the story of a COVID-hero like the ones above? Publish it with #EveryOneCounts, a campaign by Save the Children India and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, in partnership with YKA, and get featured as an author in a book! 

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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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