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COVID-19 Has Brought Us Great Opportunities To Volunteer And Bring Change

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More often than not, during times of crises, the youth have emerged as our biggest crusaders, and the COVID-19 pandemic is no different. While young volunteers can help others in dealing with the crisis, at the same time, they themselves undergo a positive sea change while contributing to tackling such a calamity.

— Puja Marwaha
CEO, Child Rights and You (CRY)

Apart from wreaking havoc on the world with its deadly impact, COVID-19 has also brought out one innate nature of mankind – goodness. As we have seen many around us distributing stocks and ration to the distressed, marginalised and starving people out in the open, many of our tireless volunteers are looking at a world beyond corona – a world that is safe, healthy and bountiful.

At CRY, a team of more than 800 volunteers and 500 interns is involved in a mixed bag of activities including organising crowd-funding campaigns, launching social media awareness programmes, reaching out to children for online recreational and educational activities, roping in experts to mentor children or conducting online classes, arranging e-learning resources to make digital learning easier for children, and many other innovative things.

Ishita, a 16-year-old girl is among this youthful and ever energetic bunch who was part of one such crowd-funding activity. Yet, to complete her school education, this girl has been inspirational in many ways. This is what she says, as she narrates her journey through the programme: “After participating this crowd-funding campaign, I definitely feel that I’ve made a small contribution towards helping someone else; since before this, my whole life was just about myself and my family. I thank my fellow volunteers for the realisation that there are children in need whom we can provide with a better life with our small efforts.”

Vaanya Gilhotra, another girl in her early teens, almost echoes Isha, as she says, “The struggle of underprivileged children during these times is what keeps me and my team motivated. The project is small, yet very crucial for us, as it is one big opportunity for us to stand up for many other children. If we don’t, they will suffer – if not from the virus attack, then surely due to the lack of facilities.”

These are great examples of the miracles that happen when the youth force takes up responsibilities in their own ways to fight a humanitarian disaster.

Volunteering is often deemed as a meaningful exercise that gives every individual an opportunity to acquire life skills while helping boost one’s sense of self-worth and enhances our levels of empathy. Though volunteering is more commonly seen as an act of ‘giving’, the experience that a young person gets in return by serving distressed people is far more valuable and therefore it will be apt to say that volunteering as an act has transformative potential in a humanitarian crisis such as COVID-19.

As Ajay Raj, an intern working with the Research and Documentation team, says, “With my internship at CRY, I have had a lot of hands-on experience. I came here as an intern to carve a progressive career path. However, I ended up getting out of this experience with a much better understanding of myself, how I can contribute my bit to the smiles of little lives, and more wisdom about life. This has provided me with a reality check.”

Arun Narayan, another intern in the campaign team, harps on almost the same tune as he reflects on his journey through the short yet effective internship programme, “The experience has been one of great learning. I came out as a more kind and empathetic version of myself. It was more than an internship. Working for a cause feels far more rewarding and fulfilling.”

Also, it is crucial to understand that in our own way, each one of us is trying to adjust to the new normal as the lockdown has brought in a huge amount of uncertainty. Taking care of our mental health and wellness is of prime importance amid this crisis and the young population is no different. With schools and colleges shut, the youth, who are often brimming with energy, may find it difficult to this all-of-a-sudden shift to a mundane reality.

Though picking up hobbies or learning a couple of new skill sets might keep the young ones busy, indulging in an act of kindness by helping others in whatever possible manner can go a long way in boosting their confidence while reiterating that we would always need empathy and kindness to battle any sort of crisis. Thus, volunteering becomes a win-win situation for a youth during COVID-19 –  while reaching out to help others, young volunteers in return get an affirmation that everyone is trying their best to weather the storm, a realisation that makes them calm from within and motivates them to keep pushing it through this uncertainty by serving others.

At CRY, right from its inception, we have always believed in the power of youth. After all, this belief flows from the feelings of Rippan Kapur, a young man who founded the organisation as he felt that the world can only positively change for our children if every person did their bit to ensure the change.

Thus began the journey of Child Rights and You, an organisation that would become the bridge between the intent and the action of individuals. That young man is long gone, but the feelings and spirit of youth volunteerism still run through the DNA of CRY with equal passion.

Much of this passion comes from our volunteers. And the simplicity of this time-heart equation evolves from the fact that volunteering, in its very essence, is a personal choice. One cannot be forced to become a volunteer.

To understand why more and more young people keep coming to volunteering year after year, the Volunteering Action division at CRY conducts a survey every year, the latest edition of which was organised in February this year, just before the pandemic struck. Titled as Study On The Impact of Volunteering, it was conducted among 644 of its volunteers, 85 per cent of whom are in the age group of 18-25 years. For a generation that is often identified as ‘self-centred’ and ‘detached,’ it may be surprising to know that most young volunteers donate their free time and skills to contribute to a cause.

Going by the findings of the survey, 87 per cent of the volunteers said that they grew more respectful of others, while 89 per cent of them reportedly started appreciating others’ views and values.

Respondents also reported a marked growth in their personal development as an impact of volunteering. Almost 88 per cent volunteers said that they learnt teamwork, while 90 per cent of them noted a major improvement in their communication skills. Over 83 per cent of the respondents reported that they saw a growth in their creativity.

That volunteering for a social cause could also be a great idea to keep one healthy and stress-free, while being more empathetic and appreciative about others’ views, seemed to be the biggest take away for most of the respondents. A whopping 92 per cent of them felt that they have made a useful contribution towards making the world a better place.

While volunteering for a cause, 90 per cent of the respondents reported experiencing contentment and satisfaction in life, 83 per cent highlighted that volunteering boosted their self-confidence/self-esteem and 81 per cent accorded better mental well-being due to volunteering, which clearly establishes the fact why it is crucial for the youth to engage in volunteering, especially during times of crises.

And what stories do these numbers tell? Well, at CRY, we have seen many inspiring stories of self-discovery. Having worked with hundreds of young changemakers every year, we kept on hearing from them how they have become better versions of themselves, how the children they were helping out touched their lives, and how they felt more confident while confronting any situation here on. Before we could tell them how wonderful they were, they would have told us how wonderful the journey had been.

Convinced that volunteering makes you a better person, especially now more than ever, go sign up for volunteering and contribute to the global fight against the COVID-19!

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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, 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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