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In Conversation With English-French Actress And Humanitarian Gabriella Wright

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TW: Mention of suicide, mental health

English-French actress, model, humanitarian and activist Gabriella Wright is also the co-founder of ‘Never Alone’ global campaign. At a time when the world is talking about depression, mental health and suicide, Gabriella Wright interacts with Raaz Dheeraj Sharma, a user of Youth Ki Awaaz, about her campaign, mental health, meaning of life, her career, the glamour world and more.   

Raaz Dheeraj Sharma (RD): Our way of living is changing and has become different than usual for every individual during the pandemic. How are you spending your days during this difficult period?

Gabriella Wright (GW): I am recreating home at home. In other words, I am finding ways to experience inner peace at all times. It was very easy for me to escape and travel for work purposes, or for any other excuse. I had my portable inner home that allowed me to be everywhere and feel at home. The irony is now to experience my inner home in my physical home. I meditate daily, write, and try to be as helpful as possible to those in need, even if it’s just by a phone call or deep intention.

RDS: COVID-19 is not only affecting our physical health, but also our mental health, and people are still not ready to discuss mental illness. What are your views on corona and its effects on mental health?

GW: The tsunami of a pending mental health crisis is yet to come. We have dived into the deepest pandemic of our times with COVID-19 – it is questioning our state of existence and impermanence, and we are experiencing our own uncertainty and inner instability, which can only result in, if not taken care of, a deep scar of loneliness leading to depression and constant anxiety.

RDS: People are spending this lockdown period in self-introspection and giving themselves time to understand the meaning and purpose of life. What is the best way to understand the meaning of life?

GW: I think the best way to understand the meaning of life is by experiencing our connectedness. The beautiful side-effect of COVID-19 is that all over the world, we are experiencing the same feeling of helplessness. The virus is uncontrollable, and just like life, we cannot control life; but we can witness life, we can witness how we all want the same thing in life, and this is the experience of Love — through tender actions and the beauty of sharing presence with each other.

The meaning of life is to be an embodiment of ‘love in action’. We have this precious human body, how can we value our lives and enhance our roles? I truly believe that if we can be Love, we shall experience not only our life differently, but even our view of reality differently. We shall be able to carry out our dharma with ease, and realise that the true purpose of life and meaning is to experience each other’s presence and alleviate each other’s suffering.

We are in a new era of communication, and technology is only to be more invasive and present in our lives. The real question is: why do we feel the need to present ourselves to the world of internet in a certain way?

RDS: Share with us something about your ‘Never Alone’ Project.

GW: ‘Never Alone’ is a global mental health and mental well-being movement I’ve co-created with Dr Deepak Chopra and Poonacha Machaiah. We decided that the campaign was much needed after realising that every 40 seconds someone dies by suicide in the world. There is deeper suffering in this world and it is the basis of our relationship with this reality. We are in a deep need to change the narrative of mental health and destigmatise need for mental health so that we can help one another with practical ways to ease our relationship with one another and the lives we live.

During COVID, we organised a free three-day global mental health summit with over 105 speakers to help the community with practical tools to help one through these times. The speakers included Deepak Chopra, Patrick Kennedy and Russel Brand among others, who gave practical views and tools for us to navigate our own worlds during these times. It is still free and online on demand. Please use these resources at www.neveralonesummit.live.

RDS: In the era of digitalisation, despite having so many online friends and followers, why are people still alone? Is there any difference between loneliness and being alone?

GW: I would need a whole life to answer this question, there are several things to look at in this question. First of all, we are in a new era of communication, and technology is only to be more invasive and present in our lives. The real question is: why do we feel the need to present ourselves to the world of internet in a certain way?, why do we need to show our shadows instead of our true selves?, and why are we pushed to be artificial and believe the layers of illusion that people show as a collective on the internet and social media?

The answer is in the questions of why we feel so insecure, and why does the illusion of having a following make us feel less lonely. Loneliness is a deep divide within, a deep sense of separation with our true self, our loved ones and the sense of reality. It is a deep alienation from within to our extended life. Being alone is experiencing our true self in our body, and finding peace in our infinite selves and our infinite nature, as we are truly a reflection of one another. Why our movement is called ‘Never Alone’ is because when we go deep within and become the human explorers of our own self. We experience a deeper connection that goes beyond our physical form, and our physical intersection with people and places. We experience a deep relationship that becomes the most important relationship of all, the relationship to our infinite nature, our own consciousness that is intrinsically the connection to all of us.

RDS: As per WHO, close to 800,000 people take their own life in the world every year. Where is the problem? Is losing human touch and connection the biggest problem?

GW: If I had the answer, I would have brought out my magic wand and extended my wish for all of us to heal immediately. There are several factors for this problem, but the most important factor is related to the deep up-rootedness we experience with who we are, our self-identity, self-image layered with overwhelming emotional conditions, and also mental illness. There is never one reason. We are multi-dimensional beings with ‘diversity’ as the essence of our true nature. I do feel that because of the extreme lockdowns all over the world, we are experiencing and realising that we are more isolated that we thought we were. The extreme is the isolation in our minds. We need to listen to each other deeply and patiently, so that we can hear the silence behind our words.

The only similarity between the Asian and Western cultures is that we are humans walking this earth, and we all want is safety, a home and experiencing love. The Western culture is laced with an urgency of productivity, and this sense of consumerism is unfortunately pervading everywhere.

RDS: You have been to Asian countries including India and Nepal. What kind of similarities did you find between the Orient and the Western cultures?

GW: The only similarity is that we are humans walking this earth, and we all want is safety, a home and experiencing love. The Western culture is laced with an urgency of productivity, and this sense of consumerism is unfortunately pervading everywhere. My favorite countries are Nepal and India. Why? Because here, time is slower, strangers are kinder, and there is a deep sense of worship and offering to a greater source than one’s own life. The fact that there are prayers and incense constantly burning at almost every corner in Kathmandu is so beautiful, but also so calming. It’s just magical. The sense of worshiping the nature is much more prominent in Asian cultures. Rituals that surpass our own ‘self” and being of service are the greatest gift, which Asian cultures can lead and inspire the West to do more of.

RDS: Nature is the beautiful gift of God. Are humans becoming the biggest enemy of the Nature?

GW: Humans do not realise the precious gift that we walk on everyday. Nepal is a beautiful witness and the womb of the grand chain of the Himalayas. I have never seen such beauty in my life. I bow down to such presence, because in my eyes, it is the gift from God and every mountain and valley, lake and ocean is the constant offering we are given to survive with. We must not take it for granted. It would be a shame to pollute our mountains and rivers with plastic and other pollutants. At the end of the day, we are killing our own selves with the intake of micro plastics that are almost present in all packaged water or food items. We must see that everything in Nature is inter-dependent. We are not separate from nature, we are nature. 

RDS: Black Lives Matter is trending all over the world. Now some people are saying that this protest is discriminatory as All Lives Matter. What is your response? Why are people becoming violent instead of promoting peace and humanity? 

GW: There are several notions here. First of all, we are experiencing a huge economic crisis. Violence comes from frustration and a lack of means. Where I live here in the USA, most protests have been peaceful and supportive to all communities, but the media wants to underline the violence.

My response is simple. In most western countries, unfortunately, we have very deep systemic racism engrained in our institutions, our governments and our ways of creating our society. We have not had the courage to change these systems since colonialism, which has brought out a nature of dominance in all places of the world.

We must always support those in need, question our privileges, and find peaceful ways to demonstrate and truly change our inner views. Global change comes from individual change, and no government or institution can give you that power. The power is within, the zest and thrill for the life you want to live comes from you. Policies and laws shall change if enough people become conscious at an individual level and deliberately.

RDS: What do you enjoy the most, acting or activism? According to you, which is the best movie?

GW: I love both! My life is entangled with both activism and acting. Earlier in my career, I was trying different things, roles and media. Obviously, having an acting career is good to get a platform where you can voice your opinion and raise awareness. I can definitely say that had I not been an actress, I would have been working in international politics or with the UN.

I have a deep sense of service, in a way where I truly feel, what else is there to do anyway? It’s better to help people than just sit around and do nothing. I am a working mother. I was able to sustain a humanitarian activity all those years and also be an explorer. In my own way, I live a perfect life. I believe my best movie is yet to come. The final version of my film I am Never Alone will be released hopefully by end of this year, and Hitman Bodyguard 2, a fun action film you might enjoy, will be out in August 2021.

RDS: We all have this perception that those in this glamorous world are often alone and depressed. What are your views on that?

GW: Some are and some are not. The truth is that money and castles can’t buy you happiness. This is written in every scripture, every religion and every tradition. Material and wealth can help but it’s not the way to enlightenment or liberation from suffering. We can all experience loneliness no matter what our ‘status’ is. Glamour is an illusion like everything else. As Shakespeare said,

“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,”

We have to go beyond our identities. Remember that this life is a stage and we are all actors in this dream. Let’s awaken from the suffering together.

About the author: Raaz Dheeraj Sharma writes on different issues and interacts with renowned personalities and motivators.

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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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