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How The Kerala Model Ensured Food Security Amidst The Pandemic

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Food and peace link each other for those living and working in conflict-prone and food-insecure environments.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2020 to the World Food Programme (WFP) “for its efforts to combat hunger, for its contribution to bettering conditions for peace in conflict-affected areas and for acting as a driving force in efforts to prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war and conflict”.

India is one of the world’s largest food producers and has the primary source of livelihood for a majority of people as agriculture. Ironically,   India also hosts the largest population of hungry people with one-third of the world’s malnourished children and a Global Hunger Index ranking of 102nd among 117 countries.

The lockdown undoubtedly turned out to be a human tragedy and millions of migrant workers left fleeing its shuttered cities and trekking home to their villages. These people form the backbone of the growing city economy, constructing houses, serving in eateries, cooking food, delivering takeaways, making automobiles, cutting hair in salons, plumbing toilets and delivering newspapers, among other things.

Escaping poverty in their villages, most of them aspire for a better life and upward mobility out of their congested living.  Lockdown turned them into refugees overnight. Most employees and contractors who paid them vanished and their workplaces got shut.

The lockdown undoubtedly turned out to be a human tragedy and millions of migrant workers left fleeing its shuttered cities and trekking home to their villages /Representational image.

But Kerala, a tiny south Indian state, records hardly a person to have gone hungry, thanks to the community kitchens which were opened in every nook and corner of the State. It was functioning for close to two months since the beginning of lockdown. This is a brilliant example of the dividends of social capital in Kerala.

The community kitchens in Kerala function mainly with the kudumbasree (Women’s Self Help Group) workers and ASHA workers work under the supervision of local self-governments. They have been serving food for free three times daily to the indigent who cannot get enough supplies for a meal, the bed-ridden who cannot move out of their homes and senior citizens who have no one to buy the supplies.

With the severe economic damage online with locust invasion, skyrocketed food and nutrition insecurity, high unemployment among vulnerable sections and with reported migrant deaths and above all the disinformation amid the pandemic playing a wild card, there existed tangible dilemma for migrant workers to be starving in the city or continue to be malnourished in their home villages.

The community kitchens became a relief to thousands of migrant workers, who live scattered in various places. Kudumbashree workers, school mid-day meal cooks, local body officials and volunteers had worked tirelessly from 5.30 a.m to 7 p.m to keep these running.

The two-month period also witnessed the society as a whole pitching in to keep these kitchens running. Several individuals and organizations came forward to contribute in cash and kind to these kitchens.

In April, the State government, in an effort to reduce the strain on the local bodies, announced the opening of more Janakeeya restaurants, providing affordable meal parcels at Rs.25 and had proposed opening of 1000 such restaurants across the State by Onam(harvest festival of Kerala).

Community kitchens in Kerala.

Members of several NGOs and youth organizations formed in groups and were assigned areas to work upon. “Our group was assigned the task of contacting and collecting food from houses which were willing to provide foods to the helpless and needy and we acted as facilitators to make it available to the fishermen community who were hunger-stricken and financially down during the time of lockdown”, a volunteer shared.

Food supplies were available to the group from shops who distributed their not sold stocks and rice, wheat etc. There was sponsoring from shopkeepers and club associations in different localities. The scheme was properly planned and execution went good enough from the initial run itself.

Plan within the split areas had the division of labour e.g cooking mainly done by kudumbasree members and packaging and distribution done by people of catering sectors and other volunteers. People like ward members and MLAs of the areas made supervision and constant check upon the same looking after the feedbacks and bringing about necessary changes and improvements. Funding from various entrepreneurs and locals helped to ease work and a person was made as the treasury to manage the financial dealings in each divided locality.

Once the economy opened again with necessary commodities being available, community kitchens were aided with few from fishermen community and they took out distribution side with their fish baskets in hand. There were food distributions in health centres and other labour houses as well.

Team spirit held with compassion and empathy served as the fuel for driving the mission of none starving amidst the pandemic.

Featured images are for representational purposes only.
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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.

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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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