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Are You A Fresher Starting College In 2020? I’ve Got A Few Things To Say To You

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By Saniya Rizwan

A year has passed since I stood at the same threshold as you. A year since I felt the fears that are roaming in your clogged mind right now. A year since I walked past the gates of my campus. The person who entered the building would probably not recognize the individual she metamorphosed into, the moment she was at the other side of that door. I know you’ve heard enough about the glamour and dullness of adulthood, hence this letter is not going to add to the noise. Instead, I ask you to unlearn, not just the hearsay about the future that awaits you, but also the past that you’ve lived.

My First Piece Of Advice

What you dread right now is the novelty splashing all over your face with every new day and every new University announcement. You’re possibly confused over every word a college student puts on their Instagram story, or your senior from school tells you about. Have you ever wondered though, why do we hate this novelty?

Representational image.

Maybe it’s not the unfamiliarity but the fear of making mistakes in a new place. The anxiety of not doing the right thing. However, what is the right thing? Why is it so bad to be wrong?

Why are you expecting yourself to be an expert on life when you’re barely 2 decades into this world? You are supposed to be confused, to be clueless. How else are you ever going to experience anything as new and exciting unless your decisions don’t take you to patchy roads?

So, the first thing you should unlearn is this binary of right and wrong, good and bad, success and failure. Get comfortable with the art of not knowing, of being stuck, of being lost. It’s going to be a long ride with many questions. Might as well get so acquainted with having no answers, that every inquiry becomes normal.

Become so independent of all the things you’ve packed in your “adulthood starter pack” that you depend on yourself to find a new tool everyday.

My Second Piece Of Advice

Moving on, if I predict it right, you aren’t just scared of the naissance of new chapters, but also the ending of many old ones. Tomorrow scares you, but at the same time, yesterday seems to be slipping away.

Here’s where comes the second piece of anecdote: The snippets of your past that you want to hold, stay with you forever. They tangibilise in the form of sleepovers with your old friends, in the fresh aroma of songs you associate with your middle school Taylor Swift phase, in the memories you recall every now and then.

Your childhood goes nowhere, it just modifies; what leaves, however, are parts that are supposed to end. Here comes, the barely-into adulthood version of my grandma’s story. I entered the gates as the most adaptive person in my mind, someone who took pride in my patience, and adjustment. I took pride in my ability to repress my conflicts. “Resilience” they called it. ”Obedient” was the other term. Fortunately, yet painfully I couldn’t accept agreeableness, friendliness, diplomacy towards the world one should necessarily disagree with.

Anger is what filled me. The rage that made me feel weak, the rage that helped me understand, I wasn’t the one failing to fit in, rather some places were never meant for me. The rage that made me relocate myself to spaces I built for me, the rage that made me stumble on my people after a long lonely journey, way later than I expected my “extrovert” self to do, the rage was what made the new me.

So when adulthood makes you feel an emotion every time you talk to a group of people, or when you don’t find your voice visible in a conversation, when things that once calmed you no matter act as an escape, when things you thought you were good at, no more seems effortless; hold on to that thought so tight that it guides you to the new roads you need for the new life you have. Things change because they should. Appreciate your growth, even if it is disguised as discomfort.

When they blame you for being too opinionated, too talkative, or too angry, be proud of your anger. Your anger is your protest. Representational image.

My Third Piece Of Advice

I am sure right now every person in your perceptual field seems more adequate than you, more trained, more learned, and more prepared. Everyone will push you to be as sufficient as someone else. They will preach hard work, focus, commitment, and ambition. However, no one will remind you, that this process is ongoing, dynamic, and never-ending. Beware of this race they will hound you into. Remind yourself: they did not ask for your consent before putting you on the track, nor the type of various races you would want to choose from, you didn’t get to decide who you run the race against, or if you both even start at the same point, even the end is not clear.

Hence, you have all rational reasons to not adhere to it.

So, unlearning lesson number three: Not only the notions of right or wrong but who decides them is also flawed. The only right decision is yours. Your work is hard enough when it is done without compromising on the happiness and peace you deserve. Because the latter is what makes you adequate.

Lastly, before they drill you to believe, your stress, your capabilities, and your performances are isolated within you, before they deceive you into believing in some pure version of personal control, acknowledge that you are not in a free, fair, egalitarian system. Unlearn complacency. Start from shedding off the blame you will be eager to put on yourself. Put it on the systems that are made to fail you.

Locate your distress where it is actually coming from.

When you will feel unheard, it won’t be because you are voiceless, but because you are silenced. When you are not fulfilling their standards of productivity, it is not because you are doing less, but because the system is ableist. When they blame you for being too opinionated, too talkative, or too angry, be proud of your anger. Your anger is your protest.

I hope my words add to your journey, So in the years that await you, you wash off the rules drilled inside you; rules about what matters and what doesn’t. I hope you know that everyone starts with the 0 you feel you are at, that it’s okay to not be the best, even be miserable when you begin something because of the fact that you had the courage to step into something new matters more. I hope you realize it’s okay to fall because there’s always going to be a point where you will pick yourself up.

Love,

A former fresher.

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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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