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These Youth-n-Democracy Fellows’ Work Towards Sustainable Development Is Inspiring!

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Sameer, a Youth-n-Democracy fellow, is passionate about working on issues of sustainability and the environment. For his social action project, an essential part of the fellowship which encourages fellows to dip their feet into the problems in their community, he hoped to collaborate with hostels in the Delhi area on reducing plastic usage. He thought that if he promoted the use of reusable bottles, the guests would take back the message to their communities. However, the global pandemic and lockdown that ensued made working with this group difficult. 

Determined to keep going, Sameer pivoted to create a questionnaire for his friends and teachers, on aspects of reducing and reusing in their lives. He focused on the usage of plastic, water, and trash and offered sustainable solutions to help reduce consumption. He provided tips on small changes people could make around the house, such as using a lemon as a cleansing agent, or how the water of rice starch can be used to dye clothing.

Sameer also created an online page to post other tips for people who were interested but unaware of sustainable practices. He also interacted with other global movements for sustainability, namely the Fridays for Future campaign which encourages youth globally to strike on Fridays to draw attention to the climate crisis. By improving education, raising awareness and human and institutional capacity on climate change mitigation, adaptation, and impact reduction, Sameer is ensuring SDG 13: Climate Action is achieved in small but resolute ways. 

For Sameer, the Youth-n-Democracy fellowship was crucial in helping him understand ideas of society and change, and in broadening his vision of the world. It helped him understand how sustainability and working on issues of the environment are connected with social and economic ones. The fellowship gave him and the other fellows the freedom to have opinions and come up with innovative solutions, rooted in local realities which can lead to larger waves of change. 

Similarly, while the Sustainable Development Goals are global, achieving the goals depends on local initiatives at the city and regional level. Local communities and stakeholders, who know the individual and collective needs and capacities best, are critical in implementing and realising the SDGs. One cannot undermine the role of youth in this process. 

The United Nations determines the role of youth in achieving SDGs to be that of critical thinkers, changemakers, innovators, communicators, and leaders. The Youth-n-Democracy fellowship aims to facilitate the realisation of this potential in 20 youths. Through modules on Self and identity, the 20 fellows understood physical, mental, and emotional Self, gender and sexuality, identity issues, intersectionality, group identity, and more.

The sessions on society tackled issues of power, inequality, sustainable development, understanding democracy, and participatory research methodologies. These components led up to the Action component, in which fellows were to implement a social action project, aimed at addressing a critical issue in their community, and looking into ways of addressing an SDG at the local level. 

Fellows chose topics across a broad spectrum, such as gender, child abuse, drug abuse, environment, education, and more. Aside from the social action projects, as fellows saw the pandemic unfold, they were also invigorated to take action to support marginalised communities.

A fellow, Prince Saxena, observed for the COVID-19 crisis widened inequalities and the state of migrant and urban low-income families, who, due to a lack of livelihood, were facing a lack of food and ways to commute back to their hometowns.

He recalls the night of the ‘Janta Curfew’ in India on March 22 2020 and how the consequent days were filled with news channels covering the helplessness of the migrant workers all over India. Upon researching the efforts being taken by the Bihar Government for these migrant workers, he found out that the state government was transferring Rs. 1,000 as an immediate relief to all those native of Bihar, who could provide their proof of residence in Bihar.

Seeing this as an opportunity, Prince took the initiative and set out to help residents of Bihar get back to their hometown. Prince was able to help four people procure proof of residence and benefit from the scheme. 

Prince discovered that a nameless community with 22 families living on the fringes of a sewage canal and a hospital was in dire need of ration and essential supplies. This prompted him to start a crowdfunding initiative and secure enough ration for the community. Prince also made a YouTube video on his channel ‘Sarva Hitkarini Sangha’ highlighting the plight of the community, for maximum outreach.

Prince’s crowdfunding initiative had collected Rs. 15,000 which was used to provide ration to the same community and he worked with the Sub-Divisional Magistrate of the area to ensure ration was available to them in the future also. Prince’s efforts didn’t stop here. When he heard from 20 migrant labourers from the Rupetha Panchayat in Rohtas District about the filthy and inhumane living conditions in the quarantine facility upon reaching their home state, he decided to intervene.

Equipped with the skills of communication and advocacy through the fellowship, Prince drafted a letter to the District Magistrate, highlighting the problems at the quarantine facility. Prompt action was taken, and the Block Development Officer arranged for food and supplies for those migrant workers in stipulated time. Prince’s efforts ensured access for these communities to adequate housing and essential services and accessible and sustainable transport systems for them, taking a step closer to achieving SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities.  

The Youth-n-Democracy fellowship not only encourages youth to act locally towards achieving SDGs, but also enables them by facilitating the learning of tools for advocacy, participatory research, and society and democracy. The fellows, equipped with these skills, are able to work on creating ripples of sustainable local change.

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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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