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From A Navigating Officer To A Forest Saver: My Journey As A Climate Warrior

This post is part of theYKA Climate Action Fellowship, a 10-week integrated bootcamp to work on stories that highlight the impact of climate change on India’s most marginalized. Click here to find out more and apply.

Quitting a high-paying job to preach climate justice? To some, this may sound like an absurd thing to do, to others, it may sound like a brave and inspiring move. Anyway, that’s exactly what I did. I quit a job that would’ve paid me a handsome salary and made me financially stable. Who knew environmental campaigns could alter a person’s career?

My name is Pushpam Singhal and I am a resident of Dehradun. I grew up in Bhogpur, a mountain village on the outskirts of Dehradun city. My childhood was heavily entwined with natural elements and that instilled in me a love of nature and greenery. After my higher secondary education, I started searching for a job that would not trap me within skeletons of concrete and decided to pursue a career in Merchant Shipping to become a Navigating Officer. But my life took a hard right turn and changed for good.

In September 2020, when the world was still trying to figure its way out of the pandemic, I was browsing through my Instagram feed and the Global Climate Strike registration popped up. ‘Youth for Climate India’ had sent out a volunteer registration form for a Global Climate Strike which was supposed to happen on the 25th of September.

Almost instinctively, I started filling it out. Scrolling down a list of areas to work in, I chose the option of ‘on-ground actions. This eventually made me the strike coordinator. I planned the whole event with help from YFCI, but on the day of the strike, I found myself standing alone underneath the Clock Tower, with a banner in my hand that read – “ जलवायु परिवर्तन काल्पनिक नहीं, सच्ची घटनाओं पर आधारित है।” (Climate change isn’t fictional, it is based on true happenings)

That day I realised, not many people believe in climate change. Or even if they do, they fail to raise their voice and act upon it. I went back home disheartened. My mother told me this is how things work in this country. She wasn’t trying to demotivate me; she was only reiterating what I had just experienced.

Not a week had passed since this incident that I received a call from a mutual friend, about the expansion happening in Jollygrant Airport of Dehradun. On the call, he asked me to go to the meeting and discuss the issue. I did some background search about the issue and discovered to my amazement that almost 10,000 trees were going to be chopped for this project.

In the meeting, people from ‘Citizens for Green Doon’ raised this issue and we decided to stage a protest against the unjust expansion. In the middle of a pandemic, when we weren’t expecting even a crowd of fifty to gather, more than five hundred people joined the protest.

That day ignited a fire inside me. That day, I decided I would not sit quietly until this forest is saved and the fight for saving Thano’s forest became personal. I addressed a public gathering and saw how motivated people were to conserve forests and ecology. I started working on the SaveThano campaign with a few other individuals and NGOs. The issue was highlighted in the media and soon became a national one.

With no prior experience of campaigning, I kept working and in those tiring times, a dear friend became my source of inspiration. In November 2020, I was given the opportunity to join a workshop on ‘People, Power and Change’ by the Haiyya Foundation, where I came upon this quote by Rabbi Hillel:

  “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?

  If I am for myself alone, what am I?

  If not now, when?”

The quote deeply affected me. And I realised that since I’m the one affected by bad governance and policymaking, I will have to raise my voice against it. I pursued what my conscience told me and, in the process, I met several people who too wanted a change, who believed that our definition of ‘development’ has to change.

It is my privilege that my family doesn’t depend upon me for financial needs. I decided to use this privilege to bring about a change. I quit the merchant navy and started looking for opportunities to learn how to practice and preach environmentalism. Today, I’m a core team member of Youth For Climate India, a climate fellow with Youth Ki Awaaz, and actively working with Citizens for Green Doon. This is just the beginning of my journey for climate justice.

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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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