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How Did A 15-Year-Old From Chhattisgarh Help Her Family Stay Afloat During COVID-19?

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With the school closing, we had to face a lot of challenges because of the unavailability of a phone for my online classes. Meanwhile, my father lost his job and we were facing a financial crisis, barely able to meet our basic needs. During that time ensuring my education and families’ basic needs became the biggest concern for my father, and that resulted in his poor health. He was not able to concentrate on anything,” said 15-year-old Chanchal, a grade 11 student at a government school in Raipur, Chhattisgarh.

Chanchal and her family. Image provided by Room To Read.

The stay-at-home orders after the COVID-19 outbreak left many families struggling financially, or without routine or rhythms in their lives. For some, managing their daily basic needs proved to be the biggest challenge and for others, staying at home could be the worst thought they have ever had.

Santosh Kumar Verma was very worried about facing the reality of losing his job at the petrol pump and having to stay at home. This pandemic was like an ‘upside-down’ moment for him as he never imagined being in such an uncertain situation, and was not at all prepared to face it. Meeting the family’s basic needs was not an issue initially, but accepting the situation was a concern for him, and having to deal with the situation made him feel very helpless.

The father of the 15-year-old Chanchal, after losing his job at a petrol pump in Tilda, was moved to tears and felt helpless. Sitting on the road near the petrol pump, he could not hide his tears and was unable to work that day knowing that was the last day of his work at this petrol pump.

Chanchal and her family. Image provided by Room To Read.

I wanted to send my daughter to school, to educate her and invested every penny of my earning for my daughter’s care,” said Santosh Kumar Verma with a heavy heart, thinking of his daughter’s education during the pandemic. He was working as an accountant at the petrol pump and was earning well to support his family. He has a daughter, Chanchal, who is a class 11 student in Tilda block of Raipur, Chhattisgarh.

The day after the announcement of the nationwide lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Santosh Kumar Verma could not reconcile the realisation of his unemployment with the virus outbreak. He was left with limited options and was affected badly by anxiety. It was very difficult for him, to try to balance his family’s wellbeing and his state of mind, which was more or less destroyed by the news of his job loss. Ensuring his daughter’s education was the biggest concern for him. With each passing day, his helplessness started making him feel indifferent towards his family.

Looking at her father’s situation, Chanchal, the girl who dreams of becoming a doctor, thought of utilising her family’s tailoring skills to support her family, while studying at home. Tailoring was the profession of her grandfather and she took his help. But, this effort could only be helpful in some ways.

Image provided by Room To Read.

The major challenge was to make sure her father went back to normal and to make sure she could study regularly. She spent a few days thinking about it and one day, during her regular remote mentoring call with Surekha, her Social Mobiliser Didi, she spoke about her dilemmas and the condition of her father. The Social Mobilizer analyzed the situation and tried to recall some life-skill training which she had attended on managing a timetable for routine work and for studies. She suggested Chanchal try to be emphatic towards her father and shared a few examples where one had overcome difficult times by being patient.

Her suggestions struck Chanchal, but still, she was clueless about where and how to start. Suddenly, she thought of the ‘Managing Time’ life skill session, that aimed to help prepare a daily timetable. The next morning, she prepared a timetable with the distribution of household chores along with dedicated time for her studies. She requested her mother and grandfather follow the timetable without disturbing her father.

The timetable helped Chanchal and her family manage household work, tailoring, and her studies. Inspired and guided by the visionary approach of life skill which she learned from her SM Didi, Chanchal was able to motivate and support her father in moving on.

Chanchal’s initiative and efforts inspired her father very much and he was determined to go back to his family’s profession, to be useful and supportive during such a difficult time. He began a fresh start with his skills of tailoring at home.

Image provided by Room To Read.

The first couple of weeks were stressful for the family, but soon things started falling into place. Initially, Santosh Verma, with the support of his family, started stitching face masks and distributed them in the community for free to ensure the safety of his family and the community.

Chanchal also joined and distributed the face masks, going door-to-door, to support her father in the promotion of the business. Then, with the festive season approaching, Santosh Kumar soon started getting orders for alteration and for fresh materials from his neighbourhood. This boosted his confidence and he now is very happy to be a proud father who takes care of his family and is able to ensure his daughter’s education.

He has noticed the difficulty his daughter was facing because of the unavailability of a smartphone at home, and though they have a phone through which they could talk to friends and teachers, Chanchal wasn’t able to attend online classes. She was also not able to access the online content shared by her Social Mobilizer. Soon, Santosh Verma managed to buy a smartphone and surprised his daughter with it on Dussehra.

He said, “I am the happiest person, being able to spend time with my family and earning a livelihood for them on my own. I was very distressed in the beginning, but soon realised the peace I was lacking, which was seeing my daughter study. Now I will live each moment with my daughter and support her dreams.

Chanchal’s hope helped keep her father motivated and she is now able to join online classes regularly, and is very active in sharing her feedback on the online content she receives! “My father was able to buy a smartphone for me and now I am regular in my online studies and things are good at home,” she said.

She spoke about how pre-lockdown, everything was quite well in her family and how supportive her parents were of her studies. They had also visited her life-skills centre and participated in all the meetings and workshops organized by her SM Didi. She went on to talk about how all this came to an abrupt end during the lockdown with the closure of the schools, along with her father losing his job. However, she was thankful and happy to share that her SM Didi was with her throughout and the life skill training was useful for her and her family to overcome this difficult situation.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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