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The One Where We Started A Marriage During A Pandemic

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This post is a part of YKA’s dedicated coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak and aims to present factual, reliable information. Read more.

In December of 2019, my partner Cessely and I got married in North Carolina’s woods in the presence of about 50 of our closest friends. We have loved ones in India and Korea, and our goal was to travel eventually to both of these places, to celebrate with our friends and family there, who could not be with us in North Carolina in the winter of 2019. As we were tying the knots, we had no clue that a crisis was shaping up in another part of the world, which would turn the world upside down in the infamous year now known as 2020, and toss our plans to the water.

By March 2020, COVID-19 arrived in the US and started paralyzing public life. As the stay-at-home orders were handed out, we started adapting to new social and professional standards. I was trying to finish my PhD, find a job in an uncertain job market while merely trying to exist as a brown immigrant in you-know-who’s America. Let’s say it did not feel like a honeymoon period. However, Cessely, my wife, was supportive at her best, and slowly things also started working out at my end. I eventually completed my PhD virtually, found an internship that led to a full-time job, and moved a short distance to another city in North Carolina.

Image provided by the author.

As the pandemic clearly established that it was there to stay for a while, we switched to working remotely. This led to an interestng moment because we were not just two spouses cohabitating in the same space, but we were also two professionals doing remote work in the same living area. While this situation called for setting some boundaries, it also led to some loving opportunities. My wife worked a room away from me, which always allowed me to steal a quick cuddle and hug between all the client calls. We were also sharing more meals than ever, and I started enjoying the opportunity to fix us a quick lunch in the middle of the workday and share!

While we were thankful to have all the time with each other and keep us company, we started missing out on the social gatherings, which were harder to organize now more safely. This helped us learn and get adapted to establishing more personal spaces for each of us to re-energize, rejuvenate, and come back as better partners for each other. For Cessely, it meant more time for her gaming hobby, allowing her to stay in touch with her friends virtually. As far as I was concerned, I started spending more time hiking, photographing, and generally spending more time in nature. Taking the time for ourselves allowed us to appreciate better all the time we had with each other.

The spring and the summer slowly gave their way to Fall. We finally started taking advantage of all the vacation days that we never got to use at work to organize short weekend trips. To keep our trips safer while also memorable, we started camping or staying in AirBNBs, where we did not have to share living space with anyone. We saw Fall foliage up in the Smoky Mountains. We experienced the sunset and ate delicious seafood in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. We saw the Great Falls of the Potomac River near Washington DC, and we canoed through the river of grass in the majestic Everglades National Park in Southern Florida.

The COVID-19 mass vaccination prospects in 2021 brought hope after the despair of 2020. However, it was brief, as we got to see an insurrection in the nation’s capital barely into January. It brought us a little closer in our shared experience of the US, albeit through different lenses.

Image provided by the author.

For Cessely, who was born in this country, while me, who adopted this country as a home for the last few years, for both of us, it was a moment of introspection, into the soul of the country, and soul of each of us. Note that we started seeing each other shortly before Trump won the election in 2016, so the country’s political landscape did play a major role in shaping our relationship. A month has passed since the Capitol events, and things started mellowing down, and we are relieved to see a bit of sanity returning in the national atmosphere. We are looking forward to allowing our minds and bodies to recover and heal after the constant panic mode of a year.

We also look forward to returning to a semblance of normalcy around the world aided by effective vaccinations in the days to come. We look forward to seeing more of our loved ones we didn’t get to see since our wedding and those who couldn’t be with us that day, including my family in India.

Looking back, I would ideally not have wanted 2020 to mark the first year of our marriage. However, I must acknowledge that 2020 taught us volumes. It allowed Cessely and me to see each other a lot, sometimes not in our most flattering moments, and still being able to tolerate and support each other.

While I am not a huge believer in the idea of picking a day in the year to celebrate love, I am thankful that this Valentine’s Day is another year we could be with each other while having a roof over our head, and while being able to stay relatively healthy and safe. I hope that our resilience will enable us to navigate through a journey of the days and years to come, no matter how bumpy the ride gets. And we will get to do it with love, in the same spirit we guided ourselves through 2*20.

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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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