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Disha, Haneen, And Their Story Of Raising 15 Lakhs To Help 44 Girls Study

This post is a part of Kaksha Crisis, a campaign supported by Malala Fund to demand for dialogue around the provisions in the New Education Policy 2020. Click here to find out more.

“You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”

This is the driving force for an initiative led by two passionate teenagers- Disha Panda and Haneen Farid, who have at many times been subjected to the cruelty of society simply because they are girls. But, little did they know, all this time later that they would become two teenagers who would bring about change in the lives of 44 girls; teenagers who would present at the 1M1B Activate Impact Summit at the United Nations.

Haneen (Left) and Disha (Right)

In February 2020, an UN-accredited non-profit organization called 1M1B, i.e., 1 Million for 1 Billion came to their school, DPS Bangalore North, and held a session to introduce them to the 1M1B Future Leaders program. This program discovers and nurtures the world’s most promising leaders by providing more clarity over their purpose using a framework before turning them into an actionable project aligned with the UN SDGs.

Disha and Haneen realized that this is the one opportunity they would have to add meaning to their lives and the lives of many other girls. Hence, they signed up for the program in a heartbeat, and that is how Project Arambha came to be.

Disha and Haneen are among those chosen from over 120 students to join the 1M1B Activate Impact Summit, 2021, at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.

At school, Haneen is heavily involved in debates and public speaking. She aspires to study Political Science and join politics. She has faced pushback and advice that politics is not for girls. Haneen is strong in her beliefs and continues to push forward, but she realized that not every girl has the opportunity or strength to pursue her dreams. What she wants to do through Project Arambha is to invest hope in girls her age by not only providing emotional support but also financial support for their education and career aspirations.

Disha, on the other hand, comes from a family where education is regarded as the greatest gift one can have. She has always been told to be grateful for her education and make it her first priority. While it’s easy for her to access this education, it’s not so easy for many girls out there who suffer the loss of financial support. The fact that education is a privilege for some girls seems disturbing to her, and it’s difficult to digest. That is why she decided to work towards the cause of gender equality in higher education.

This young project is Project Arambha, which means “beginning” in Kannada.

As the name proudly parades the purpose of this project, Team Arambha strives to educate underprivileged college girls in India and secure their future. They collaboratively raised about INR 15 lakh towards the college fees of girls at risk of drop out amidst the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. Funds raised are utilized to support the college fees of 44 underprivileged students at Sparsha Trust, Bangalore, and the Radiant Life Charitable Trust, Byrathi, Karnataka, for a duration of three years.

They have conducted three fundraisers, one of which is ongoing and have tried to gain corporate sponsors as well. In 2020, the Himalaya Drug Company was kind enough to sponsor precisely 14  Arambha girls for a total of three academic years. Disha and Haneen continue to look for corporate sponsors and donors for these girls.

The girls who are being supported here are former child labourers, child abuse victims, and homeless children. Although, there are some girls who have come from low-income families, where the parents work as security guards, auto drivers, and carpenters.

“During Covid, our financial troubles were getting worse. My sisters and I were planning to discontinue our studies. We could not believe that we would be able to complete our education. Project Arambha’s scholarships give girls the gift of education and the power to fulfil their dreams,” says Anitha P, a 20-year-old beneficiary and aspiring air hostess.

“Project Arambha has supported me in a lot of ways. The online career guidance sessions not only gave me clarity on my aim in life but also helped me understand how to achieve my ambition. The knowledge and direction I received from the seminars were valuable; they set me up on the right path to my goals. It’s hope for me,” says Seemitha P, a II PUC student and aspiring IPS officer.

The rest of the girls dream of becoming chartered accountants, paramedical officers, dancers, and even photojournalists!

Disha and Haneen are trying to turn the girls’ dreams into reality through a specialised career programme, which involves various informative webinars on resume writing, job interviews, LinkedIn profiles, and goal-setting- all with the aim of equipping these bright young girls with the necessary skills to successfully walk on the college and career paths they choose for themselves. These webinars are conducted by some of the leading career coaches in India such as Debeshi Chakraborty, Parul Siddiqui, and a few other volunteers from the corporate world.

The biggest challenge has been meeting their fundraising requirements. Even after raising about INR 15 lakh, they still need to raise INR 5 lakh to support 30 girls for the current academic year. They have been hoping to acquire another corporate sponsorship to meet this required amount. Hence, Disha and Haneen have been seemingly chasing corporates for the past few months in an effort to convince them to contribute. All said and done, the corporate chase has only improved their proposals, pitches, and professionalism. That has helped them learn a lot.

And, it doesn’t end there. The ultimate goal of Project Arambha is to educate and support the dreams of 300 underprivileged girls in India. They want their girls to break the glass ceiling in their interest fields, and have nothing come in the way of them and their dreams!

Written by Sania Menon and Haneen Farid

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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
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Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
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