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From Goats To Harvard: How YUWA is Helping Girls Realise Their Dreams

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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.

Born in the village of Dahu in Jharkhand, Seema spent most of her childhood taking care of goats, bringing water from a well and mostly doing house chores. Today, Seema has secured admission to Harvard University with a fully-funded scholarship and is looking forward to stepping into Harvard this August.

She describes this as a huge moment in her life as she is the first one to attend college in her family. Seema’s extraordinary story from almost being a child bride to getting admitted to one of the most prestigious universities in the world wouldn’t have been possible if she hadn’t joined been helped by Yuwa. Seema’s story is just one of the many success stories of Yuwa girls studying in universities like Ashoka University, Krea University and Mondragon University (Spain).

girls playing football
Representative image

Yuwa started as a football program in 2009 by Franz Ghastler to build leadership skills in girls to combat child marriages and trafficking. What started as a small team grew to cater to more than 300 young girls, making it one of the biggest football programs for girls in India. The main aim was to build confidence in girls and encourage them to attend schools.

However, the schools in Jharkhand were not serving in the personal transformation of these girls. Hence, in 2015, Yuwa school was started by Rose Ghastler, who is currently the educational director. While football builds confidence and discipline, the educational program helps prepare these girls to excel in education, transition to colleges, and pave the path to meaningful careers, helping them break the cycle of poverty.

Seema said, “In 2015, I joined the Yuwa School in 7th grade and started coaching and leading workshops to pay my school fees. Yuwa has helped me see and experience a different lifestyle by giving me opportunities to travel abroad. I learned that life could be so different, and I can be independent. I have become a more goal-oriented person trying to make my and my cousins future brighter. I want to write books about women and for children. Along with it, I want to have my organization working with women by providing them with some kind of employment and educating them about their rights and the society we live in.

A curriculum that gives opportunities through extracurriculars and academics helps in the holistic development of the girls. A day in the life of a Yuwa girl starts with an early bus ride to the football fields at 4:30 am. The football ground is the space for them to meet and learn about confidence and courage through the game. Girls are often shamed by the villagers for wearing football shorts.

While some girls continue wearing the shorts, others wear shorts on top of leggings to avoid the villagers’ stares. After their football practice, girls return home by 7 am to do house chores and get ready for school. By 8:45 am, these girls walk to the Yuwa school – a garage-like space that has been transformed into a stimulating classroom by the teachers and students.

The low student to teacher ratio of 9:1 aids in personalized attention to each student by the teacher. As soon as school ends at 3 pm, the girls return home to study, cook and help their family. 90% of football coaches are young women and seniors from the school. They use that income to pay their school fee, making the program sustainable and teaching these girls financial independence from a young age.

While discussing the accomplishments, Franz said, “The biggest accomplishments I would say are adaptation, clear focus and endurance. The endurance of doing things in the right way focused on what the girls need and not what some international funding agency thinks is the flavour of the month or the whim of some far-away funder or boss. Although I’m far away from the kids now, I lived in the same villages as them from 2008 – 2020, and Rose from 2013 – 2020. Apart from very few teachers, every Yuwa staff member has lived in those same villages over the years. Yuwa has adapted and endured as an organization and mirrored those traits in the girls we serve.

The low teacher-student ratio helps build a personal bond and a sense of trust between the teacher and student, which goes beyond academics. It helps the girls approach the teachers without any hesitation. Organizations like these act as a catalyst to improve girls’ education and empower girls to earn their independence.

In recent times organizations like Educate girls, Avasara Academy, Project Balika, Sapnewali and many others have emerged to provide quality education and skills for girls and women. This could be due to a number of reasons, including an increasing number of girls dropping out of school, a focus on holistic education and so on.

The current curriculum by the government isn’t serving the purpose. For example, sports is merely seen as a free period in the timetable in many schools rather than a means to build leadership and collaboration among students. Merely sending the girls to school won’t help their holistic development, but creating spaces that help their personal and academic development is necessary if we envision an India where girls and women hold leadership positions and achieve gender equality.

The author is a Kaksha Correspondent as a part of writers’ training program under Kaksha Crisis.

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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.

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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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.”

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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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