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HIV Might Be Scary, But It’s Not Deadly

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My journey with HIV has been a personal journey of love and self-discovery. A journey that has been shared in similar ways, across many paths, nations, races, colours and creeds. But it is a personal journey that I felt I travelled alone.

Like many others before me, it began with me alone in the world, then developed into the knowingness that there is no such thing as being alone in this world. It wasn’t until I reached a critical milestone in my journey that I discovered this. I discovered that we were all on this same journey together and that we are all ‘one.’

This journey has not been easy, and there were many times I wanted to end it all. I wanted to end it because I believed in the illusion that I was lacking something and was not worthy of self-love and acceptance. This illusion controlled my life for many years, and yet it brought me to where I am today. I am sharing my story with you so that you might also break through your illusions to the truths you seek.

My story is the story of millions like me who shared the same feelings about themselves either because of what society caused them to believe or how they perceived other’s thoughts of themselves. Whatever you perceive, it is all part of what I refer to as a soul contract or dharma. Each one of us is put here in this time and place to carry out our soul’s desire to grow in love and compassion. It is our soul’s desire that all events, sequences, places, people and things happen to each one of us for a higher purpose and a higher calling. It is a calling back to ‘oneness’.

We don’t know why things happen the way they do, or how our lives will play out, which is the mystery of life. Yet I believe a master plan or master design exists that is perfectly mapped out for each one of us. And while we are here, we live out that master plan; our choices are significant. Waking up to who we really are and being a tool for God’s powerful love is significant.

For me to understand and know this love at a much higher power meant contracting one of the most shame-based illnesses to grace the planet, which stigmatizes millions of people and put the fear of the unknown into millions more. It meant HIV would find its way into my life.

HIV opened many people’s eyes to a deadly disease, and it galvanized groups of affected people to seek a cure. It caused people with a lack of understanding to condemn the ill-fated, while HIV caused those who lived with it to ask the question, “Why me?” I believe that HIV/AIDS has a higher purpose. I believe that although many bad things came out of the early days of HIV, many good things developed as well.

For my journey, I was able to uncover and discover my own self-worth, self-love, and acceptance through the most powerful act of love: forgiveness. I needed to learn to forgive others for what I thought were grievances against me. I also needed to learn to forgive myself. Lastly, I needed to learn that the most powerful seed to sprout is the seed of self-love.

Self-love is the love that is often missed and overlooked. It is the first love that needs to be developed within one’s soul. Without it, loving others is difficult. I went through my life, often searching for love from the outside. I missed the love that was ultimately residing within me. I learned this lesson through living with HIV/AIDS.

My journey, like many others, was met with twists and turns, and with many wonderful, challenging sequences and events. Life happens. My life unfolded exactly how my soul contract or dharma had asked it to. And because of that, it taught me the lessons that I needed to learn so that I could go out into the world and help others.

The most powerful lesson to learn is the act of forgiveness. Through forgiveness, one has the choice to love one’s self unconditionally. Then and only then can one live the life one was destined to live. In essence, if you love, live and forgive, you will be granted the peace that ‘oneness’ promises.

I strongly encourage people to get tested and practice safe sex because it could be you if you make poor choices. I thought I would never in a million years get HIV but I was wrong. I hope there is a cure one day but until then I’m thankful to have medication that’s free in India that can keep me well.

Back in the day that was not the case and people in other countries don’t have the money to get the medication so I am thankful for knowing my status and being able to get the medical help to keep me healthy. I didn’t realize how precious life was until now. You would think that someone living with HIV might have at least one regret, but I do not. I believe everything happens for a reason, and right now it is my time to fight for those who cannot.

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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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