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How Uttarakhand Students Built Community Libraries For Those Without Books

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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.

“A stream flowed and everything just locked off. Badly busy streets are free and having rest, every shop is closed, no feet are moving on the road and no noise is irritating the persons resting in their homes. The only sound which is being listened is of the singing of birds and the rustle of wind. Depression and panic are moving parallel with the peace and tranquility.”

History of 2020 would be written as such. Generations would recall that it was a year when something strange happened. Once again Mother Nature proved its superiority in front of so called ‘most sensible’ creatures, i.e. humans. The entire world came to a standstill only because of a small being, Coronavirus, which even can’t be seen with naked eyes.

Children and fixture are like chalk and cheese. Just staying in a same place adversely impacts children psychology, tendency, and their preference. They love to explore this mysterious world. One of the place which is said to be the foundation of child’s learning, i.e. schools, got closed. While learners were at home, schools were locked! At this juncture, it was found that children became far away from the learning and exploring process.

Reform board exams to improve learning outcomes
Representational college.

Note that this gap between children and their school learning was just like a coma – stopped for sometime and started again with a new method. Concept of E-learning or virtual-learning reached to thousand new learners this time. Prima-facie, this new way of learning seemed like a boat full of hope coming towards, when we are drowning in the deep ocean. But if we go through it’s core and all the dimensions, we would find that this idea is not the ideal one.

The huge economic chasm between different groups in India was and still a serious issue. At the time when thousands of children were learning from the virtual medium, millions of children were suffering for having meal a day. In this background, how we can expect these children of having so costly electronic devices? Of course not. And, they were out of learning process!

Amidst this distressed environment a hope arose. Hope from the plains, moving through the hills and travelling the woods, came across. In the foothills of the great Himalayas, a state is located named Uttarakhand. It also didn’t remain untouched with the effect of Covid-19. The school grounds, that once used to be ornamented because of the children, were deserted. However, as the saying goes “Leadership emerges in times of crisis.

A great sense of leadership seemed in the learners of Nanakmatta Public School, Uttarakhand. They came across with an innovative idea to create alternative space for learning in their rural landscape. Learners decided to initiate ‘Community Libraries’ in their regions.

Despite a place of reading books only, these were the community centers where kids can meet, play and learn from each other. At the arrival of autumn, these learners put the foundation stone on 9 September, 2020. The first community library was started in a small village Nagla of the town Nanakmatta. This caravan continued to go on and at present 17 community libraries are operational in Nanakmatta region.

Himani, one of the leader of community library in Nagla says that, “It was our first library. We were totally unaware that what we are going to do in library. Even we didn’t know children would join us or not? But as we started, it just go on. Kids were there, we played and did interesting activities together.” This statement may not be a big deal for many of us. But if a girl who never used to talk confidently before, is saying so, it’s an achievement.

Kriti of class 10th, who is associated with this library campaign says – “Our this mission is the extension of the student and community vision of our School (Nanakmatta Public School). This campaign of community library illustrates the core values of our institution, like collaboration, communication skills, leadership etc.

In this contemporary world, nothing is certain today. Situations are changing second by second, new possibilities are arriving and thousands of opportunities are knocking the door. To survive in this fast going world, one has to be adoptable and develop the required skills. The UN 21st Century Skills includes collaboration, communication, creativity, critical thinking, leadership, flexibility, social skills etc. Doesn’t it seem similar to what Kriti was talking about?

Yes it is. Leadership is emerging among these leaders. They are searching for the space where they can make their setup, mobilising kids to join and leading the space in a very democratic way. These young learners are frequently communicating with the community members, introducing the kids with creative activities, overcoming all the challenges and as a ‘social animal’ developing social skills like teamwork, flexibility etc.

 

To survive in this fast going world, one has to be adoptable and develop the required skills. Representational image.

The campaign of community library has given these learners a chance to spread their wings. Their collaboration skills enhanced many folds. Influenced by this social act, a Delhi based organization “Books For All” offered hundreds of books to the school administration at very low prices, for contributing a bit in this mission.

Despite this, two other schools inspired to initiate community libraries in their region too. The learners from Shining Stars School of Ramnagar, interacted with the library leaders of Nanakmatta Public School in the virtual medium to know more about this campaign.

A few days later a news came about. Learners of Shining Stars School initiated their first library. Deepika, a learner of Nanakmatta Public School says that – “It’s much encouraging for us that we are able to inspire the students of other schools too. We were also inspired by the colleagues of Devalthal, as they started this mission at first. This learning must go on.

It was the time, just 5 years ago, a small but new campaign started in the hilly region (Pithoragarh) of the state. With the guidance of their teacher Mr Mahesh Chandra Punetha, the students of Government Inter College, Devalthal started community libraries in their region. To develop the reading culture in the region, this campaign was started. Later this mission broadened, as the learners of Nanakmatta inspired by it and decided to start the same in their region.

Between all this, so many collaborations taken place. Learners became more confident. All the mentors of these learners, Kamlesh Atwal, Mahesh Chandra Punetha, Vijay Gahtori, Kamlesh Joshi and all others focus on the same thing. They say that – “These learners would not realize so soon that how they are enriching themselves with this mission. There would be drastic change in their personalities in the coming years, if they continue doing so.

This initiative of community libraries show the community sense among these learners. At the time when most of the children were cut off from the learning process, this mission proved to be ray of sunshine in the dark. It’s true that covid-19 created vast distances between the persons.

But here in Nanakmatta something reverse happened. Kids got chance to meet and interact with the other kids at these community centers. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “The future depends on what we do today.” Hope for the better future….

Featured image is for representational purposes only.
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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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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)’.

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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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