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May The (Youth) Force Be With The Society, Volunteering One Cause At A Time

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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 these uncertain times of COVID-19 with waves of the pandemic hitting the nation, nothing can be more crucial than to make a positive difference in whatever way possible. And as yet another International Youth Day is round the corner, we count on the league of youth playing the role of torch bearers – lighting up the lives of people by volunteering for a social cause.”

Puja Marwaha, CEO, CRY – Child Rights and You

This year, as the new variants of the deadly coronavirus hit India and death toll crossed lakhs, an atmosphere of gloom and fear gripped the country. Children, who were just getting accustomed to adjusting to the new normal with online classes sitting at home and missing going out and playing with friends, were deeply impacted. Thousands of them who lost their parents and relatives are still struggling to weather the trauma and come back to normalcy.

Impact Of Volunteers

During these grim times, when children and young adults were grappling with the trauma, many of them showed significant grit and resilience to fight the pandemic woes by engaging in volunteering work.  Child Rights and You (CRY), with its large base of volunteers and interns, has been a prime witness to this.

Since the beginning, the 42-year-old child rights organisation believed in the power of youth and had been one of the first to let young adults harvest their energy in meaningful work through ‘volunteering and volunteer action’ in India.

Volunteering for a social cause can lead to tremendous growth of self-esteem among the volunteers. Representational image.

As the popular Star Wars tagline goes, “May the force be with you”, likewise at CRY, the (youth) force has always been with us indeed. And with the help of an army with over 4600 volunteers and 1100 interns and counting, the organisation has been privileged to multiply its endeavour to transform the lives of children in India.

Last year, as the first wave hit us unprepared, we witnessed zealous volunteers and interns from all across the country come together and swing into action to offer whatever help possible.

From raising money through various online fundraisers to roping in experts while reaching out to mentor children or conducting online classes and arranging e-learning resources to make digital learning easier for children – the youth brigade seemed to keep no stones unturned in harvesting their energy in the right direction and reaping benefits of their power and energy.

However, this year, it was more difficult and possibly the toughest one in many decades. Therefore, banking on out of the box activities and campaigns to minimise the disastrous impact brought in by the pandemic’s second wave was the key.

From launching education internships for high school children, virtually mobilising children and the young adults for working towards a cause of launching crowd-funding initiatives and social media campaigns like #LearnNotEarn, #UnitedAgainstCOVID, raising awareness among the youth against child labour, and hosting webinars on topical issues impacting children – CRY’s volunteers and interns had a lot in store for them to learn and contribute to.

And, no doubt, the gifts of volunteering were enormous! “The amount of satisfaction you get after working for this noble cause cannot be defined in words. Now I am full of courage and will contribute towards the society and bring in a positive change in the world,” says Sahil Dudeja, a boy of 15 years, interning with CRY.

Volunteering Increases Self-Esteem

To decipher the triggers that prompt these young individuals to dive into volunteering, CRY conducts a survey every year, the latest edition of which was organised this February, just before the second wave of the pandemic struck the country.

The “Study on The Impact of Volunteering, was conducted among 800+ volunteers, 85 per cent of whom were in the age group of 18-27 years. For the millennial and gen-Z populations who are often deemed as ‘lonely’ and ‘self-centred’ and ‘calculative’, it may be surprising to know that most young volunteers went way beyond their personal priorities in donating their free time and skills to contribute to a cause!

Consent is crucial. However, this time, when I came across someone trying to force a child for answers which were a coursework requirement, I politely asked that person to stay away from pestering the child against her wish. To make the child feel comfortable, I even made sure that the video of the child answering questions had been deleted, thereby, respecting her sense of dignity and protecting her identity,” said a contemplative 20-year-old volunteering with CRY.

Talking about attaining personal development during volunteering, the respondents highlighted that they had experienced significant improvement in that area too. 80% of the volunteers said that they improved their teamwork skills, while 87 per cent of them noted a major improvement in their interpersonal communication skills and 85% reported enhanced creativity.

I have worked in the content-creation team for CRY (North) volunteers for more than 2 years, and have handled a team of people across the spectrum of ages. I have learned how to be polite as well as effective in my professional communication and that has added to my leadership skills,” adds a 20-year-old volunteer working in the campaign and events team.

The survey also suggests that volunteering for a social cause can lead to tremendous growth in self-esteem among the volunteers. Volunteering not only helps in staying calm, but it also helps manage your psychosocial health and makes you remain stress-free.

CRY Volunteers in Action
The joy of doing good also propels you to give back more to the society. Photo: CRY

Giving Back To The Society

And what’s more, the joy of doing good also propels you to give back more to society. A whopping 94% of the volunteers participating in the study felt that they have made a meaningful contribution while 79% reported of attaining a better state of mind and 81% reported an increase in self-esteem.

One area where I felt I showed maximum improvement was self-confidence. Since I haven’t attended a physical conference or interaction in a long time while presenting or conversing with people I felt my self-confidence was on the wane. Ever since I completed the Content Creation task which involved storytelling, I believe my confidence has improved a lot,” says a volunteer still within her teens.

These inspiring testimonials and findings from the report only suggest that volunteering is a transformational journey – both for the doer and the receiver. And I can vouch for that since we have come across endless stories from youth champions and change-makers at CRY.

They would often cite that working with or for children has helped the young minds ‘grow’, making them more humble, more grounded and see the real world more empathically – all valuable life lessons that they get acquainted with at a tender age.

So if you are motivated and inspired to become one of the change-makers the country needs in this time of crisis, do make a move and get into volunteering. The right time is now, more than ever!

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.

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.

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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, 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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