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I Beat Cancer And Secured A Scholarship After Years Of Trying To Win It

A small story worth sharing on securing the Chevening scholarship for public health studies.

Working In The Development Sector

As a child born and brought up in a middle class, educated family, I always dreamed of studying abroad, seeing different countries and gaining many experiences. I have always been fascinated by western education and the opportunities it offers.

The writer of the piece, Sneha Kaushal.

I completed my master’s degree from the Indian Institute of Forest Management and began my quest in the field of rural development. It was an unknown domain as no one from my family ever worked in villages in an NGO set up.

It was exciting, but looking back now, I think it was also extremely challenging.

The key learnings and values you learn in such jobs can’t be taught through any other kind of engagement. I got the opportunity to see and experience rural life very closely in different parts of India.

I worked on women empowerment and livelihood strengthening in PRADAN; CSR (corporate social responsibility) outreach and fund mobilisation for rural development projects at S M Sehgal Foundation; and public health strengthening in Ministry of Home Affairs under the “aspirational district” program at NITI Aayog.

Here’s How It All Started

It is said that some things etched in our minds never fade, they seem to be fresh and constantly cross your dreams and thoughts.

One such experience for me was during my village stay after my post-graduation, when as a younger chap, I had gone to stay in a village for the first time.

Life seemed pretty okay as long as real adversities didn’t come my way. It all changed when my landlord fell due to a stroke, and I took him to the district hospital in an ambulance.

It was then I realised how fragile life is and that all people, especially the people in rural areas, live in deficiency.

Since then, I have been keen on public health as a subject; and how I can increase the access of rural populace to a better and decent healthcare scenario. I was lucky to get the opportunity to work with numerous NGOs at the grassroots level and with ministries at the central level.

My experience of villages taught me that: nothing is impossible!

Seeing women from self-help groups take up initiatives to build better lives for the coming generations, made me believe in my own self.

Representational image. Photo credit: UN Women / Gaganjit Singh.

Working at the central level introduced me to policy formulation. Working in the development sector is both rewarding as well as it can take a huge toll on one’s personal and professional life. One gets disillusioned by seeing poverty and that causes lot of disturbances within.

It’s only after years of efforts can we bring some amount of permanent change in someone’s life.

I Was Diagnosed With Breast Cancer

The last couple of years were full of turmoil for each one of us due to Covid-19, lockdowns and uncertainty. But, things took a turn for the worse when I was detected with breast cancer. It was unbelievable and my tears wouldn’t stop.

Cancer is such a word that it makes you lose sense of the present as well as the future.

A lot of days went in contemplating: “Why me?” But, I guess there is no answer to that. Anyway, with the support of my family and few good friends as well as mentors (and of course, insurance companies and my present employer), I was able to undergo treatment.

I got unprecedented support from friends at the SM Foundation, on the emotional and psychological fronts, in these difficult times. A lot can be written about this phase of treatment, but I think only key is to have patience and hope— hope of a brighter future helps not only you, but also people around you who take care of you day and night.

Another realization I had among many was that: there are many people with amazing hearts full of kindness, who come to help when you need them.

It was so good and reassuring to know this and to have these people around.

I Am Headed To London

With the clouds comes a silver lining, and this year, I was able to secure the Chevening scholarship after years of trying. It is a competitive scholarship with millions of candidates applying to it from across the world.

Each year, roughly 40 professionals and students get a chance to go to the UK and pursue a master’s program.

I will be going to London to study public health, which has been my passion since the beginning, with the hope of a better and brighter future.

Looking back, I feel that life comes full circle and if you are persistent in your efforts, you do reach your goal!

It may sound like a cliché, but from my own experience I can say that it is indeed true. The situations became difficult but my past experiences and efforts paid off at a time when I needed it the most.

The course will help me in building academic knowledge in the field of public health and also give me opportunity to meet and work with best minds in the sector. I really hope to contribute more objectively with the knowledge I receive.

Featured image is for representational purposes only. Photo credit:
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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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