Twenty one year old Anthony Mary was a graduate from BBMP Corporate Women’s college in Bangalore. As soon as she was out of her college, she started searching for a job. Her father was struggling hard to earn their daily bread and butter. Unfortunately, she could not find a job. It was then, she came to know about “ Pratishta” centre through one of her friends, Roopa. The latter was a student of Pratishta.
PRATISHTHA (meaning Prestige) is a programme run by Reaching Hand that supports vulnerable youths, especially young women from disadvantaged families/communities to realize their dreams by equipping and acquiring employability skills with life skills, which not only helps them to access decent employment but also makes them representatives of a gender just society.
But, throughout the course, Mary maintained a positive attitude and strove for success as one of her goals is to become economically independent. During the course she enjoyed learning Microsoft Office and Life Skills, the most.
After completing her course from Pratistha, she got a job at D-Mart as a promoter in sales. Her primary job entails encouraging customers to buy products from their store. Through her job, she has learned how to handle customers and explain their products.
Ask about her current job, she says “ I am enjoying the thrill of earning.” She plans to stay at D-Mart in order to work her way up to a manager.
Recently, her father has passed away. Hence, she is now the primary breadwinner of the family and she finds it fulfilling to be able to provide for her family. Propelled by her parents’ expectations and her dreams, Mary has big plans for her future to pursue a career which she refuses to let go. She concludes saying that Pratistha has been a driving factor in her success and has enabled her to become employed and pursue her dreams.
I’ve had this chat with many people time and time again. Those who feel they are more educated than the average citizen often believe that voluntourism is a terrible thing. On the contrary, those who have never heard of this word before often make it out to be the most sustainable way to travel.
Both are right, both are wrong.
You need to be aware of what voluntourism stands for before engaging in missionary work abroad. To help you get a little sense of what to look for in the right organization, follow these few pointers:
Sustainability is all about meeting the needs of our current generation without compromising the needs of future generations to come. It is about creating a lasting difference that is long term.If you’re planning on coming to volunteer with the children for a two week venture and then say your farewells shortly after… you really need to consider what it is you’re bringing to the children. If you decide to sit in the classroom and engage in daily activities, the chances are this exchange may be more rewarding for you than it is for the children. Try and consider bringing new games and implementing new ideas to the classroom.
Example: In March of 2012 I travelled to Lima, Peru on a sports mission trip with my university class. We taught government officials, coaches and teachers how to implement sport into the classroom which would also integrate fundamental learnings such as dental hygiene, avoiding alcohol abuse, etc. Though we left only a few short weeks later, we knew that having left behind our skills, expertise and a book filled with ideas this would be a more sustainable venture.
Shivraj wanted to explain to them about the financial struggle, he had to undergo everyday while going to the school.
Case study taken by Vinod and Deepa Patel
A school boy waved to his friends inside the KR Puram School as he passed by. He was in a rush to get back to his class. But, on the way, when he came across Reaching Hand team, he wanted to spend a few moments to talk to them.
He introduced himself as Shivraj and is a 9th standard student at the KR Puram Government School.
He wanted to explain to them about the financial struggle, he had to undergo everyday while going to the school. This is one of the major reasons which is keeping many students out of school.
Shivraj lives with his mother, father, two brothers and one sister. He explained that conditions are difficult at his home.
“My parents do mason work on construction sites. As I often see them struggling to send me to school and take care of my siblings, I decided to walk to school.
His house is far away from the school. “I come every day from Battahalli. It takes a minimum of ₹5 to come to school in the morning and another ₹5 to go home after the classes. That means he has to shell out ₹10 every day, adding up to almost ₹300 rupees every month. I can get a yearly pass for ₹750 rupees, but that is way too much for my family to spend on sending me to school and I have to make the long walk every day.
Things changed for the better for students like Shivraj, when Reaching Hand recently distributed bus passes to underprivileged students at the KR Puram School.
He says “Reaching Hand has given me a bus pass and it has been very helpful. Cost is no longer an issue and I can easily come to school. It makes me feel motivated to learn.”
Shivraj wants to be an engineer. “When I grow up, I want to be an engineer and I know my school and teachers will help me get there,” he says.
Through initiatives like bus pass distribution, Reaching Hand hopes to continue encouraging students like Shivraj to attend the school and reach those heights.
“I often take leave when I have my periods. The toilets in the school are dilapidated and cannot be used. Though there is one outside the school, we could hardly use it as some men teachers do not allow us to use it. Besides, my house is a bit far away,” says Lakshmi, a 9th standard student of Government school (Metri), Devlapura.
During those days, she used to go home on lunch break and stays back.
A week ago, when the RH team went to the same school, we could see only happy faces. The mood was festive as they got five new toilets.
“You have solved our long pending issue,” says Maheswari, an 8th standard student. She was not as unlucky as Lakshmi because her house is nearby and she could go to her house to change the pad during lunch break. Thus she managed to attend the classes.
Gauda Sidappa, Headmaster of the school says the school hardly had clean and proper toilets since 2010. “Even the school was in a bad shape. There was a drain right in the middle of the school. Things changed when Reaching Hand intervened. The drain which was there for 20 years now, got filled up. Now, it is outside the school,” he points out.
“Once, the RH started taking action, the parents, teachers and the Panchayat came together to make its efforts successful. We saw real team work for the first time,” added the jubilant official.
Belloxy partnered with the RH to build toilets with the support of Panchayat and SDMC of government school (metri) Devlapura and government higher primary school, Hosa- Devlapura.
This is an effort by the RH to support central government’s “Swachh Bharat-Swachh Vidyalaya Campaign.
In addition to the new toilets, RH visited area schools two weeks ago to conduct “puberty and health and hygiene workshops for students and distributed kits that contain hygiene essentials.
Besides, 100 bags comprising learning kits were distributed as part of ‘Bag to School’ campaign.
In order to support the “Digital India “campaign, RH has also opened a new Spoorthi centre to teach computer skills, spoken English and other competencies to the students at another government school, Bannihatti. It has contributed computers and appointed three trainers there.
Reaching Hand COO Akshaya Sagar, Feba Nisha Programme manager, programme co-ordinator Khandappa B K, AIF Clinton Fellow Deepa Patil, Belloxy representative Mangala attended the function along with the school staff and Panchayat authorities.
Deepa Patil is an AIF William J. Clinton Fellow for Service in India and has joined the Reaching Hand team for 10 months to help expand our Girls Glory program. A recent graduate of Tufts University, Deepa has previously been involved in civic engagement, nonprofit and public health work as a Jonathan M. Tisch Scholar of Citizenship & Public Service and Institute of Global Leadership Synaptic Scholar. She recently wrote the following blog post about her work at Reaching Hand for the American India Foundation.
There are few emotions more harmful than shame. It threatens the most fundamental love and respect people have for themselves. It is often accompanied by immeasurable discomfort, isolation and pain . Shame is not to be confused with the humiliation of social fumbles or the guilt of disappointing a loved one – these feelings arise as the consequence of particular actions and can be distanced from one’s self-concept. In fact, in healthy doses, humiliation and guilt may serve as beneficial indicators of what behaviors we accept of ourselves to inform future choices. Shame, on the other hand, is never valuable. Some of us have experienced shame tangentially and transiently by empathizing with literary characters and the people we care about. Others have more intimate relationships with shame, becoming consumed and debilitated by it.
Shame follows many young girls in India relentlessly, like a shadow on a sunny day. I frequently hear phrases like “शर्म कर” or “ನಾಚಿಕೆ ಇರಬೇಕು” (have shame) directed at young girls by well-intentioned family members, teachers and complete strangers. And while a variety of cultural and religious ceremonies take place in homes all over the country to celebrate an individual’s adolescence, puberty often marks the induction of girls to a lifetime of shame. The experience of a first period is daunting enough for a young girl – it can do without the burden of stigmatizing messages and alienating taboos . But alas, the notion of menstruation as an impure, blameworthy, disgusting process infiltrates the minds of so many.
I am only beginning to consider the psychological consequences of hating oneself because of an uncontrollable, biological process. I am, however, becoming increasingly aware of the more tangible repercussions of living in environments that are not period-friendly. The stigma of menstruation certainly oppresses girls from all walks of life around the world, but its most detrimental implications manifest in particularly vulnerable communities – places with high poverty and low education levels. Government schools in India are uniquely positioned to empower the children of vulnerable communities through education, a prerequisite of upward social mobility. But this opportunity is inaccessible to girls who miss up to a week of school every month, or worse, drop out entirely because of their periods.
I hope to confront this multifaceted issue through my work at Reaching Hand. On the one hand it is an infrastructure problem . Too many government schools lack the private, functional spaces – namely, toilets – needed for girls to engage in proper menstrual hygiene management (MHM). On the other hand there is a troubling information gap. Girls are often unaware of menstruation until menarche, do not understand it as a normal, biological process and are never taught how to manage their menstrual hygiene. The resulting poor MHM practices lead to individual health concerns in the short term and perpetuate the shame of menstruation in the long term. Reaching Hand’s initiative and my main project for the year, Girls Glory, aims to remove these barriers. We do this by building toilets and teaching puberty and health & hygiene workshops in under-resourced government schools all over India.
It is not a quick solution and requires growth, both in terms of how many girls we reach and how comprehensively we approach the problem of MHM inaccessibility. Even perfect, widespread implementation of Girls Glory will not overturn deeply-ingrained cultural stigmas immediately. And everyday I learn of more challenges that may slow down our efforts (i.e. navigating the bureaucracy of India’s government education system) or contextual limitations I failed to consider before actually visiting the field (i.e. the need to promote only reusable menstrual absorbents when inadequate or no waste management systems exist). But I am motivated by the potential to improve the health and education of girls and accordingly, replace shame with dignity. And girls who go to school become educated mothers who are much more likely to talk to their daughters about MHM and in turn, prevent future cycles of shame. Clearly, it is imperative to prevent girls from dropping out of school.
One of the simplest ways to do that, I have learned, is by building a toilet.
 I first started thinking about shame and actively deconstructing it in my own life after watching Professor Brené Brown’s TED Talk “Listening to Shame” a couple years ago. She distinguishes between “Guilt: I’m sorry. I made a mistake” and “Shame: I’m sorry. I am a mistake.”
 “The beauty of RED” is a short, powerful video directed by Vimida Das that provides a good introduction to the stigma of menstruation in India.
 A survey that informed India’s 2015 National MHM Guidelines found that in 14,724 government schools only 53% had a separate and usable girls’ toilet.
A few days ago, Mahantesh used to carry his school books in an old – ripped sack. His parents were too poor that they could not afford to buy him a school bag. I had no other choice but to carry my books in a sack, says Mahantesh, an 8th standard student of KR Puram Government School.
“It was really embarrassing to carry it. Besides, I could not put all my things in it. My family is very poor and I could not expect my father to buy me a school bag,” he says.
Mahantesh’s is not an isolated case. There are many children around us whose parents cannot afford to buy them a school bag, forcing many of them to opt out of school.
Keeping this in mind, Reaching Hand has initiated a campaign to provide school kit for every underprivileged child for just Rs 500. This school kit includes study materials, stationery, and health and hygiene kit.
We aim to cover 5000 students by December 2016.
After getting a bag Mahantesh responds happily.
“I don’t have to carry a ripped sack anymore for I have received a new school bag from Reaching Hand. I am so happy that I can carry most of my things in this bag. I often play kabbadi and hockey with my friends and I carry the water –bottle I got along with this bag, every time. Thank you so much, Reaching Hand.”
“How many openings do we have below our tummy?” I’d ask, and the children and the teachers would all reply, “Two!”
OMG!! It is ok if the children didn’t know, but even the teachers!!? Really?? Sadly, that’s the state of awareness in the society around me.
Having worked in the field of sanitation for quite a few years, those of us at Reaching Hand had come to realize that providing toilets and sanitary napkins for girl students in Government Schools wasn’t the final solution; there had to be a behavioural change in these girls and break them out of the “I don’t care” and the “I, being a girl, am not important” attitude. We called it the “Girls Glory” campaign.
I began taking menstrual hygiene classes for children in Government Schools, along with two volunteers from the US, Mai Soua Chang and Tiffany Wallace. Though Bangalore is a metropolitan city…