Transformation is a keyword for any individual who wants to make a substantial impact. But, for this 30-year-old man, it is a daunting challenge that defines his life.
An optimist, who has dedicated his life for the betterment of others, Abhishek Boney Singha feels that transformation is a slow and subjective process, the outcome of which cannot be measured numerically, but only socially.
“It’s not about how many lives we change, but about how much we change in their regular lives,” says Abhishek.
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Born in a Golaghat, Assam, Abhishek grew up observing the reality of class, caste or gender-based discrimination.
It was these observations that pushed him to choose a life in social work.
“Looking away was never an option for me. Ignoring the prevalence of something bad is equal to doing it, and I wanted to put an end to it. But, I knew that I had to start small as I had no backing or experience in social work. So I decided to start with schools and began to save up my pocket money to help them,” he shares while speaking to The Better India.
A Political Science college student then, Abhishek would somehow collect funds to buy school supplies for students coming from low-income houses. Eventually, after graduation, he was able to set up a non-profit youth organisation, All & Sundry in 2012. Under the organisation, Abhishek mobilised Assam’s youth towards various social projects that have had a grassroots impact.
One such initiative, The White Revolution: A Sanitary Pad Bank for the Needy Ones, launched in 2017, is very close to his heart.
“In my district, women still don’t use sanitary napkins or have any awareness about menstrual hygiene. Shockingly, when I would ask them about sanitary napkins, many would not even know about it, while others would laugh stating that the packaging looks like biscuit packets. The zero awareness is what pushed me to launch the white revolution,” he says.
Majorly focused on helping school girls, especially in the remote tea garden areas and border conflict zones; the initiative is the first sanitary pad bank in Assam.
Every year, inadequate menstrual protection pushes almost 23 per cent adolescent girls to drop out of schools.
“The communities are rife with superstition, taboos that often push these women to adopt unhygienic and dangerous methods like a dirty cloth, during periods. This, in turn, hampers their health and exposes them to deadly diseases in the later stages of their lives. Plus, the increasing number of school dropouts push up the prevalence of child marriage and early on-set of pregnancy, etc.,”
It’s a domino effect with its root in lack of awareness about menstrual hygiene, and, so to counter it, we decided to reach out to schools and educate young girls so that they can grow into agents of change, says the young social worker.
From counselling sessions on menstrual health to classes on hygiene, and diet, among others, the organisation reaches out to hundreds of students and also provides a 3-month supply of sanitary napkins and other period-hygiene products.
“I remember how a girl student came to me to tell how she had pushed all the women in her family to start using sanitary napkins after the session. This is what motivates me to continue,” Abhishek, who has changed the lives of more than 700 girls in Assam in the last two years.
We have a holistic approach to this. It begins with starting a conversation, breaking inhibitions to hygiene and the kind of food they should eat during periods.
For instance, studies claim that chocolate is helpful during periods, but these girls come from families that might not be able to afford it. So, instead, we suggest eating bananas or laddus made of til (sesame seeds), Abhishek informs.
Owing to his efforts, Abhishek has received several accolades; appreciation letters from the Prime Minister’s Office in 2015, Prime Minister’s House in 2016, Embassy of India in Bangkok in 2014, American Center to India in 2012 and Hon’ble Governors of Assam in 2016 and 2017 respectively.
“It’s great that mainstream films like Padman (2018) has brought the matter into the forefront with more organisations working towards it. However, it’s important to make sure that the change is substantial and not superficial. For instance, we have been able to change the lives of 750 girls by now and are proud of that, because through repeated follow-ups we have seen how they have transformed their lifestyle and are encouraging others to follow suit!” he concludes.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)
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