Developing Community Leaders

Alumni of RELO’s Access program showcase their community service projects.

By Zahoor Hussain Bhat and Sana Sethi

September 2023

Developing Community Leaders

Alumni of RELO’s English Access Microscholarship Program, Gazala Yusuf Ansari (from left), Nafisa Nasim, Sanesh Kumbrika, Surabhi Kashyap and Deepesh Kumar showcased their projects at the American Center New Delhi. (Photograph by Rakesh Malhotra)

It was the strong desire to learn English that connected Nafisa Nasim, Deepesh Kumar, Sanesh Kumbrika, Surabhi Kashyap and Gazala Yusuf Ansari with the U.S. Embassy New Delhi’s Regional English Language Office (RELO). They are alumni of RELO’s English Access Microscholarship Program. 

Recently, they participated in RELO’s project on “Designing and Implementing Community Service Projects” and were selected as the best five under the program.  

The project brought together 33 Access program alumni from across India to train them on community service projects. Starting with a virtual six-week session run by an English Language Specialist in October 2022, the students were invited to a seven-day residential camp in Mysore in February 2023.  

After review of the grant proposals, each alumnus was given a grant of $250 to implement the projects from March to May 2023 in their communities. The projects fell within six domains: human rights and gender empowerment, access to education, environment, health, entrepreneurship and drug abuse. 

Nasim, Kumar, Kumbrika, Kashyap and Ansari showcased their projects at the American Center New Delhi in June 2023.  

Nafisa Nasim 

Nasim’s project, “Let’s Normalize Periods,” was based in her locality of Tikiapara in Kolkata. She admits she was brought up to consider menstruation a taboo topic and not ask directly for sanitary pads at shops. 

A science student, Nasim aspires to become a doctor and believes it is important to normalize menstruation in conversations so that girls can openly talk about any menstrual problems they may encounter. 

Over a period of three months, Nasim worked on engaging and educating 300 men and women about menstruation, hygiene, period shaming and period poverty, which is defined as a lack of access to menstrual products, hygiene facilities and waste management.  

At the closing ceremony of Nasim’s workshop, organized on Menstrual Hygiene Day in May, she invited her father. “In the 19 years of my life, I have never seen him cry. He is a tough man, but he cried seeing his eldest daughter succeed while working on this very sensitive topic,” she says.  

 “RELO not only gave me a platform but also shaped my ideas, encouraged me a lot, and developed me as a leader and a changemaker, and now I can proudly say, ‘Yes, I am a changemaker,’” she adds. 

Deepesh Kumar 

Kumar, who is from Thandalam on the outskirts of Chennai, developed a keen interest in social work soon after completing his undergraduate studies. This motivated him to pursue a postgraduate degree in social work with specialization in community development. 

Kumar’s project, “A Weed Out Weed 2023” aimed to enhance awareness about the consequences of substance abuse. This is because in his own locality, “school students were indulging in the consumption of drugs in various forms which eventually resulted in deviation from their studies and school dropouts at the end,” he explains.  

He planned this community service project with a recreational module for students at RC Higher Secondary School in Thandalam. “The awareness program was conducted as a three-day workshop with themes and focus areas for each day by bringing in field expertise to the community and live interaction with the students. Besides this, I successfully organized awareness campaigns among different sets of target groups,” says Kumar. 

“The outcome of the project has created a huge impact on me and the school. Statistically, 448 school students, 100 parents and community people benefited” from the campaign, he says. 

This project also gave Kumar an opportunity to build his theoretical knowledge and leadership skills in social work and community development.  

Sanesh Kumbrika 

Kumbrika, who is studying zoology at the Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences in Bhubaneswar, comes from a rural area where farmers are unable to send their children to school due to financial constraints. Kumbrika was motivated to work on agri-entrepreneurship “to eradicate poverty among farmers so that they can give proper education to their children.” he says.    

“Most rural farmers grow fruits and vegetables, but a major portion of this produce was wasted because they (farmers) did not have expertise in selling or marketing,” he says. By educating farmers and providing them with entrepreneurship ideas and skills training, his project helped them become more confident to market and sell their goods.  

Kumbrika and his team roped in an NGO and trained farmers on mushroom cultivation as he observed that farmers could earn more through mushroom farming. When this became a success, the people who were earlier skeptical about his project started to appreciate it. “We were super excited to see their smiling faces,” says Kumbrika. The money earned from agri-entrepreneurship enabled farmers to send their children to school.   

Surabhi Kashyap 

Kashyap, a graduate in journalism and mass communication, is associated with the Study Hall Education Foundation, a nonprofit organization that works for female education. 

For Kashyap, RELO’s community service project was an opportunity to work independently for girls’ education in her locality in Lucknow. “Uttar Pradesh is the state with the most out-of-school girls. This is because some parents are ignorant about the importance of girls’ education,” she says.  

Through her project, Kashyap ensured 54 girls returned to school after a long gap in their education and 25 others are in the process of being enrolled. In addition, 324 parents pledged to support their daughters’ education. 

Kashyap says her project with RELO was a great experience as she got an opportunity to work with teachers, students, parents and communities. It helped her build confidence, examine problems closely and improve her writing skills. 

Gazala Yusuf Ansari 

Ansari is working as an assistant professor in Ahmedabad after completing her master’s degree in pharmacy in 2020. Her project focuses on the promotion of the use of generic medicines to achieve health care equity. 

“I wanted to make a difference in the lives of people who do not have the same access to health care that I do. By promoting generic pharmaceuticals, I assisted in providing medication to individuals in need at a fraction of the cost. Furthermore, I feel that marketing generic medications is a crucial step toward better health care equity,” says Ansari. 

Through her campaign, Ansari raised awareness about generic medicines and their cost-effectiveness. “We organized several events where we educated over 250 people about generic medicines and their advantages,” she says. 

Ansari and her team also conducted a survey in Ahmedabad which indicated that 44 out of 50 people are currently using generic medications. She says, “her project helped to change the mindset of people and helped them save money on prescribed drugs.” 

For Ansari, the RELO project was an opportunity to take part in professional development activities like webinars and online courses, which helped increase her English knowledge and abilities. “In addition,” she says, “I was able to attend numerous workshops and seminars while staying up to date on the most recent methods and tools for teaching English.”  

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