YLA leadership project spotlight: Aanya
Throughout the yearlong Youth Leadership Academy, you will design, create and implement a project on the social justice issue of your choice. Here, Aayna describes what she did for her leadership project, in her own words:
“Summer of my freshman year, I was tasked with finding female activist speakers for a virtual forum. Interviewing and speaking with Tanisha Pandit, a menstrual hygiene activist from India, I was surprised to encounter the issue of period poverty. With no access to period products, thousands of Indian girls frequently missed days of class, and even dropped out of school, all because they didn’t have a basic hygiene necessity! Taught to be ashamed of this natural process, these girls were embarrassed to reach out for help.
“After the forum, I was curious and did my own research on period poverty within the U.S. and was shocked to find that 1 in 5 girls miss school due to lack of access to period products. It was the beginning of the school year [when] I reached out to my school nurse about the situation. She said the school lacked a budget for period products, and that dozens of students were turned away each week. I realized that period poverty was not some distant issue only affecting girls & menstruators in underdeveloped countries, but a real problem in the U.S. — and students in my own high school. I wanted to make a change, so I took action.
“Through my initiative called Periods During the Pandemic, I collected 5,000 period products for my school through GoFundMe and social media. To my amazement, ABC Action News requested an interview, increasing awareness to a bigger audience. Then, I ended up collecting over 50,000 period products and was able to distribute these products to 37 low-income middle and high schools. Weeks later, I started receiving thank you letters and emails from school principals, nurses, social workers and even families. One single mother explained how she did not have products at home, as she prioritized making sure there was food on the table. If such a significant impact can be made in two months, I couldn’t help but feel like I could do more.
“[After the YLA], I started a nonprofit to end period poverty called Global Girls Initiative. I achieved this through three main programs: Kindness Matters, Period Awareness with Dignity & Self-Esteem (P.A.D.S) and Period Care Menstrual Dispenser. Through the Kindness Matters program, I donated period products to students and young people in Title I schools, refugee organizations, children with disability centers, homeless shelters, foster homes and underserved organizations.
“I created the Period Awareness with Dignity & Self-Esteem (P.A.D.S) educational curriculum to close the menstrual health education gap that is not part of the school curriculum by teaching students how to manage their period cycles. I designed this program because 2 out of every 3 girls who enter puberty don’t know enough about what is happening to their bodies, and the most crucial part is that they are not prepared for their first period. With this program, girls and menstruators gain knowledge, tools, information and support they need to step into this new stage of their life feeling confident.
“The third program, Period Care Menstrual Dispenser provides a cost-effective and sustainable solution to end period poverty. I have innovated, designed and branded my own Period Care Menstrual Dispenser and worked with Hillsborough County school district [Florida] to install these in all of the 37 Title I middle and high school bathrooms, impacting over 32,000 girls and students. This initiative allows menstruators to manage their cycle with dignity by having direct easy and free access to menstrual products inside school bathrooms.
“Over the past two and a half years, I have donated over 350,000 period products and impacted over 35,000 girls, women and menstruators. It is extremely important for me that every girl and menstruator in the world is equipped not only with access to menstrual hygiene products, but education as well. I want every girl and menstruator to learn to love and embrace their body, and ultimately end the stigma that so often adds shame and fear to this transition.
“My mission revolves around giving girls and menstruators confidence and speaking out. Period poverty is one of the biggest obstacles in front of girls’ education, yet very few people know about it. My goal is to change that by spreading awareness and providing a solution to end period poverty through the Global Girls Initiative programs. We cannot achieve gender equality without ending period poverty.”