What happens when a group of young citizens comes together to make a difference in their community? This was the question with which Kanav Chavan began the journey towards creating Yug Foundation. Started as a WhatsApp group in 2017 under the name Youth Unity Group, this foundation now has several projects under its belt and impressive numbers to show. Founded on the principals of Seva (service), Sayhog (cooperation) and Samarpan (complete dedication), this NGO focus on menstrual health, hygiene and awareness for young girls, distribution of school supplies to government aided and non-aided schools, as well as food distribution for marginalized communities in Pune city. “From the time I was very young, I had seen my parents doing social work. They were part of Vidyarthi Seva Samiti, a 50 year old organization, that supports and celebrates the academic achievements of children from underprivileged backgrounds. So I always knew that social work would be a big part of my life as well.”
Taking a cue from the social work his parents had done, Kanav and his friends started with distribution of school supplies. It was on one such supply drive at a blind school for girls in Kothrud, Pune, that the Yug Foundation found its next purpose. The teacher at the school told the volunteers that the girls did not have sanitary napkins. What was even more concerning was that they had no knowledge regarding menstrual cycles. “There are so many myths and false information about menstrual health and hygiene. So along with distribution of sanitary napkins we decided to do an awareness session as well,” says Kanav. Coincidentally, the year, Kanav had a personal milestone in his own family. “I remember the date very clearly. It was 11th November, 2017, and my daughter who was then 11 years old got her first chums that day. I will never forget that day!”
And thus, the Yug Foundation started the Give Her Confidence (GHC) campaign to empower young girls with knowledge and awareness about menstrual health while also supplying a year’s worth of pads for each girl. Usually one of the female group members conducts a 1.5 hour session, followed by a Q&A session. To ensure that pads have reached the girls and to measure the impact of the awareness session, the Foundation conducts a survey a few months after the activity. 20 girls from each school, spanning 7th to 10th standard are surveyed.
This increase in awareness about menstrual health has resulted in another outcome, which was both positive and unexpected. “When we started this initiative, we didn’t know how much menstrual health and school attendance were interlinked. Because of a lack of sanitary hygiene, a lot of girls don’t show up to schools on those particular days.” Now, the Foundation works with the school teachers to see that the attendance is kept up, and even works with parents of certain students to ensure that the girls show up to school. In the last four years of its existence, the organization has worked with over 13,000 girls in more than 400 schools under the GHC campaign.
Apart from the GHC, the Yug Foundation also runs a campaign for food distribution in the slum areas of Pune under the name Bhukh Mukt Pune. Once a month, the organization distributes an average of 250 food packets that include rice, sugar, oil, salt and pulses to families in Phulenagar, Indiranagar and other bastis in Pune city. As with their other campaigns, the Bhukh Mukt Pune campaign is also well organized and regularly assessed for impact using a diet chart. During the Covid-19 lockdown, the Yug Foundation distributed more than 9,000 kilos of foodgrains, 200 face shields and more 800 sanitary napkin packets.
Currently, the organization is run by 20 dedicated volunteers and 600 contributors from all over Pune. Despite the scale of their projects, there are still many challenges. “The biggest challenge for any NGO is to win people’s faith. Only when you do that can you get the volunteers, funds and support you need. Which is why we encourage our contributors to come along and see that their work is reaching the right beneficiaries. When you invest in a stock, you do research. So it is only wise to research social assets as well.” His advice to others who wish to do community service is to stick it out for the first year at the very minimum. “It is also important to be organized and disciplined. Maintaining records of your impact is equally crucial,” he says.
Giving Circle supports the Yug Foundation in creating measurable impact in their community through their network of young volunteers. We hope that you, dear reader, will support and encourage them as well!