Seventeen-year-old Sikha Patra comes from the slums of Kolkata, where poor sanitation is common. Yet she hasn’t accepted her environment’s limitations.
She has found out a way to collect health data and raise awareness about issues like vaccination in her community.
Sikha along with other kids became part of a group called The Daredevils.
The group was founded by the Prayasam founder Amlan Ganguly. The members of this non-profit NGO coach children across Kolkata to become change agents to improve public health and hygiene in their communities.
The kids disseminate what they learn to their peers and to older generations with story-telling techniques that include puppetry, comics, and role-playing.
The children grab the attention of sometimes-skeptical adults through paper megaphones. “There will be polio vaccines at the club this Sunday. Please come, and bring your children,” they say.
Educating other is no always easy as Sikha has to face obstacles in her work. She said people used to discourage her, but that has not slowed her down.
“Parents did not want to let their children go with us to polio booths. So, we had to do a lot of work in the community to gain trust,” she adds.
She adds that when they started the work, only 40-60 per cent children were getting the polio vaccine, but due to their efforts it later rose to 90 per cent.
But despite their house-to-house approach, the group was not able to achieve their target. They want that everyone i.e. 100 per cent children should get the vaccine.
For that, Shikha and the Daredevils wanted reliable data about the number of children in their community and how many did not get vaccines. So, the group collaborated with Map Your World project to collect the required data.
Using smartphones, they gathered house numbers, health-related statistics, and made the community visible on Google and to the rest of the world.
Sikha, who admits that she loves to tell stories, has also made a short film, The River of Life.
The film highlights the problems like child marriage, illiteracy, etc., being faced by the girls in her community. It was selected for the Adobe Youth Voices programme which was held in San Francisco.
Besides that, Sikha and the group have also appeared in the documentary The Revolutionary Optimists.
Her efforts and determination have also won accolades on the global stage. In 2014, she found a place in Melinda Gates’s list of ‘Most Inspiring Women and Girls I met This Year.’
“At the dinner table, where I sat next to her, Melinda ma’am had asked me if I believed in fate. I told her ‘my fate is what I do’,” she said.
She was also selected as a Youth Champion in the youth campaign against child marriage, launched by UNICEF and the Department of Social Welfare, Government of West Bengal.
Adding another feather to her cap, Sikha Patra, along with her team member Salim Shekh, presented her work at the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship at Oxford University.
Sikha is studying commerce at Belgachhia Manohar Academy, and wants to be a filmmaker.
“As a girl, I’m told things happen because of fate. But it’s the things I do, not luck, that determine my fate. Luck is just a word,” she said.
We salute Sikha who is determined to write her own destiny and is inspiring others to write theirs.