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Shalini Sahu is our young child rights crusader from Odisha who has been spreading awareness among her community around the issues of child marriage, Sexual & Reproductive Health and more. A beneficiary of our programmes, she is our Youth Champion and is now set to shine at the Women Deliver 2019 Conference in Vancouver, Canada which will be held between 3 – 6 June, 2019. Shalini has reached Canada and will be sharing her everyday experience in a Daily Diary.

June 6, 2019

Today was the last day of the Women Deliver 2019 Conference. As I am penning down my experience, the whole week flashes before me. The week just flew by. But every minute of it will be etched in my memory for life. As on the previous days, our first stop was at the booth. This was the designated area where we engaged with participants and delegates using our interactive presentation on Sexual Rights and Reproductive Health issues. It was encouraging to hear from almost everyone who attended my session that the demonstration model with the special apron was a simple and illustrative tool for teaching adolescent and young people.

My new friend from Aminata (whom I fondly call Dadi Amma – meaning grandmother), has gifted me a very special musical instrument from her country. She said that it would help me in drawing attention of people while organizing street theatre and my sessions back home. My eyes turned moist. I suddenly realized that this may be my last meeting with her. I have formed a unique bond with my dear Dadi Amma, and I will find ways to keep in touch. She has my heart.

We started walking to another venue to attend a panel discussion. After the discussion, I met with Indian delegate – Dr. Dinesh Baswal, Dy. Commissioner who was representing Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India and Dr. Aparajita Gogoi, National Convener- White Ribbon Alliance. In my brief interaction with them, they gave me some very useful guidance, which I will include in my sessions when I go back. Since sexual rights and reproductive health closely relate with people-centered care, they said it is important that people access their rights but they must access and receive it with dignity and care – a very important message. I thought about it for long after.

When I go back home, I want to meet officials in my district and hopefully the Chief Minister of my state, Odisha. When I do, I want to share with them, not just what we are doing in my community but the wealth of learning I am taking with me. It is not about me alone but about many more girls and adolescents and untapped potential that can contribute to the wave of change. And if my Chief Minister can lead the action on empowering girls, India can and the whole world can.

Oh, I must tell you, I joined Bal Raksha Bharat Canada photo action holding the message  #stopwaronchildren, which is the new global campaign of Bal Raksha Bharat.

In another 24 hours, I will be on a flight back to India. The clock is ticking and soon it will be time to say goodbye to this lovely city. Thank you for reading my diary. I am already beginning to miss my dearest Dadi Amma. But the musical instrument will continue to remind me of her and her inspiring presence. When I return, there is so much more to do and so much to share with my community and friends.

June 5, 2019

It feels like I only came yesterday. Four days have run by so quickly. It is my day 5 in this beautiful city. We took the bus from our hotel to Burrard Street stop. Then we walked down to the Canadian Convention Center. The air is clean and the sky is so clear and blue.

There was a buzz at the booth. We had to draw people to come to our booth so we could tell them more about our work as More than Brides Alliance (MTBA). It was fun. I had a session at the booth, where I had to share my journey as a youth advocate against child marriage. I discussed the need to involve boys to tackle the problem of child marriage. I also talked about the importance of inclusion of girls in various vocational trainings, so they can work and earn their own living. This can give girls the power to take decisions and have a voice.

I also demonstrated to the visitors about this special kit we have on Sexual & Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR). This is an interactive kit. For example, it has aprons with male and female reproductive organs that makes it easy to explain to people. When I wore the apron, lot of people came to me out of curiosity. It was a fun-filled day with various new experiences. The audience present at the booth applauded after hearing about my work at the community level with Bal Raksha Bharat and it was truly a gratifying experience for me.

I made many new friends here. I must tell you about Aminiata from Malawi. Though we cannot understand each other’s language as she speaks French and I mostly speak Hindi, we can still somehow understand each other. She is very caring and probably because of her mother-like affection (through her gestures) that she shows towards me.

Today, an official from the World Health Organization (WHO) walked over to our booth and praised me for my work on the issue of child marriage. She even gave me glittering bags as a token to my contribution towards girl empowerment. That gesture was special and I will always remember this.I felt so good, to be appreciated by so many people from so many different parts of the world. It is a special feeling. I smile to myself.
Today, the day ended with a cultural programme, followed by dinner. I was extremely excited to see the Indian Food Corner. But it wasn’t just me, I saw a lot of foreigners swarming to savour delicacies from my country.
Today was full of so many specials. I must remember to write every bit of today before I sleep tonight.

June 4, 2019

It’s my fourth day in the city and the second day at the Women Deliver- 2019, conference. The day starts early. We have to be at the venue by 8:45 in the morning.
After getting ready for the conference, we boarded the bus to reach the venue, along with other team members from different countries. We reached the Canada Convention Center around 8:45 am. At the Center, we headed to More Than Brides Alliance booth, where I had a one-a-half hour session on issues related to child marriage. I was nervous, but I reminded myself that I am here to represent my country and other girls like me. That gave me a sudden charge of responsibility and confidence. I will give it my best.

I spoke before a large number of audience, some 100 people, about the issue of child marriage and why we must address it.
Imagine who dropped by at the booth during my session. The First Lady of Canada Sophie Trudeau, She was lovely, I introduce myself and even took a picture with her, something which served as the most memorable moment of the event so far.

The day ahead is busy. Immediately after the first session, we rushed to the next side event of Bal Raksha Bharat on Girl Talk: Ending Child Marriage with the Power to hold Power to Account. I attended two power-packed panel discussions on the many ways in which governments and communities are being made more accountable to women and girls.
I was asked about my views as a youth advocate on important steps to tackle child marriage in India and what young people like me can do in this direction.

The panel discussion was moderated by Ms. Carolyn Miles. She is the CEO of Bal Raksha Bharat US. During the Q&A session,I was asked the maximum number of questions by the audience. And I answered them all.
At the end of my session, I could hear the audience applauding me. This was a special moment. I never had imagined that I would be speaking at such big global platform traveling all the way from my village in Nuapada in Odisha. It is a dream come true. I pinch myself.
It is already 7:30 pm. So even when it is late evening, it is still light outside unlike in India.

June 3, 2019

It was an early start to the day. We want to be there early so we don’t miss even a second of what the day has in store.

We started our day at 8:00 am. A 10-minute bus ride takes us to the Convention Centre. I see the waterfront and I knew we have arrived.

There are other colleagues from Bal Raksha Bharat and More Than Brides Alliance . We had breakfast together. We had, I was told, famous English breakfast. After breakfast we had security and logistics briefing session to help us navigate a new city.  Followed by information about the conference and sessions and other important details about the Women Deliver 2019 Conference. 

I saw teams from different countries were setting up the exhibition and booth area. And we headed to our booth where the teams are giving it the final touch. I turned to see a huge poster, a poster with my photo. I laughed, immensely overwhelmed.

By the time our booth is finally ready, it is time for a quick lunch before we head to the formal inauguration. It was a grand hall. A gathering of almost 8000 people. The Conference opened with a reverberating music performance by Canada’s Red Indian community.

And what followed after, you will know, was a historic moment. The Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau arrived to a roaring cheer from the audience. His speech was powerful and moving. I pen down some of things he said that left a deep impact on me. “We are not powerless. It’s up to us to fight back. All of us – women, men, gender diverse people, neighbours and allies across communities, all of us together, all of us standing strong on gender justice worldwide have to play a role.”

He talked about the power of a choice and a voice. Later I heard, the Prime Minister announced a huge amount of funds towards empowering women and girls.

When I return, I wish to meet our Prime Minister, share with him my experience. I want to also tell him that girls and women, when given equal opportunities to learn and grow, can be a leaders  and Agents of Change for the whole country.

June 2, 2019

After a long flight from Delhi, we landed in Vancouver for the Women Deliver 2019 Conference. I am told that about 7000 people from around the world are gathered here for the next four days to talk about issues affecting young girls and women around the world. I am here to not just represent my village or community but women and girls in my country.  This is a big opportunity to share my experiences and learn a lot from so many participants. I want to make most of it.

After checking into our hotel, we headed to the Vancouver Convention Centre located in the heart of Downtown Vancouver. The centre has the harbour front setting, and it is a beautiful view with vast expanse of water and clear blue sky. The first thing that struck me was the huge Holland America Liner that was anchored just next to the Convention Center. While I was absorbing my surrounding, I suddenly felt, ‘Am I really here?” I actually am, in this city far away from my village in Nuapada, located in the eastern state of Odisha in India. The region is known for its rich tribal culture and some famous temples too.

After a hearty breakfast, we went to the registration area. The inside of the Convertion Centre was huge. I look around to see colourful banners, posters and signage to direct people to different areas. It is the first day. I see a lot of people have arrived to attend the conference.

We go out for a stroll along the downtown.

The conference will open tomorrow. Some pre-conference events have already begun. We attended one of the sessions on Sexual &Reproductive Health (SRH) issues and the role of young people in leading the change.

Her Excellency, Princess Mabel of Orange-Nassau of Netherlands (also the Chair of Girls Not Brides Alliancemade her opening remark, where she emphasised on the power of youth, especially girls in tackling  SRH and HIV related issues. It was a wonderful opportunity for me to hear and interact with youth representatives from other countries who are working on the issues related to HIV-SRH.

I am looking forward to tomorrow. I am excited and cannot wait to experience every bit of what the next few days have to offer.

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