Published October 20, 2020
Aanchal Yadav admits she was initially “befuddled.” Like other peers, she wanted to do something big, to have an impact on a global scale.
Yadav was also ambitious, goal-oriented and wanted to build qualities that impressed future employers. And since this is global engagement à la COVID-19, that meant mastering the world of remote learning.
So when she first got involved in the Experiential Learning Network’s reusable sanitary pad project, she helped fundraise, and read survey questions given to young women in Tanzania who would benefit from the initiative.
But she needed to do more. Traditional coursework focuses on summarizing work in a report or paper. But the ELN Project Portal model is different. She had to produce something meaningful for her identified audience.
Yadav’s story twists and turns more than others. But her final accomplishment — a video and PDF designed to inspire UB students to engage in ambitious projects similar to hers — is another object lesson to students hoping to mix personal ambitions with the satisfaction of doing something global — all within the limitations of a pandemic.
“Many more deep and fragile issues require the attention of youth like us to give those issues a voice,” says Yadav, a junior communication major with a minor in business management.
“It’s super-important to engage in such issues, and when the project is done and you look at it, the feeling is priceless. You have made a difference.”
For Mara Huber, associate dean for undergraduate research and experiential learning who guided Yadav through the process, Yadav is a shining example of someone who fought through the unsettling feeling of not knowing how to do something that, in ELN language, “adds value” and is bigger than herself.
“These global projects can feel overwhelming,” Huber says. “Especially for our ambitious and high-achieving students used to having clear goals and targets to work toward, the ambiguity and lack of structure can be scary.”
“The notion of how college students can make a difference while pursuing their own professional goals is very important, particularly now,” she narrates at the beginning of her video.
“Students are struggling to build resumes but unable to pursue internships or research opportunities. This is the story of how I figured it out — and the idea of sharing my journey to help other students see what it takes to invest your efforts in something deep and meaningful. It wasn’t a straight or easy journey, but I stuck with it, and it was worth the investment.”
Yadav, an international student born in New Delhi, India, but raised all of her life in Lagos, Nigeria, began her PDF presentation stating the issue.
“Young women face considerable challenges identified with the feminine cycles and often miss school during their periods,” she writes in the introduction.
“When I heard about the reusable sanitary pad project, it was that very instant I knew I wanted to be part of this. I knew I wanted use this opportunity to make an impact and spread awareness.
“Many girls use old rags, leaves and tissue paper to support themselves during menstruation,” she writes. “Not using the right type of pad can lead to health complications, many of which girls aren’t aware of. Being a girl and woman myself, I felt the need to raise my voice, educate and help the other girls around me in this journey. Because they are not alone, we are all in this together.”
The survey she worked on showed that 45% of these girls don’t go to classes when they are in feminine cycles, remaining home for up to seven days. Ninety percent develop parasitic sickness because of materials they use. Many drop out because of unclean materials.
Ultimately, Yadav used her networks to encourage others to sign on. Her family in Lagos spread the word to friends and family. She urged her well-cultivated Linkedin contacts to donate even $1. “My connections further spread the word ahead to their connections,” she said, “and in no time it became a chain.”
Huber called the end project “quite magnificent.” It connected with Yadav’s impressive skillset that Huber said would apply in whatever field she chooses.
“She threw herself into our program,” Huber said, “grappling with ambiguity, and eventually finding clarity regarding her goals and purpose.
“As students become passionate about issues and ideas, they activate their own resources to add value in ways that extend beyond their own abilities and immediate reach.”
Yadav remembers the challenge of working through the uncertainty and feeling lost. She eventually enjoyed the challenges, knowing she was growing as an individual.
“I just want to do more and more and achieve so much,” she said, “that when I look back, I feel proud of myself and my achievements.”