Publication Date: November 3, 2015
Publication Location: BRATTLEBORO, VT
Contact: Kathryn Schoenberger   |   [email protected]

World Learning and its School for International Training (SIT) congratulates Divya Bhatia, the newest recipient of the Alice Rowan Swanson Fellowship, which returns alumni of its undergraduate study abroad programs to their host countries to conduct human rights projects.

Bhatia, of Sharon, Mass., is a fall 2013 alumna of the International Honors Program (IHP) in Health and Community: Globalization, Culture, and Care. A recent graduate of Brown University, she majored in health and human biology with a concentration in global health and development.

Bhatia plans to use her fellowship to address the prevalent issues of girls’ and women’s poor school attendance and low literacy rates in Udaipur, in the northern Indian state of Rajasthan. She will work with community health workers at Seva Mandir, a local nongovernmental organization, which facilitates village development through education and women’s empowerment groups. Seva Mandir determined that girls between the ages of 10 and 16 quit or miss school monthly during their menstrual cycles because of a lack of awareness around sanitary health practices. The number of women who use sanitary napkins is low because they are expensive and many end up using unhygienic materials including rags, sand, or leaves. By building and deepening relationships among girls, women, community health workers, and schools within the community, Bhatia’s project seeks to strengthen women’s networks. Bhatia also aims to facilitate the creation of a self-help microfinance business group to produce locally-made, affordable sanitary napkins and increase sanitary practice awareness. These efforts will help empower local women and ultimately improve girls’ school attendance and increase women’s employment opportunities in Udaipur.

Bhatia is originally from India, however prior to IHP, she had not spent a significant amount of time in the country. “Being raised in the US, I had never really realized how important the differences in societal expectations of men and women can be,” she explained. “It was during IHP in India that, for the first time, I actually realized what it meant to be female. Living with a homestay family in urban Delhi and traveling in rural India, I realized there were so many social norms that are highly gendered. IHP enabled me to ask really good questions about the inequities I saw and think about why those health and gender inequalities exist.”

In order to implement her project, she will purchase machinery developed by an Indian entrepreneur to produce napkins for sale, which will generate revenue to sustain production. The method uses cotton from clothing donated to Sevan Mandir, as well as excess cotton from local textile factories and bamboo, which is grown in the area, to create the napkins. Bhatia will teach this user-friendly process to local women, and implement sanitary education to encourage women and girls to adopt more hygienic practices with the goal of increasing school attendance and literacy rates.

The family of Alice Rowan Swanson created the fellowship as a living tribute to Alice, an Amherst College alumna who died in a 2008 bicycle accident in Washington, DC. Rowan Swanson was inspired to work in international development and human rights following her SIT Study Abroad experience in Nicaragua in 2006.

The next round of Alice Rowan Swanson Fellowship will be conducted in March 2016. To learn more about the fellowship, eligibility, or to download an application, visit the Alice Rowan Swanson Fellowship web page.