Find a mentor! Without Georgia STOMP and the UGA Period Project, I would not be where I am today. It’s important to have support from tried and true leaders who know how to make things happen!
As part of my series about young people who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Deeksha Khanna.
Deeksha Khanna is a senior at Chamblee High School in Atlanta, Georgia, who is deeply passionate about improving the lives of others. Specifically, she is interested in the realm of health equity and assuring women’s menstrual health through her non-profit organization, The Elea Project. With The Elea Project, Deeksha seeks to bring menstrual hygiene tools and education to underserved members of her community through donation drives at homeless shelters and community centers, partnerships with statewide coalitions and collegiate institutions, and educational outreach efforts.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
I was born in Miami, Florida but moved to Atlanta, Georgia when I was about 3 years old. I’ve lived in Atlanta ever since and absolutely love it. Growing up, I found myself inclined toward niche subjects in math and science. Even during my rudimentary academic stages, I found studying the fundamental principles of life and the world in which we live truly exhilarating. Outside the realm of academics, I was also inclined to various athletic endeavors, including swimming, figure skating, and volleyball, which I continued on to pursue in high school! I explored various interests throughout elementary and middle school, gradually discovering my passions for social justice, social entrepreneurship, and service through volunteer endeavors I partook in my community.
Is there a particular book or organization that made a significant impact on you growing up? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
A book that has made a profound impact on me is one that I have actually read in the past couple of years: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. This book encapsulates the widespread systemic racism that once characterized the healthcare system in America and the woman, Henrietta Lacks, who dismantled this rhetoric, posthumously. Her story has invigorated me to incite palpable change at the junction of ethics, race, and medicine. As a budding laboratory scientist, the profound ramifications of HeLa cells the book expresses has instilled within me an intensified appreciation for my samples. Even moreso, I feel a heartfelt gratitude for those whose samples were taken without consent; the end certainly does not justify the means.
How do you define “Making A Difference”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
For me, making a difference means making my community a better place than when I found it. Coalescing activism and creativity, I continually forge new paths in ameliorating period poverty — a systemic issue that approximately 16.9 million Americans encounter on a daily basis — by assessing my community’s needs and making actionable plans to help meet those needs.
Ok super. Let’s now jump to the main part of our interview. You are currently leading an organization that aims to make a social impact. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?
My organization, The Elea Project, is a project geared toward alleviating period poverty and assuring women’s menstrual health in my community. Alongside donation drives, a major tenet to the project is activism; the Project seeks to dismantle the major stigma surrounding period poverty, rallying together massive audiences of nationwide leaders in the menstrual equity movement and aspiring activists, alike. The Elea Project seeks to partner with local homeless shelters, community centers, schools, major statewide coalitions like Georgia STOMP, and collegiate institutions like the University of Georgia Period Project to provide personalized
menstrual hygiene kits (containing medications, pads, tampons, wipes, and sanitizers) and menstrual hygiene education to unite and empower women in need.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
I have always been passionate about serving others, but it wasn’t until my high school years I began exploring major themes of menstrual justice, which is overarchingly a major issue in health equity. Merging my passions for social justice and entrepreneurship, I found myself following my mother’s footsteps. My mom is a gynecologic oncologist, and a major part of her work entails assuring women’s health. Inspired by her unflagging vigor toward helping others as a clinician, I decided to pursue a nuanced approach in a similar space — one that was also feasible given my age. While the news media were covering major news such as the COVID-19 pandemic, I found that period poverty, a major public health crisis, was being overshadowed significantly. Inadequate access to menstrual hygiene tools, such as sanitary products, washing facilities, and waste management, education, and more broadly the gender gap for youth living in developing countries were all running rampant.
I knew that I couldn’t, on an individual basis, tackle such a large problem impacting virtually the entire world, but by spreading the word, inviting people of all backgrounds into the conversation, I could get one step closer to my goal on eradicating period poverty.
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest them. We don’t always get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?
I am an avid podcaster. I always remain enthralled by the stories of those who remain scarred by the abominable injustices they have faced, invigorated to be a part of the change, but apprehensive of the setbacks of being vocal in the judgemental society in which we live.
Once a silent advocate, I have now found myself becoming especially vocal in the field of women’s menstrual equity through podcasts with a proclivity for public policy advocacy in reproductive rights and international human rights law through The Elea Project podcast initiative.
When I first launched The Elea Project, it was purely a donation-based organization. However, I faced many setbacks when it came to raising adequate funds to support donation drives to partnering organizations and gaining community-wide support overall. Again, I realized the root of the problem resided in the fact that the problem was so heavily overshadowed. To bring a voice to those who have made a significant mark in the realm of menstrual equity as well as those who have suffered from a lack of access to proper menstrual hygiene, providing insight to both “sides” of the narrative with an ultimate goal to unite many individuals to tackle the problem.
Many young people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?
I first launched The Elea Project by studying community-wide needs and honing in on one I found particularly stringent. For me, after visiting the Global Village Project, a school for refugee girls, I found that a lack of access to period products — and even moreso the stigma placed on menstrual hygiene — was of paramount importance to be addressed. Next, I started by creating social media handles to gain traction for the project and garner community support. These included Instagram, YouTube, Spotify (which came later for my podcast), and a website. I also formed a blog with regularly-scheduled posts about a myriad of topics from education regarding menstruation to sustainable and cheap period products.
The next step in my journey was seeking community partners, whom I contacted through cold emailing! After some relatively unsuccessful initial efforts, the project slowly began to gain traction in the Atlanta area, increasingly gaining scope in terms of impact from a community-wide to nationwide level!
A newer core facet to the project has been educational outreach, which has consisted of regularly-scheduled panel events and podcast episodes available to all!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
The most interesting moment since launching The Elea Project would be one of the earliest community partners we made with The Global Village Project, which, like I said before, is a school for refugee girls in my local community.
When I first started conducting donation drives, I would package and deliver the supplies in bulk. When I brought the supplies to Global Village Project, I was extremely excited at the prospect of my first donation drive and was especially ecstatic to meet the girls at the school! However, when I got there, one of the administrators of the school informed me that the girls would not be able to take the supplies home as I had provided and would need them to be concealed in packaging to take home. At the moment, I felt discouraged that I really had not made it any easier for them to ultimately procure supplies.
From there on out, I focused on approaching the packaging aspect with assured deliberation, placing specific amounts of pads, tampons, liners, and medications in each bag, to make individualized care packages for our recipients!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?
The funniest mistake I made when I was first starting with the networking process occurred when presenting my pitch to the Chair of Georgia STOMP, a statewide coalition dedicated toward eradicating the discriminatory tampon tax in Georgia. In the middle of our conversation, she asked me if I knew how much funding was allocated to my school for
menstrual products, and, based on my experience at school, I answered $0. As I heard her chuckle, I felt quite embarrassed, as I was simply speaking based on experience and not empirical data that had been published regarding this subject, and was surprised to learn that my school did actually receive funding for this purpose, it just wasn’t being distributed properly; hence, the lack of period products for free available use for girls at my school. While the experience was rather mortifying as it was my first true partnership pitch over the phone, the conversation truly sparked my passion for legislative advocacy in the menstrual equity sphere. We still actively work with Georgia STOMP till this day 🙂
None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?
Absolutely! Of course, my mom has served the role of both a mentor and cheerleader throughout it all. From driving me to all our partnering locations to assisting me with shipping menstrual supply products to our U.S. regional divisions outside of Georgia, my initiative would certainly not be possible without my mom.
Additionally, I would like to thank the UGA Period Project for all their support in manually assembling personal hygiene kits for all of our community partners, enabling us to assist and empower as many women in our community as possible.
Without saying specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
In the summer of 2023, we truly started expanding our scope to regional divisions nationwide. A memorable donation drive I conducted was with the Mother with Children Program at the Bridgeport Rescue Mission in Connecticut. A couple of weeks after the donation drive, I received a “thank you” letter from them, which was truly a testament to how much The Elea Project has grown since its earliest days. As I continue to expand my work with Elea, I seek to bridge the gap between disparate communities, from religiously oriented organizations like the Bridgeport Rescue Mission to underfunded homeless shelters in Metro Atlanta, inviting more people to support the cause and bolster community-wide impact.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
To make progress in tackling this problem, simply spreading community awareness through a plethora of mediums, from social media to news media, is of pinnacle importance.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of the interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each)
1. You can never plan too much! It is so essential to have contingency plans for when things go awry. A personal example from The Elea Project would be when fundraiser output begins to diminish, brainstorming new ways to gain community support!
2. Progress is never linear. Some months may be more successful than others; don’t focus on quantifying your impact, rather, focus on the journey it takes to get from Point A to Point B.
3. Find a mentor! Without Georgia STOMP and the UGA Period Project, I would not be where I am today. It’s important to have support from tried and true leaders who know how to make things happen!
4. Ask for feedback! Ask your community partners, team, mentors, etc. for feedback to continually improve upon your practices. For me, I would typically turn to my peers at the UGA Period Project, who were at similar stages in their life journey and invigorated to make tangible change in this space.
5. Network. Attend conferences and events pertaining to the space in which you are involved and stay informed about the ever-changing needs of your community! That may sometimes help shift gears in your endeavors (in my case, from providing menstrual products to disseminating menstrual hygiene education)
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
It’s so important to give back to the community that has given you the tools to do so!
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Blake Lively! She is a fierce social justice advocate, mother, and actress; I am extremely inspired by her work with the Child Rescue Coalition!
How can our readers follow you online?
The Instagram handle for The Elea Project is @theeleaproject. The YouTube handle is @TheEleaProject. The website/blog can be accessed at theeleaproject.org. The podcast can be found at The Elea Project “Empowered” podcast on Spotify. Additionally, feel free to shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org for any potential collaborations!
If you are interested in donating to The Elea Project to help sustain donation drives, please visit https://www.gofundme.com/f/the-elea-project ! Any and all support is truly appreciated.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!
Young Change Makers: Why and How Deeksha Khanna of The Elea Project Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.