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We are standing in a small yellow-walled room on the first floor of the Sulabh Public School, in which there are four tables adorned by steel grey and red pieces of machinery and containers full of snow-like wood pulp. Three kids are roaming around effortlessly switching from one machine to the other, all of them dedicated to making a sanitary pad. Ananya, one of the three kids, has taken the initiative to take us through them one by one, explaining to us the simple yet meticulous procedure of making a sanitary pad
“First, we break the wood pulp into little pieces and then grind them in the de-fibration machine for 2-3 minutes,” explains Ananya, as she fills up a bucket-like steel container with small pieces of white wood pulp. She affixes the cover back when she’s done and explains the very first process of making a sanitary pad in Muruganantham’s low-cost sanitary pad making mini-machine.
Ananya is a class 9th student of Shiv Vani Modern Senior Secondary School, who got affiliated with the Sanitation Club in Sulabh Public School when they conducted a workshop about sanitation and hygiene in their school.
As Ananya recalls, “I joined the club in class 7th and I had no knowledge about what periods or menstruation is. We were never taught about it in school. When I joined this club, that’s when I was made to understand what these words meant and how it is a natural process.”
This room is dedicated to the Sanitary making Unit of the Sanitation Club of the school. Aimed at educating the children about sanitary hygiene, health, and menstruation, the Sanitation Club is an inter-school activity club, where the students learn the process of menstrual hygiene management through pad-making; toilet cleaning; hand washing etc.
As we talk to the children, we slowly get to know their motives behind joining this club. Ghazal, a class 8th student of Government Girls Senior Secondary School, who is also a part of the Sanitation Club says, “I was never able to discuss periods with my mother, but through this platform, I actually got to learn about it, and I have found a place where I can openly have discussions about periods.”
The machine that they use to produce pads, is none other than the much acclaimed low-cost sanitary pad making machine, which was featured in the Oscar-winning documentary Period. End of Sentence and Padman.
The coordinator present with the children, Samiksha Das Manapatra, explains how Sanitation Club conducts workshops in different schools around Delhi to spread awareness about menstrual hygiene management and invites other students outside their school to join their club.
“This club is just like a channel, through which we want to spread awareness from one place to another. We start at the school because we consider children as the change agents and when we teach a child – we teach a family, we teach a community,” says Samiksha, elaborating on the reasons behind establishing this practice in schools.
“The reason we started talking about menstrual hygiene is when we observed girls dropping off from school once they hit puberty. We believe that when a period starts, a new life starts for a girl.”
According to her, they don’t want menstruation to be just a point of discussion, they want to provide education, information and basic knowledge on what is a period and they want to do it through the children.
How they engage the children is through activities like learning programs, campaigns, exhibitions, rallies, competitions, videos, and games. These are the basic tools through which children like to motivate others.
According to her, the majority of the time, women are not aware of the correct facts about menstruation, either they get it from friends which may not be accurate or they read it through textbooks which are generally difficult to understand properly.
The experience that they’ve had while conducting these workshops is that while everybody knows what a sanitary napkin is, the people in government schools and rural areas are not aware that why this is important and why do they need to spend on it when they can use the money somewhere else.
As Ghazal says, “This mentality is because pads like Whisper and Stayfree cost a lot and people are dismayed and find it useless to invest in pads.”
The good thing about the sanitary pads these students make is that they are cheap, affordable and durable. And the fact that they are made exclusively by students, and the process to make these pads is very easy adds a cherry to the cake.
“We not only educate about the usage of pads but also educate them about their disposal as well as inform women who’re using clothes, on how they can manage it properly.”
The basic challenges that they face are the language of spreading awareness, acceptability of this topic, and the mindset that people have regarding menstruation. To come over these obstacles of language, they take the help of the people who are localized and are able to explain to others the importance of sanitary hygiene in a native language.
They’ve come a long in breaking myths, and their dedication in the way they explain everything tells us that they have a long way to go. What started out as an activity for many students, has truly had the power to make menstruation a better experience for many girls and women.
As Samiksha says, “If we want to develop or change society, we have to get out of our comfort zone and go out in the open to talk about it.”