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Scindia Kanya Vidyalaya’s low-cost sanitary napkins’ manufacturing unit, spearheaded by Principal Nishi Misra, has engendered a host of positive outcomes

SKV has established a manufacturing unit to produce low-cost sanitary napkins to provide an unbroken supply to 250 women in an impoverished village of snake-charmers in Madhya Pradesh. Alongside, the project has helped break taboos, improve standards of women’s hygiene…

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It is heartening when schools fulfil their larger purpose as institutions of learning and change. The idealism of youth, powered by the proactive guidance of dynamic educators, can lead to dramatic social transformation. SKV – Sankalp, the initiative by Scindia Kanya Vidyalaya (SKV), Gwalior, is a classic example. SKV has established a manufacturing unit to produce low-cost sanitary napkins to provide an unbroken supply to 250 women in an impoverished village of snake-charmers in Madhya Pradesh. Alongside, the project has helped break taboos, improve standards of women’s hygiene, inculcate gender-sensitization, boost indigenous machines, provide jobs in an entrepreneurial venture, and encourage community service. Here is how they went about it…

Research

The girls at SKV Gwalior, under the guidance of Principal Nishi Misra, sought opportunities to provide meaningful community service in and around their city.  With her help, they conducted research and surveys for over 15 months. Their data showed that a large population of Gwalior lives in slums, with no access to basic services like water and sanitation, imposing severe hardship, especially on the female population. Hygiene and cleanliness, which is vital to women’s health, is poor and on the lowest priority. Awareness and availability of hygiene products like sanitary napkins is absent. When satisfying the basic needs of life is a constant struggle, buying expensive sanitary napkins available in the market is out of the question. As a result, the women resort to unhygienic alternatives ranging from rags, to leaves and even sand!

Project Identification

The Principal and the students recognized this problem and applied themselves to finding a way to supply sanitary napkins to the underprivileged women of two villages. After intense brainstorming and research, they identified a low cost sanitary napkin manufacturing unit. This fully indigenous machine was designed, created and tested by A. Muruganantham of Jayaashree Industries, Coimbatore. The machine uses bio degradable materials like banana fibre to make low cost sanitary napkins and can be run by students after minimal training. The Principal travelled to Coimbatore to inspect the machine. Convinced  of  its  efficacy,  she  set  the  ball  rolling  to  procure  it.

Funding

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Excited at the prospect of this hugely meaningful service, the team set about finding ways to finance this machine and the first consignment of raw material.  Funds  were  raised  from funfairs, house sales, contributions from alumni  and  from The Friends of Round Square, an  international  organisation, of  which  the  school is  a  member.  The  machine  arrived  and  was  installed  amidst  great  curiosity  and  enthusiasm  among  the  students  and  staff.  The simple training for working the machines was imparted to a pioneering group of staff and students.

Manufacturing

The simple machines  are  laid  out  on  8  stations –  each  the  size  of  a  student’s  study  desk.  The  process  begins  with  tearing  the  raw-cotton sheets  and  mixing  with binding cotton  in  a  Mixer Jar.  The material is weighed and 12 grams of material is portioned into moulds, which are    compressed under an air-powered stamp. After inserting a water-proof strip, this initial napkin is sealed into absorbent tissue-cloth.  An adhesive is applied and covered with a strip of oil-paper which can be stripped off to set the napkin in place. A maternity version with longer ‘tails’ is also being manufactured. At the end of the assembly line, the napkin is sterilised in a UV chamber. Sets of 8 napkins are packed together with cling-film and are ready for distribution.

Distribution

The team targets the distribution of the napkins to 250 women in the village of Zagra on the outskirts of Gwalior with a sustained and unbroken supply. The Principal created batches of students whom she trained to spend time with the women to educate them about the use and disposal of the napkins. 

Entrepreneurship Model

Many hospitals, NGOs  and  Missions have approached Principal Nishi Misra, expressing interest in purchasing this product on account of its unbelievably low cost.  The huge demand for the product has set her thinking of working out a small scale industry model in order to make it self-sustaining. The Principal commissioned her Commerce students to develop a Business Model Summary to set up the unit in villages as an entrepreneurial venture.  The women of the village are organised into Self Help Groups around this undertaking. They gain livelihood as well as raise the standards of hygiene over a larger area.   

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Outreach

The first unit has been set up in Jarga. The Davies Peace Project has recognised this initiative and funded units for one more village: Veerpur. Mrs  Misra  has  been  awarded  the  Alexander  Award  by  the  Common-wealth  Association  for  Science, Technology, Mathematics  &  Education  (CASTME)  for  this  initiative.

Gender  Sensitization

Though  SKV  is  an  all-girls  school,  Mrs  Misra  encourages  students  of both  genders  to   contribute ‘shram-daan’ (service by labour) and earn ‘volunteer  hours’.  She  has  invited  boys and girls of many schools  in the country and abroad, to  sign up for the ‘shram-daan’  by  building  it  as  an  activity  during  Youth  Festivals  that  are held  at  the  school.  She  has  trained  the  school  Biology  teacher  to  impart  a  briefing  and  sensitisation  regarding  the  menstrual  cycle  of  the  human  female  and  its  implications  to  students  of  both  genders.  They  work  on  manufacturing  the  napkins  and  assist  in  their distribution  at  the  village.  This  will  certainly  go  a  long  way  in  gender sensitization  of  the  youth.
The initiative of setting up this unit to produce and distribute sanitary napkins to underprivileged women, is named SKV-Sankalp – which in Sanskrit means,  a resolution taken by SKV  to help women live with dignity.

Breaking Taboos

There are several taboos attached to menstruation in our country. Nishi Misra shares, “We  experienced  this  first  hand  during  the  planning  and  roll-out  of  this  project.  Curiously,  it  was  not  the  young  students or the  young  village  women  who  had  issues  regarding  it. It  was  the  middle-aged  women,  both  in  the  village  and  at  school,  whose  reactions  ranged from  hushed  tones  to  outright  derogatory comments. Some of  my  own  female  staff  in  our  school  spoke  to  me  about  it  in  hushed,  almost  conspiratorial  tones,  saying, ‘Why  are  we  putting  up  this  machine  where  men  will  be  able  to  see  it?’  At  the  village,  an  elderly  woman  shouted  at  me,  ‘Don’t  you  have  any  shame  at  distributing   items  like  this?’

“At  first,  I  thought  that  this  was the  case  only  in  our  country. But  when  I  was  making  a  presentation  on  the  project  at  an  international  conference  in  Johannesburg,  South  Africa,  several  women  came  up  to  me  asking  for  more  details.  When  we  were  planning  a  time slot  for  me  to  address  their  questions,  a  teacher  from  Australia  said, ‘Let’s  have  the  session  when  the  men  are  not  around!’

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“The taboo is obviously present across classes and countries.  But  the  most  astonishing  was  the  fact  that  this  was the reaction only of the women, not  the men. What’s more, the students and their parents have all been very open and excited about the project.”

This article was originally published in the July 2017 issue of ScooNews magazine. Subscribe to ScooNews Magazine today to have more such stories delivered to your desk every month. 

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