Moved by the plight and agony of underprivileged girls at government schools who had to miss classes, with some even dropping out from school, due to lack of menstrual hygiene facilities, Sugirda Nishanth from RC Madras North, RID 3232, initiated Project Kannamma in August 2018. It began with the giving of sanitary pads and undergarments to 82 girls at a Government High School, Uthandi, near Chennai, along with regular medical check-ups, says Sugirda, Project Chair.
During her interaction with girls, she found that they used dirty rags, hay, dry leaves and even ash wrapped in covers and other crude alternatives for want of affordable pads during menstruation. “Apart from urinary tract infections, the hapless girls were also exposed to the risk of cervical cancer. Worse, they were not aware of the harmful effects of using such means during menstruation,” she recalls.
A State-level carrom player had to skip a national meet and some top-scoring girls were not able to concentrate on their studies, all for want of access to safe, quality pads during menstruation. Project Kannamma reaches out to over 1,500 school girls with free sanitary pads and they were also exposed to ‘motivational talks’ by Rotarians and experts on menstrual health management (MHM).
Now, Kannamma pads will be distributed to thousands of girls in deprived areas, slums and marginalised societies in and around Chennai, thanks to the Sathyabama Institute of Science and Technology Chancellor Mariazeena Johnson, who has donated ₹3.5 lakh for the purchase of a sanitary pad making machine from ‘Padman’ Arunachalam Muruganantham. Dr MGR-Janaki College for Women Chairman Rtn Kumar Rajendran has provided the space in this college to set up the vocational centre.
“Initially, this centre will produce 40,000 pads in a month in a single shift. Out of this, we intend to set aside 8,000 pads (1,000 packets) for free distribution. The rest (32,000 pads) will be sold at an affordable rate of ₹25 for a pack of eight pads.”
Jobs for special girls
In a touching gesture, RI Director Kamal Sanghvi called on all the six speech and hearing-impaired girls who are employed at the pad making unit and feted them by pinning special badges on them during the inauguration of the vocational centre on the premises of Dr MGR-Janaki College of Arts and Science for Women. He announced that his home district (RID 3250) will sponsor 50 per cent of amount to set up two such pad-making centres if clubs in Chennai were ready to replicate the model adopted by RC Madras North.
He urged Sugirda to give a feedback report on the livelihood status of girls employed at the centre after they started working here. “The girls studying in this college must also put in volunteer hours at the centre and distribute pads to the poor for a healthier society,” he said.
In his address, PRID P T Prabhakar said the MHM was part of Global WinS project (chaired by him) in which Sanghvi was the Liaison Director. “In Chennai alone, around 100 tonnes of waste is being generated through commercial pads on a daily basis and hence, it is critical to produce eco-friendly, safe and cost-effective pads for mass consumption.”
He requested Sanghvi to replicate Project Kannamma in at least 100 Rotary centres for a concerted drive to usher in menstrual hygiene among school girls in India. RID 3232 DG G Chandramohan said the vocational centre will further enhance the reach of Rotary among school girls and provide them with hygiene solutions. He called upon the club to explore the possibility of setting up such need-based vocational centres in other colleges and institutions across Chennai.
PDG G Olivannan, Project Advisor, RC Madras North President M Ganapathi, Secretary John Frederick, State BJP General Secretary Vanathi Srinivasan and retired IPS officer and legislator R Natarajan spoke on the occasion.
Pictures by V Muthukumaran