Around 23 per cent of girls, mostly from rural India, drop out of schools after reaching puberty due to lack of menstrual hygiene in public places and institutions, says a UN survey. While a 2014 report by the NGO Dasra titled Spot On! found that nearly 23 million girls quit school annually for want of proper menstrual hygiene facilities which include availability of sanitary napkins and logical awareness of menstruation. After considering this grim scenario, RAC Guwahati Luit, RID 3240, started its ambitious project We For Her, that involves distribution of sanitary pads to rural girls following a short seminar on menstrual hygiene for the beneficiaries.
DRRE Tushar Jalan, as charter president of the club, found a ready partner in Rtr Pulkit Bansar from RAC Siliguri Greater, RID 3240, to take this project targeting rural school girls to greater heights over the last two years. “Till date, we have given 1.1 lakh sanitary pads to 7,950 girls through a network of 36 clubs from Rotary, Rotaract, Interact and Inner Wheel organisations across 17 RI districts in India, Nigeria and Bangladesh,” says Jalan.
Every year, on March 8 – International Women’s Day, the Rotaractors, along with a team of doctors, visit rural schools in Guwahati and other North Eastern States and parts of Bengal under RID 3240, to hold a menstrual hygiene seminar for around an hour. This is followed by distribution of sanitary pads to girl students. “During this seminar, we educate the rural girls on how and why to use such pads; the ways to dispose them; and give suggestions to improve their hygiene. Qutie often, we find parents attending the sessions bombarding us with questions and thus, the seminar extends to nearly three hours at times,” he explains. While some clubs make it a week-long project, others distribute pads over the year based on their convenience.
Over 30,000 sanitary pads were distributed by 17 clubs of the Rotary family to 1,950 girls across eight RI districts in 2017–18, the first year of We For Her project. The lead club did a sample survey to find out the effect of their project. “We are happy to report that around 1,650 (out of 1,950 beneficiaries) have taken to the habit of using pads regularly even after six months, time till the gifted pads last.”
The project crossed borders to encompass Nigeria and Bangladesh in the second year and “the results were most gratifying for us. We distributed 80,000 pads to over 6,000 rural girls at 47 places across the three countries.”
In the last two years, the project has incurred an expenditure of ₹5.5 lakh for purchasing and distributing the pads. “However, the clubs bear the expenditure related to marketing and publicity material such as posters, besides taking care of the logistics,” explains Jalan.
Jalan has reached an understanding with DGE Subhasish Chatterjee that both the district Rotary and Rotaract clubs would join hands to make We For Her a flagship project in RID 3240 during their tenure in 2020–21. “I will be taking this project to more Rotaract clubs in other countries to expand our global footprint.”
Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal in his congratulatory message said, “it is heartening that a small project started in Assam has now become successful in distributing sanitary pads to scores of underprivileged girls in rural areas of the country and generating awareness at the grassroots about menstrual hygiene.”
Being recognised with the ‘Best Community Service Project Award’ from the Rotaract South Asia MDIO was one of the proud moments for Jalan and his team, while the DG’s Special Award for Outstanding Project (2017–18) at the first year of its execution boosted the morale of the Rotaractors.
The inspirational words from RI President Barry Rassin “on our efforts in raising health and hygiene awareness that impact girls, women and their communities” gave us immense satisfaction that “we are doing good to the society,” adds Jalan.