When 18-year old Sulekha Gautam became a peer educator for her village (village Kamapur, block Chhanvey, district Mirzapur), she was both excited and apprehensive. Her parents were not very enthusiastic at the prospects of their daughter taking up a subject considered ‘taboo’. Added to that were the responsibility of household work and the pressure of studies. But deep down Sulekha had a desire to be associated with GARIMA. When the field facilitator ‘didi’ came to her aid and spoke to the family members, the initial hurdle of convincing the family was crossed.
She delivered her duties as a peer educator well. The Adolescent Girls’ Group meetings were conducted regularly and slowly adolescent girls began to understand issues related to menstruation and menstrual hygiene management. The problem arose when the learning of proper disposal of menstrual absorbents had to be put to practice. With no proper garbage disposal system in the village, girls could not dispose the pads and menstrual absorbents properly. Having racked her brain to find a solution, Surekha came upon an idea of an indigenous incinerator, which was simple and low cost. She took the initiative and decided to make the incinerator, with other girls, with the help of a mud pot. They took an old earthen pot, inverted it, secured it with mud and plaster and made a hole at the bottom through which the absorbents would be put in the pot and burnt. It was placed close to one of the fields
“All of us became an object of ridicule. Young boys in the village kept pointing to the earthen pot and teasing us. They would break the incinerator timeand again. We were unfazed and kept rebuilding the incinerator each time they broke it. For me menstrual hygiene management is the right of every girl. We kept going on despite all the challenges, and finally boys had to mend their ways and our incinerator was protected.” -Sulekha
SulekhaGautam a small and indigenous contraption, the incinerator proved effective! Elder women in the village have joined the girls in their effort towards safe disposal of menstrual absorbents and scold boys when they go near the incinerator. This small, but significant, success has done wonders to Sulekha’s confidence. For her it is a big step in ensuring sanitation and hygiene in the village and preventing infection that spreads through improper disposal of menstrual absorbents. Sulekha’s efforts have now expanded to ensure that adolescent girls in the village have timely access to Iron and Folic Acid (IFA) tablets and vaccinations. She works closely with the Anganwadi Worker and volunteers to take adolescent girls to the Primary Health Centre for counselling. For someone who aspires to be a socialworker, this for sure is an impressive start!