The adolescent girls of Nemmeli School, Kancheepuram District, Tamil Nadu are well informed when it comes to menstrual hygiene.
By Sangeetha Rajeesh
Deepika is seen dropping the Rs 2/- coin in the sanitary napkin vending machine. The thirteen-year-old is unprepared for the onset of her menstrual periods. Yogeshwari, her friend and classmate has accompanied her to the staffroom. Deepika is terribly embarrassed but is relieved to avail of a sanitary napkin in time. This is the common case with most adolescent girls her age and the napkin vending machine in the school premises is a blessing in disguise.
“Menstrual cycles begin at the tender age of ten for many girls and in the rural areas, keeping them in school is a challenge,” explains Banumathy, Assistant Headmistress, Nemmeli School, “particularly if they have come unprepared.” She says that the napkin vending machine sponsored by UNICEF and Shri Cheema Foundation, a CSR initiative by TVS Electronics Ltd is a boon to the girl students. The community in and around Kancheepuram District are low income groups and cannot afford sanitary napkins and so the adolescent girls use the age-old cloth method. But now, the Tiruvidenthai Akshaya Self Help Group manufacture and supply low cost sanitary pads for just Rs 2 and these are being used in the vending machine. The school also has an incinerator for the safe disposal of sanitary waste installed by the Tamil Nadu Government in 2004 under Total Sanitation Campaign.
“When the doctors first came to speak on menstruation, we were all very shy and did not know how to clarify our doubts,” reflects Seetha of Class IX B, looking at her batch mates, “but when they started talking about how important it is to keep ourselves clean, I realised that I wasn’t doing the things I ought to do.”
Menstruation in India has always been accompanied by myths and taboos and adolescent girls find it difficult to even discuss the issue with parents or elders in the family. Most of them turn to their teaching staff for advice on menstrual hygiene. “The girls feel comfortable asking us questions and we are glad to help,” smiles Banumathy. Shri Cheema Foundation conducted classes on menstrual hygiene and dealing with puberty for classes VIII to XI at Nemmeli School and the students have benefited from it.
Mohana is fourteen and her menstrual cycle began when she was barely ten years old. “I have been using cloth as pads till then and I used to wash them for reuse,” she says embarrassed, “but after I heard the trainers speak on the harmful effects, I switched over to sanitary napkins.” In fact, Mohana takes home five sanitary napkins from the vending machine during her menstrual cycle!
The girl students of the rural school are now aware of the reproductive tract infections and of the menstrual hygiene practices that need to be followed during the menstrual days. “I used to change my napkin after 12 hours but now I have realised the importance of changing it at least every 5 hours from the talk the doctors gave us,” twelve-year-old Rajeswari tells us.
Nemmeli School girl students have understood that personal hygiene especially during the menstrual cycle is even more vital and have decided not to go back to their earlier unhygienic habits.