Empowerment through Feminine Hygiene
Eco Femme gets women to switch from disposable to washable or eco-friendly products, helping underprivileged women get access to cloth-pads
 
Eco Femme, Auroville Village Action Group. AVAG, cloth-pads, self-help groups, SHGsEco Femme is the effort of a small team of volunteers who live and work at Auroville, the international community in Puducherry, to start rural social enterprises that empower marginalised Indian women and connect women globally. In 2010, the founding team, comprising Kathy Walkling, Jessamijn Miedema, Anita Budhraja and Anbu Sironmani, was motivated help the Auroville Village Action Group (AVAG), an NGO in Villipuram district (Tamil Nadu). 
 
The idea was to create livelihood opportunities for AVAG’s self-help groups (SHGs) by making washable cloth-pads and selling them to women for use during their menstrual periods. The pads are designed to be affordable (for women with limited means), durable and reusable. The challenge was to encourage women to break free of media-driven preference for disposable products and get them think about eco-friendly alternatives like cloth-pads—not merely in India but around the world.  Laura O’ Connell of Eco Femme discusses the business model as follows: “As the wheels turned, an operational model became clear: women tailors would stitch high-quality cloth-pads and they would be sold to stores and individuals around the world at a profitable price; international sales would include an additional Rs80, which would allow Eco Femme to ‘gift’ a pad to an adolescent girl through a menstrual health education programme (gifted pads would be grouped together to make a kit of four). In this way, as our international sales would grow, so would our impact on the ground in Tamil Nadu, through the Pad for Pad Programme, and eventually to other states. Additionally, we would provide washable cloth pads at a subsidised rate to women who cannot afford the premium rate. These subsidised pads are available on request or when requested by NGOs working with women and girls.”
 
Over time, the team moved from being a donor-funded organisation to a self-sustaining one. Eco Femme hopes to find a way to simultaneously create livelihood opportunities for women members of AVAG’s SHGs and to financially support AVAG’s work with rural individuals and communities. According to Eco Femme’s website, AVAG remains the umbrella organisation under which it works; AVAG also hosts it in their office and helps organise the production of washable cloth-pads. AVAG help Eco Femme’s menstrual education seminars with its women’s SHGs and spread awareness about hygiene.
 
The group is not worried about obtaining ongoing funding; Laura points out, “We believe that current work on menstrual hygiene in India (and around the world) has opened a potent space for reflection on the very nature of development work and what it means to be a sustainable business.” Eco Femme hopes to fill this space by being a locally inspired and guided initiative that allows women and girls to live healthily and with dignity. 
 
In January 2014, Eco Femme entered into a relationship with Dasra, an organisation that proactively brings philanthropists and social entrepreneurs together to enhance their ability to foster change. This relationship has given it the much needed business development support.
 
Finally, Laura confides happily, “In this way, we are a hybrid organisation with both for-profit and not-for-profit areas of work. The profits from one fund the work of the other.” 
 
The parting message for women readers from Eco Femme is “if well washed, sun-dried and stored in a clean place, cloth-pads are perfectly viable and healthy for MHM (menstrual hygiene management).” Those who are environment conscious, should remember that disposable sanitary napkins are not eco-friendly.
 

Eco Femme

Saracon Campus, Kottakarai (near Ganesh Bakery),
Auroville 605111, Tamil Nadu.
Phone: (+91) 9443 135 005 (Kathy), (+91) 9486 491 981 (Jessamijn)

 

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COMMENTS

Narendra Doshi

3 years ago

A potenial leapfrogger idea for implementation, especially in India. This small healthy step can substanially reduce medica costs and even deaths.

For the Betterment of Underprivileged Rural Children
Aham Bhumika works for rural children to prevent migration to cities
 
Rural poverty is usually the result of lack of opportunity, training and resources. Subrat Goswami and Kavita Bhattacharya, an idealist duo based in Bhopal, decided to do something about it and started Aham Bhumika in 2007. Their ideal and vision was clear: “No one should die due lack of proper clothing. No one should sleep on an empty stomach. Importance of education should be spread far and wide.” Over time, a diverse group comprising artists, housewives, engineers, tourist guides, teachers and government employees have come together to help realise Aham Bhumika’s goal.
 
How is it achieved? Its mission statement has the answer. It says, “Our mission was to help the underprivileged children, destitute and orphans by involving generous people from the cities by collecting material discarded by them (clothes, bicycles, books, toys, newspapers, etc).”
 
Subrat Goswami says, “We have seen the problems of rural India closely and have observed that the talent of rural children does not get a chance to flower or get exposure due to lack of basic materials like pencils, drawing books, paints and colour crayons,. Also, without training in skills, such as sewing and embroidery, rural women cannot earn some extra income, after doing the household chores.” 
 
A unique initiative is the ‘Grain School’ run by Aham Bhumika. Its objective is to teach illiterate women labourers, often stone-crushers, to read, write and do arithmetic. To ensure regular attendance at school, Aham Bhumika gives students a monthly quota of grain for their families. They are encouraged to continue their schooling more as a study circle where they learn various skills to improve their livelihood.
 
Aham Bhumika works at making women self-employed, to the extent they can. And their children are able to do well in a free schooling environment, even without tutors. Where the mother is not able to educate the daughter, the NGO is able to do something for the girl child, in particular. Where professional tutors are not available, volunteers help impart basic education.
 
Over time, the NGO has expanded its activities. Says Mr Goswami,  “Aham Bhumika has set up an after-school support centre in village Borda, where school children are taught the basics of Hindi, English and arithmetic after school hours. This year, the support centre has been converted into an art & craft centre during weekends. Here, the children are taught painting, paper-quilling and papier-mâché work.” As many as 35 children attend this art & craft centre. 
 
Another interesting activity is organisation of summer camps. Theae are aimed at creating excitement about education and school through a series of activities, learning arts, crafts or getting introduced to computers. 
 
Aham Bhumika has trained 30 women and girls in embroidery and sewing. It also commissions work from them to ensure a steady stream of income for them and quality products that the NGO markets. Every week, the NGO provides these women the fabric, design and threads along with a sample of the work required. The finished product, usually cushion covers and sling bags, are deposited with the NGO for sale. 
 
If you would like to do your bit for society, you can volunteer of Aham Bhumika or provide a helping hand by donating to their cause. Or, if you are a trust or organisation, you can help by sponsoring events, buying their products, donating art material or computers or even grain and clothes. 
 
Donations to Aham Bhumika are exempt under Section 80G of the Income-tax Act.
 
Aham Bhumika Swayam Sevi Sanstha, 
65, Elegant Estate, Sai Ganesh Mandir,
Near Mother Teresa School,
P.O. Bairagarh Chichli, Kolar Road, Bhopal 462042
Madhya Pradesh Phone +91 98264 72718
Email Aham [email protected]

 

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Spirit of Service and Dedication
Ramakrishna Sarada Samiti has become a part of the fabric of the local community, especially women and children
 
Dr Rajadhyaksha and Mekhala Jha were inspired by late Swami Ranganathanandaji, 13th president of Ramakrishna Math & Mission to serve in Mumbai’s slums; thus began the free medical service at Kherwadi (Bandra East) and Pratiksha Nagar (Sion).
 
In 1968, they founded the Ramakrishna Sarada Samiti (RKSS) along with a group of service-minded women under the guidance of Ramakrishna Mission (Mumbai). It began on a small scale, with a group of doctors identifying the most neglected areas in Kherwadi and dispensing free medicines that they brought along with them. They carried a snack for the underprivileged children as well. Today, RKSS does much more in this Mumbai neighbourhood, with the same spirit of service and dedication.
 
In 1974, RKSS was granted land on lease by MHADA (Maharashtra Housing & Area Development Authority) and a modest building was constructed in 1976 at Pratiksha Nagar. This initiated the next phase of RKSS’s 46-year association with the community which involved providing regular primary medical care through a health centre and organising health camps and workshop on women’s health and nutrition. At the request of women of the community, a range of services, such as and pre-school education, a balwadi (crèche) and a tailoring course for women, were also started. 
 
The diverse background of RKSS’s board of trustees adds to its ability to connect with and respond dynamically to the community’s needs with innovative solutions. The current trustees include Hema Shetty (advocate), Sujata Haldipur (former banker and Sanskrit scholar), Dr Bharathi Srinivas (economist), Vidya Raghu (an architect), Dr Mamatha Venkatesh (rheumatologist), Rakhee Puri and Sheila Chowdhury (both educationists) and Bulbuli Ghosh.
 
Vidya Raghu says, “The constant engagement of doctors, teachers and social workers with the women from the community, in a strictly non-political environment, enables trust and sharing of concerns.” This is RKSS’s strength today. 
 
The community health centre is run in collaboration with KJ Somaiya (KJS) Medical College, department of community medicine. The centre is run five days a week by doctors from KJS Medical College, with OPD in mornings and consultation with specialists in the afternoons. The centre has social workers, nursing trainees and pre-school teachers to monitor malnutrition in schools. The monitoring is followed up with regular nutrition and hygiene workshops with mothers and children of the balwadi at RKSS.
 
The Little Lamps Gammatwadi has around 100 students in the age group three to five years. Dedicated trained teachers create training materials in-house. Nutritious snacks, school uniforms and study materials are provided free of cost. There is a nominal fee (of Rs100 per month), but the fees are waived for deserving candidates.
 
Focusing on women-related issues in the neighbourhood, Vidya Raghu points out, “The high drop-out rate of girls from the education system due to early marriage, lack of social security and lack of skills or employability, has left many women vulnerable and marginalised, with no way of supporting themselves or helping their families.” RKSS has vocational training programmes for women to empower them to become employable and earning members of their family. The tailoring course trains and certifies 25 women each year. Successful candidates are provided a sewing machine at the end of the certification programme to kick-start a small business for themselves. 
 
Despite its seemingly steady growth, the journey hasn’t always been smooth sailing. In 2007, when Mumbai was hit by an unusual cloud-burst, RKSS’s building, on low-lying MHADA land was completely submerged. The repairs and clean-up reduced its funds to near zero and it was like starting all over again. But the journey continues, thanks to the dedication of a committed board and volunteers. You too can join this effort. 
Donations to the Samiti are exempt under Section 80 G of the Income-tax Act and are welcome from readers.
 

RKSS, 

Behind Ekvira Darshan 
(Building T – 66&67), 
Pratiksha Nagar, Sion East, Mumbai – 400022
Mobile +919967651962
 
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