For almost 4 years now, Surat based Atul Mehta and his wife Meena Mehta have been visiting slums and municipal schools to distribute hygiene kits.
It is a simple kit, consisting of a packet of sanitary napkins, two undergarments, a bar of soap and four shampoo sachets. Small, everyday objects that are often taken for granted, but are crucial for a young girl, especially when she reaches puberty. Each kit costs just Rs 60, but has been an invaluable gift to the 35000 girls who have been helped by this project in the last 4 years.
For Anju, a 5th standard student of Surat Municipal School, it has meant more regular attendance. “We used to skip our schools during our menstrual period since it was very embarrassing without sanitary napkins, but this kit helps us stay clean and ensures hygiene,”
The Mehtas are also very particular about school attendance and do not give kits to girls who are absent. In just 4 years it has meant a turnaround in school attendance rates.
Conversations about personal hygiene and menstruation are still taboo in our country, so how did the Mehtas come up with such a novel idea? Meena Mehta recounts how she was inspired by a similar story of philanthropy from Tamil Nadu.
“During the Tsunami Mrs. Sudha Murthy Chairperson of Infosys Foundation, sent 4 trucks of sanitary napkins to Chennai. That is where I got this idea. I realized that a girl child needs sanitary napkins and is very helpless without it.”
The couple embarked on the mission without any help from government agencies. Atul Mehta, a businessman, started with Rs. 25000 from his own savings. Today, the couple also accepts donations via their Facebook page MANUNI.
“People should come forward and not treat this as taboo. People like us should come forward and commit to donate regularly every month,” says Atul Mehta.
There have been numerous studies that have shown a direct link between a girl hitting puberty and dropping out of school. However, the Mehtas have shown how a simple, inexpensive step can go a long way in keeping young girls in school.