The Stories Of Change

Destroying Taboos in Rural West Bengal, One Pad at a Time

When Sayak Banerjee realised the challenges young schoolgirls face during menstruation in his town, he decided to make things healthier and simpler for them. He brought over 1,000 people together to raise funds for installation of sanitary pad vending machines in schools.

However, Sayak Banerjee, a resident of a small town called Kalyani in West Bengal saw girls going through an extremely hard time during their menstruation cycle. They would sometimes skip school and would often indugle in unhygeinic menstruation practices. Moved by their plight, Sayak decided to work towards eliminating unhygienic menstruation practices followed by the schoolgirls of his town.

Sayak, a student of digital marketing at Calcutta University, along with a few of his friends who named themselves “US” (a symbol for unity and togetherness) thought of bringing in the concept of ‘Pad-vending machines’ in a place where openly talking about menstruation was still a taboo.

Sayak is breaking the taboo attached to menstruation in rural India

“A friend of mine named Sohini who one day while having a walk told me if I could do anything for the sanitary issue prevailing in India. And that’s when the idea first came into the picture,” Sayak said.

He had been involved in various public relations activities since his college days. He used to organize events on a college level during various youth festivals. This experience on his part worked as an advantage when he started working towards his dream project.

The initiative was kickstarted when crowdfunding was not very popular. Hence, Sayak took on the task of arranging the required money for his project. Sayak and his team organized a Holi festival called “RangHoli” in their locality with the intention to bring all the people together and spread awareness about his cause.

“We enjoyed Holi with over 1,000 people, collecting enough money from tickets to donate sanitary pad vending machine to nearby rural schools. The project was a success not because it gained public attention but it created enough stir in Kalyani, where girls of class 7 and 8 were proudly walking up and collecting pads from the machine,” recalls Sayak.

RangHoli festival brought over 1,000 people together for a cause.

The team collected around Rs 1,00,000 and the money collected at the event was used to buy two pad vending machines. Sayak and his team also got enough stock of sanitary pads for the next few months. Sayak then approached the local municipality for support with an aim to reach a large number of girls. They started with two schools initially and gradually took their efforts to the masses.

The vending machines can be accessed by girls any time.

They organized seminars where the boys and girls were given sessions on proper sanitary hygiene. As more girls and boys started attending these sessions, Sayak witnessed a clear understanding and acceptance of the project among the kids.

When asked about how he feels about his venture, Sayak proudly says: “I was amused by the active participation of all the students irrespective of their genders. Our motive to spread the wholesome awareness was successful to some extent. We could never imagine getting such a positive response in a short span of time.”

Sessions are organized to spread awareness about the cause.

After initial success in two schools, seven more schools approached Sayak to become part of this unique initiative. While there is a lot more work to be done, “US” is busy collecting funds for their future endeavours.

The team is looking for more funds to install more vending machines in schools.

As for the effect of the undertaking, the team itself has now a better understanding of what needs to be done and how the community, which once was ignorant to the issue and in a way part of the problem is now contributing to the solution and elimination of the problem.

Photos: Debarati Roy

The story is part of the Milaap Fellowship Program.  It is a unique opportunity, providing young professionals with a six-month fellowship to contribute to a cause and cover inspiring stories of change.

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Debarati Roy

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