Nearly nine months after Syrian women living in refugee camps in Jordan hoped to be able to replicate Vadodara’s low-cost sanitary napkin solution to put an end to unhygienic menstrual conditions there, their hope is turning to reality.
Sakhi enterprise, founded by Vadodara’s Swati Bedekar, who works for menstrual hygiene in rural India has begun the process of shipping 12 machines — that would make six ingenious manufacturing units — to the Zataari refugee camp near Mafraq, located about 8-km from the Jordanian-Syrian border, which is home to close to one lakh refugees from the war ravaged zone.
The initiative to make menstruation hygienic for women came about when Amy Peake, a yoga teacher from Cornwall and founder of Loving Humanity, an organization that is working for the refugees of the conflict zone in association with the United Nations, arrived in Vadodara in October last year, to understand the Sakhi model.
After taking back samples of about 200 sanitary napkins and a training in manufacturing the pads from Bedekar, Peake received the UN sanction to set up the manufacturing unit in Zataari. Currently, close to 50,000 women in the refugee camps use unwashed rags for sanitary protection, encountering several diseases.
Peake, who is currently in Vadodara to oversee the shipping process with Bedekar said, “It has taken several months of sanctions to set up this unit and plan the logistics. We have now got a space to set up six manufacturing units of Sakhi — which will be branded ‘Loving Humanity’ in Jordan — and also trained about 15 women to manufacture these pads. The UN has agreed to pay regular wages to these women, while I have raised funds to set up the manufacturing unit and procure the raw materials.”
Peake says the sanitary napkins will be a blessing for women in the camps. “When we think of refugee camps, we only think of food, medicines, clothing and shelter. But, one of the basic needs for women is a sanitary napkin. So many women I know were using sanitary napkins before their life turned into living in refugee camps. They are not new to the idea of the pads, but it is only about making it available to them.”
According to Bedekar, the six units bear a capacity to produce 2.4 lakh pads per month. “Ideally, the women can manufacture up to 720 pads per hour on six units, but it depends on how quickly they learn and the hours they are able to work,” Bedekar says. However, with a UN clause that allows women in refugee camps to work for four hours a day, the team is looking at producing 2,000 pads per day.
Peake says, “Even with that number, it means reaching out to at least 200 women every day, as we plan to sell them in packs of 10 for a subsidized price in comparison to the ones available. The material is organic and the women who tried the samples were very happy.”
Peake adds that apart from menstrual hygiene the project also aims to reach out to the elderly, disabled and children to provide solutions for incontinence. “Our data has revealed at about 75 per cent of children in the camps suffer from bed-wetting. There are many disabled persons who are unable to use the toilets and elders suffer from incontinence, arising out of trauma. We are also manufacturing washable incontinence napkins for people of all ages, in order to make their daily lives easier,” she says.