Maya Vishwakarma, founder of the Sukarma Foundation, says using an old cloth as a sanitary pad was what she used to use growing up, and many still follow this old practice and are unaware of current menstrual hygiene practices.
Vishwakarma was one of the speakers at the Triple Charities GALA Dinner held last month at the India Community Center in Milpitas, California. In order to create awareness about their work, three non-profits came together with one mission: to serve the underserved community in India.
The three non-profits, run by US-based Kirit Shah, president of the international resource committee of the Health and Care Foundation, Ahmedabad; Maya Vishwakarma, president of Sukarma Foundation; and Satish Raval, president of Edu-Girls, each shared about their work.
Vishwakarma, known as the Pad Woman of India, is a native of the village Mehragaon (Sainkheda) district Narsinghpur, Madhya Pradesh. She talked about menstrual issues, “It is a taboo. We don’t talk about it in society, even among women.”
TrIt wasn’t an easy task she said to meet her vision. She conducted field research on “Menstrual hygiene for rural and tribal girls/women.” She visited several startups manufacturing cost-effective sanitary napkins and even met Padman Arunachalam Murganatham at his hometown in Coimbatore, Chennai in India before establishing her own manufacturing unit in her village.
“The challenge was to produce low cost and effective sanitary napkins,” Vishwakarma, who has also earned a degree in Biochemistry from a university in Jabalpur and was a researcher at Stanford University before venturing into Sukarma Foundation in 2017, said that she produces low-cost sanitary napkins under the brand name, “No Tension.”
“A lot more needs to be done in India in terms of Hygiene, Education, and Empowerment,” Vishwakarma told indica. “Still extreme rural/tribal villages are left out of many basic, (necessary)things.”
Vishwakarma said she has visited 15,000 villages and 22 tribal district areas in Madhya Pradesh and has approached over 20,000 girls at schools to educate them about RTIs (Reproductive Tract Infections), UTIs (Urinary Tract Infections) and Cervical Cancer. She also educates about menstrual hygiene and the importance of using clean sanitary pad, as opposed to an old rag.
On what keeps her motivated she said, “My people from the land where I belong (my village), (their love and faith in me, and my family support. A positive attitude and service to human beings and mankind keeps me motivated.”
Early this year she has started a medical clinic, “Sukarma Tele Medicine Primary Health Center Mehragaon.” She said Medical help, education to the kids, and women empowerment is what she wants to offer.
Another host, Shah, president of the international resource committee of the Health and Care Foundation, previously known as the Polio Foundation, told indica that 31 years ago, polio was rampant in India and he was here in the US working for the manufacturing of polio vaccines at Bristol-Myers Squibb.
“I realized a lot of organizations, such as the Rotary Club, is doing work on polio eradication but nobody is going to treat the polio patients and that is why I got into this (non-profit). We took the challenge,” said Shah, and added now that Polio has almost disappeared is now working Geriatric Medicine and Infectious diseases. He said nothing much is being done in India in terms of infectious disease control.
“In India, there are so many infectious diseases and it’s mainly without understanding what they are susceptible to. Unfortunately, because of that when an antibiotic is needed it doesn’t work,” he said.
Another project Shah said he is working on in India is called “genetic,” he told indica, “Nowadays we have found out genetics are the root cause of some of the diseases. If there is a genetic defect the disease can be identified easily. The research will be done here (in the US) but we’ll be using that research to help identify some diseases and how to treat them in India.”
Anand K Seth, Founder Chair, Edu GIRLS, a nonprofit organization that works with the flagship school named Vimukti in Jaipur, India, shared about how the organization has been educating girls living in poverty and has helped transform their lives.
He told indica that when he started in 2014, there were only 30 students and today there are over 650 students. The class runs from 1:30 pm until 5 pm,278 days a year.
It aims to help girls living in poverty to achieve financial independence by ensuring that they have the skills after finishing high school to either get a decent job or to go onto higher studies.
Seth said the objective was generated on learning in 2014 when the United Nations came with a report stating that girls living in poverty are the most difficult segment to reach.
“So, when you can send a rocket to the moon and organize Kumbh mela with about 12 million attendings, you cannot solve the problem of girls education….you can,” Seth said and also acknowledges that it requires a lot of research. “There is a lot of work and in school and outside schools. If you don’t do a lot of things you collapse. And this is where the government has a challenge.”
“So, we did one thing at the time. The funding comes from our friends and you have to be very patient,” said Seth. “By getting engaged with us they got a sense of vision.”