Thrissur native Vasanthy Gopalan, 78, can well pass for a well-settled elder till you get to know how she helps hundreds of women draw first blood, literally.
Some years ago, Vasanthy Gopalan, the founding president of an NGO called Kanika, happened to see an article on the plight of rural women during menstrual days in North India. The report said, unable to afford sanitary pads, these women resorted to using stale rugs and even mud during days of bleeding.
Vasanthy Goplan then came to know about 'pad man' Arunachalam Muruganantham and his eco-friendly low cost pads. With her gang of friends in Kanika, she contacted Muruganantham’s Jayshree Industries in Coimbatore. The company helped Kanika install a pad-making unit. "This was how the 'Soukhyam' (meaning well-being in Malayalam) pads were born," Vasanthy told Onmanorama on Women's Day.
'Soukhyam' pads are chemical-free, natural, comfortable and biodegradable. Around 200 packets of pads are made every month from a makeshift penthouse at Peringavu, Thrissur. About 50 senior citizens are the volunteer pad-makers. They take no remuneration. The main raw material used is wood pulp and gel cotton. Every pad goes through a five-stage process before being sterilized for packaging.
Wood pulp, in thin sheets, are shredded and mixed with gel cotton (seemingly similar to normal cotton) in a 60:40 ratio. This mixture is then blended to perfection and then machine-compressed. This is placed on a base sheet and later wrapped in a layer of biodegradable covering. These pads come with a glue-covered sticker that can be peeled off before use. A single packet of 'Soukhyam' consists of 10 pads and cost only Rs 43.
"We do not believe in commercial marketing and sales. Our pads may hold immense market potential and is a very useful and sustainable product. We give it to customers who hear of us and seek us out. We feel our sense of satisfaction while working for this will be diminished if we go for marketing the product,” they say united.
"Initially, we could make only eight pads a day, that too with much difficulty. There were times when we could not cover the raw material costs. From that, Kanika has come a long way. We attained break-even. We provide pads to nearby girls' homes and also care homes where women cannot afford to buy one. Each user is important to us and we value their feedback. Our short-term dream is to start making maternity pads. We also expect to modify our machines and make pads with wings," she says.
"A lady who used Kanika pads after facing health issues due to prolonged exposure to chemical-laden ones visited us once. She was there with her family to thank us. Such small gestures of encouragement keep us going," Vasanthy says.