July 31, 2020
One of our veteran team members, Monica Raheja, who is a Producer based out of Mumbai found a different world thanks to Covid19. This is her story in her words.
“The truth is that, no matter what kind of game you find yourself in, no matter how good or bad the luck, you can change your life completely with a single thought or a single act of love” - Gregory David Roberts, Shantaram
Covid19 came into our lives with such a huge, unimaginable force that no one was prepared for.
The whole world shut down and for many a month, time stood still. For most of us, that is. While people were struggling with toilet paper rolls, sanitizers and keeping sane within the safe confines of their homes; in our part of the world, a different story was taking shape. There was hunger, homelessness, separation… helplessness of another kind. Now that is one story that google will give you details about if you search for it.
What Google might not throw up, for now at least are the few acts of kindness, thoughtfulness, open heartedness that made people want to believe again. Here is one story I am proud to share.
It began when a few like-minded people decided to meet for coffee one rainy evening. No one remembered to carry their coffee so conversations sans le cafe began. Out of nowhere, we started discussing periods and how women in slums were suffering without menstrual hygiene products. They just had no money.
In a few moments, we all gave birth to a People’s Movement called Pad Squad. The objective was simple - distribute pads to women who couldn’t afford to buy them.
We posted all over social media asking people to donate pads. Within a week, we were flooded with cartons and thousands of pads. (Proud to add here that Angles Unlimited was one of the first Organizations to donate).
The next step was getting these pads to the right people. We used a volunteer organization’s support to connect deep within various communities. Distributions started across Mumbai & Pune. Soon we were joined by many good-hearted souls and within a couple of months, Pad Squad spread to 29 cities with 61 Squadders across the country.
The joy of giving took away the initial fear of contracting the virus. (Though I must say, 3 of our Squadders were test Covid positive, have recovered and are back in the field). The stories we heard, the people we encountered made our resolve stronger. As a woman who is pretty finicky about her menstrual hygiene, I just couldn’t come to terms with how women survived their period - sitting in loose pants in a corner of the house, bleeding in those very pants every single day of their cycle - no pads. Month after month! Some would make pads out of old clothes, the fabric of which was harsh for the skin. Many rural villages use cow dung to stop the blood flowing down their bodies. When we moved deeper in the interiors, girls didn’t even know what a pad was. We had to demonstrate using our hands as a panty. I remember this slum I had gone to for a drive. The women didn’t have panties. The pads were useless. So now as a habit, we check if underwear is required. It mostly is, because they can’t afford to buy that either.
Periods are considered inauspicious in many rural areas. Even in the cities, you are not allowed to enter places of worship, if you’re menstruating. It is considered unholy and inauspicious. Can you imagine that? A bodily process that ables the woman to give birth is a time of shame. Unbelievable! So now, we educate. We motivate girls to be proud of menstruation, to talk openly and not behind each other because they’ve stained their clothes, and much more.
The smile that flows through their eyes is what leaves us happy and sometimes we do a victory dance much to the astonishment of the menfolk curiously staring at us from their windows with an expression of “These silly city girls!!!”
The anecdotes can go on and on and yet, there’s much to be done still. As I type this, I am preparing for my first menstrual cup drive in the red light district area of Mumbai. As I step into the unknown, I know, many more stories await me, many more experiences and many more smiles.
I have seen tears in many eyes - tears of pain, of joy, excitement. Tears of gratitude. I have been blessed by many old women with toothless smiles; been hugged by many cute teens; thanked with many folded hands. This experience has been so overwhelming - a journey towards gratitude and self-love. Things will never be the same again. People will never be the same again. My life will never be the same again. For better or for worse, this Pandemic has taught us how to be human again.
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