This Menstrual Hygiene Day, let’s meet Manisha Kamble who is a Community Health Volunteer for the children living in street situations in Mumbai. The sixteen-year-old has a group of 100 other children with her who are creating awareness about Menstrual Health and Hygiene. Pragya Vats and Rupali Goswami of Save the Children share with us Manisha’s story: 

 “Period huya hai? Shhhh…chup…jor se mat bol, sab ko sunayegi keya?” (Did you get your period? Shh, quiet, don’t speak aloud, do you want everyone to hear)

A silence around menstruation matters is the reaction I have seen from my family, friends and people around me, says Manisha Kamble, a child champion and an Ashoka Youth Venturer who has been working as a Community Health Volunteer for the children living in street situations.

Menstrual Hygiene Day

Manisha was born on the streets of Mumbai and continues to live under a flyover near Elphinstone Road station. Streets are the only home she has known since she breathed her first 16 years ago. She does not have a home or a roof over her head, except an open sky. Living on the street comes with challenges galore from being exposed to noise, breathing the emission from the vehicle without a filter at her disposal, at all hours of the day and night due to a steady stream of traffic under the flyover. Earlier, they lived in a small slum and faced eviction, as a new construction was built for a corporate office.

Streets with its unrelenting din make it very difficult for Manisha to study. Often, her books are taken away during raids by the local civic authorities, or lost during the floods which affect Mumbai. She has made it to her 12th standard in school, which is a testament to her dedication to education. It is indeed an achievement.

The toxic gases make the eyes burn and aggravate Manisha’s allergies, causing difficulty in breathing, a severe lack of sleep, and a low immune system. Manisha’s father passed away two years ago due to his asthma, which was aggravated by their living conditions. Her mother is now the sole earning member of the family, and works as a domestic worker.

Manisha goes to school. She believes education is important. However, streets with its unrelenting din makes it very difficult for Manisha to study. Often, her books are taken away during raids by the local civic authorities, or lost during the floods which affect Mumbai. She has made it to her 12th standard in school, which is a testament to her dedication to education. It is indeed an achievement.

There are no sanitation facilities near where they live. Manisha is instead forced to walk for nearly fifteen minutes to a municipal toilet, where she is charged to use it. They cannot even change their clothes where they live, due to there being no form of privacy at all.

Undeterred by the challenges posed by her living conditions, she is not only willing and committed to change her situation, but also impact the lives of others like her.

A health mobiliser, she has been proactively helping children who needed health support. Looking at her passion, she was trained on ‘First Aid’ and on ‘Menstrual Health and Hygiene’ by Save the Children partner Hamara Foundation. She chose the topic of ‘Menstrual Health and Hygiene’ and started talking about it in groups.

Initially, she was discouraged, several times, not to talk about menstruation in public places. Looking at the sensitivity about the issue around her, she took another route to promote menstrual health and hygiene. She, along with her group called ‘Jeevan Prayas’, conceptualised ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’ on the streets of Mumbai.

With her 25 members of the group, she led the campaign in collaboration with local organizations. She got recognised in her community for her commitment and dedication towards the welfare of the street children. In the last two years, she has gained trust among community members and immense confidence to continue on the path she has chosen. With a support from Save the Children and Hamara Foundation, Manisha started working towards changing the mindset of her community members on the menstrual health and hygiene issues. She started with her family members, convincing them ‘why it’s important to educate on this subject, especially girls, living 24/7 in street situations’.

Gradually, she started talking to other girls on how to keep themselves clean and hygienic while menstruating. Today, she has a strong support of her community and they started believing in what Manisha does. From 25 members, the group now has grown to 100 children living in street situation.

Pic Credit: Save The Children

While Manisha is leading the change, it will take many more champions for change to reverse the reality. Especially when less than half of India’s 355 million menstruating girls and women use sanitary napkins. This number would be worse when it comes to the girls living on the streets.

The need of the hour is to simply talk about it. Manisha says, “It’s not just girls, boys are equally responsible to create awareness on this issue.”

Pragya Vats heads campaigns for Save the Children in India. Rupali Goswami is a proud employee of Save the Children, where she looks after Advocacy, Communication and Campaign portfolio for Maharashtra. 

Picture Credit: Save The Children

Also Read: Five Women Debunking Myths And Creating Menstrual Awareness

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