After spending years developing a simple machine to make inexpensive sanitary pads, Arunachalam Muruganantham has become the unlikely leader of a menstrual health revolution in rural India. Over sixteen years, Muruganantham’s machine has spread to 1,300 villages in 23 states and since most of his clients are NGOs and women’s self-help groups who produce and sell the pads directly in a “by the women, for the women, and to the women” model, the average machine also provides employment for ten women.
Muruganantham’s interest in menstrual health began in 1998 when, as a young, newly married man, he saw his wife, Shanthi, hiding the rags she used as menstrual cloths. Like most men in his village, he had no idea about the reality of menstruation and was horrified that cloths that “I would not even use… to clean my scooter” were his wife’s solution to menstrual sanitation. When he asked why she didn’t buy sanitary pads, she told him that the expense would prevent her from buying staples like milk for the family.
Muruganantham, who left school at age 14 to start working, decided to try making his own sanitary pads for less but the testing of his first prototype ran into a snag almost immediately: Muruganantham had no idea that periods were monthly. “I can’t wait a month for each feedback, it’ll take two decades!” he said, and sought volunteers among the women in his community. He discovered that less than 10% of the women in his area used sanitary pads, instead using rags, sawdust, leaves, or ash. Even if they did use cloths, they were too embarrassed to dry them in the sun, meaning that they never got disinfected — contributing to the approximately 70% of all reproductive diseases in India that are caused by poor menstrual hygiene.
Finding volunteers was nearly impossible: women were embarrassed, or afraid of myths about sanitary pads that say that women who use them will go blind or never marry. Muruganantham came up with an ingenious solution: “I became the man who wore a sanitary pad,” he says. He made an artificial uterus, filled it with goat’s blood, and wore it throughout the day. But his determination had severe consequences: his village concluded he was a pervert with a sexual disease, his mother left his household in shame and his wife left him. As he remarks in the documentary “Menstrual Man” about his experience, “So you see God’s sense of humour. I’d started the research for my wife and after 18 months she left me!”
After years of research, Muruganantham perfected his machine and now works with NGOs and women’s self-help groups to distribute it. Women can use it to make sanitary napkins for themselves, but he encourages them to make pads to sell as well to provide employment for women in poor communities. And, since 23% of girls drop out of school once they start menstruating, he also works with schools, teaching girls to make their own pads: “Why wait till they are women? Why not empower girls?”
As communities accepted his machine, opinions of his “crazy” behavior changed. Five and a half years after she left, Shanthi contacted him, and they are now living together again. She says it was hard living with the ostracization that came from his project, but now, she helps spread the word about sanitary napkins to other women. “Initially I used to be very shy when talking to people about it, but after all this time, people have started to open up. Now they come and talk to me, they ask questions and they also get sanitary napkins to try them.”
In 2009, Muruganantham was honored with a national Innovation Award in 2009 by then President of India, Pratibha Patil, beating out nearly 1,000 other entries. Now, he’s looking at expanding to other countries and believes that 106 countries could benefit from his invention.
Muruganantham is proud to have made such a difference: “from childhood I know no human being died because of poverty — everything happens because of ignorance… I have accumulated no money but I accumulate a lot of happiness.” His proudest moment? A year after he installed one of the machines in a village so poor that, for generations, no one had earned enough for their children to attend school. Then he received a call from one of the women selling sanitary pads who told him that, thanks to the income, her daughter was now able to go to school.
For resources to help girls prepare for and understand their periods - including several first period kits - visit our post on: “That Time of the Month: Teaching Your Mighty Girl about Her Menstrual Cycle” at www.amightygirl.com/blog?p=3281
To help your tween understand the changes she’s experiencing both physically and emotionally during puberty, check out the books recommended in our post on “Talking with Tweens and Teens About Their Bodies” at http://www.amightygirl.com/blog?p=2229
It’s good to have options. And if you’re Chad Thomas, a senior at Booker T. Washington Senior High in Miami, you have a ton of options. Thomas, 18, has received 150 scholarship offers for his football skills and his abilities as a nine-instrument musician, 10 News Tampa Bay reports.
Thomas, who helped the Booker T. Tornadoes win back-to-back state championships and…
The real “Lone Ranger,” it turns out, was an African American man named Bass Reeves, who the legend was based upon. Perhaps not surprisingly, many aspects of his life were written out of the story, including his ethnicity. The basics remained the same: a lawman hunting bad guys, accompanied by a Native American, riding on a white horse, and with a silver trademark.
Historians of the American West have also, until recently, ignored the fact that this man was African American, a free black man who headed West to find himself less subject to the racist structure of the established Eastern and Southern states.
While historians have largely overlooked Reeves, there have been a few notable works on him. Vaunda Michaux Nelson’s book, Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal, won the 2010 Coretta Scott King Award for best author. Arthur Burton released an overview of the man’s life a few years ago. Black Gun, Silver Star: The Life and Legend of Frontier Marshal Bass Reeves recounts that Reeves was born into a life of slavery in 1838. His slave-keeper brought him along as another personal servant when he went off to fight with the Confederate Army, during the Civil War.
Reeves took the chaos that ensued during the war to escape for freedom, after beating his “master” within an inch of his life, or according to some sources, to death. Perhaps the most intriguing thing about this escape was that Reeves only beat his enslaver after the latter lost sorely at a game of cards with Reeves and attacked him.
After successfully defending himself from this attack, he knew that there was no way he would be allowed to live if he stuck around.
Reeves fled to the then Indian Territory of today’s Oklahoma and lived harmoniously among the Seminole and Creek Nations of Native American Indians.
After the Civil War finally concluded, he married and eventually fathered ten children, making his living as a Deputy U.S. Marshall in Arkansas and the Indian Territory. If this surprises you, it should, as Reeves was the first African American to ever hold such a position.
Burton explains that it was at this point that the Lone Ranger story comes into play. Reeves was described as a “master of disguises”. He used these disguises to track down wanted criminals, even adopting similar ways of dressing and mannerisms to meet and fit in with the fugitives, in order to identify them.
Reeves kept and gave out silver coins as a personal trademark of sorts, just like the Lone Ranger’s silver bullets. Of course, the recent Disney adaptation of the Lone Ranger devised a clever and meaningful explanation for the silver bullets in the classic tales. For the new Lone Ranger, the purpose was to not wantonly expend ammunition and in so doing devalue human life. But in the original series, there was never an explanation given, as this was simply something originally adapted from Reeves’ personal life and trademarking of himself. For Reeves, it had a very different meaning, he would give out the valuable coins to ingratiate himself to the people wherever he found himself working, collecting bounties. In this way, a visit from the real “Lone Ranger” meant only good fortune for the town: a criminal off the street and perhaps a lucky silver coin.
Like the Lone Ranger, Reeves was also an expert crack shot with a gun. According to legend, shooting competitions had an informal ban on allowing him to enter. Like the Lone Ranger, Reeves rode a white horse throughout almost all of his career, at one point riding a light grey one as well.
Like the famed Lone Ranger legend Reeves had his own close friend like Tonto. Reeves’ companion was a Native American posse man and tracker who he often rode with, when he was out capturing bad guys. In all, there were close to 3000 of such criminals they apprehended, making them a legendary duo in many regions.
The final proof that this legend of Bass Reeves directly inspired into the story of the Lone Ranger can be found in the fact that a large number of those criminals were sent to federal prison in Detroit. The Lone Ranger radio show originated and was broadcast to the public in 1933 on WXYZ in Detroit where the legend of Reeves was famous only two years earlier.
Of course, WXYZ and the later TV and movie adaptions weren’t about to make the Lone Ranger an African American who began his career by beating a slave-keeper to death. But now you know. Spread the word and let people know the real legend of the Lone Ranger.