How we opened a Pad Bank in Humla

I have been wanting to go to the Himalayan region of Nepal for a while now. I tried going to Dolpo for the longest time but that could not be possible and a few google searches later, I found HEAD Nepal, an NGO working for the rehabilitation, inclusion, and empowerment of people with disabilities in the Himalayan Region

I wrote an impulsive email to them and heard back from the founder/ED, Mr. Chhitup Lama in the following weeks. We talked on the phone and more than the interview it felt like he was trying to convince me to not come to Humla. He talked about the extreme weather condition, poor infrastructure, lack of good food, water, roads, etc. He wanted to make sure that I will not change my mind and can bear the difficulties that Humla will throw at me. He had had difficulties with former volunteers.

 But that seemed all the more exciting to me because I truly wanted to explore the place and was up for the challenge. Romanticizing the difficult lives of people from underprivileged backgrounds has always been a problem of mine. I requested them to pay for my travel, accommodation, and food, and they thankfully agreed. I was super stoked.
 

As I boarded the flight to Simikot from Nepalgunj and was awestruck by the beauty. The mountain flight was scary. The shivering and shuddering of the flight did make me wonder what happens if I die here but thankfully I made it.

It was strikingly beautiful. It was like nothing I had seen before. Distant snowclad mountains, the greenery, small houses with blue tin roofs, smiling people. I visited the office of HEAD Nepal where they had prepared a room for me, it was better than I had imagined. I had lived in the worst situations before in Khotang. 

Read about my experiences in Khotang. 

I visited the residential center for children with disabilities in HEAD Nepal. There were only a few kids and both of us were kind of reserved when we met. It took me a few days to get to know them and talk to them. Once I got to know them, they were always excited and happy and always so so cheerful.

 

As I was settling in and starting my work of building a website for HEAD Nepal, I got my periods and had to buy sanitary pads. The water situation in my place was really bad, the toilets never had water so I couldn’t use my menstrual cup.

I sent lalkala didi, the home mother of the children and the residential center, to buy me a pad and a wai wai noodle in case I crave something spicy at night, I gave her 200 rupees. On average, a pad costs Rs, 50-60 in Nepal, and wai wai costs Rs. 15-20. She comes back with a pad and says sorry that is all I could buy with 200 rupees. I was shocked.

The pad that she got me, its MRP clearly stated Rs. 60 but it was sold by the retailer at Rs. 150. She told me this was the cheapest option available. The other ones were Rs. 200-250. 

 

I was shocked and alarmed at how a necessary item can be this expensive. I asked around whether or not my colleagues and other women in the neighborhood used pads or what they used during their period and I got all sorts of answers from cotton cloth, to rags and some women said they used nothing at all.

I was shocked at my privilege and the false sense of developmental optimism when I thought everybody must use pads or at least some sort of menstrual sanitation at this age.

We are still very backward, the practices in the remote areas especially related to menstrual hygiene are still primitive and in some cases fatal. Given the poor healthcare infrastructure in such remote rural villages, safe menstrual hygiene practices become even more necessary to avoid deaths and health hazards that could be easily avoided through precautionary measures.

I wanted to understand what is causing this exorbitant price hike. I went and talked to the retailers and they said the price is high because of the cargo fair. But I knew that they had added a significant mark up because the cargo fair for 1 KG of the product was about 115 and 1 KG pad means 7-10 pads. 

I was thinking of ways to solve this problem. I talked to a couple of people but nothing seemed to be working out in the beginning.

I thought the only to get the price reduced for the pads is if we eliminated the cargo fare and that can only be done by the airlines. So I started writing emails and LinkedIn messages to airline workers and the board of directors asking them if they would fly the pads for free from Nepalgunj to Simikot.

After a week of writing and calling, I got two leads one from Tara Air and one from Sita Air. But none of them seem to be doing the work quickly.

I also realized that I could not do this alone and needed a local partner in Simikot to run things while I am not here. I talked to Mr. Chhitup Lama’s office and we talked about it. He seemed rather excited to execute this pad bank project under HEAD Nepal.

In the meanwhile, I had gotten in touch with Ms, Anamika Mundhara from Padelux, a Nepali sanitary pad manufacturing company and they had agreed to fund the first lot of NPR 10000 worth of pads. 

After over 2 months of effort, Mr. Chhitup and I were n Kathmandu when I begged Yeti airlines to have a meeting with us and they agreed. We held the meeting, discussed the logistics and they agreed to do a one-year project with us. They would be flying our sanitary pads for free from Nepalgunj to Simikot and Padelux would be providing the first lot of pads that we will sell at MRP.This allowed us to start the pad bank without any investment, we would sell the pads at MRP to the woman and the revenue generated will be used to buy pads again. We had decided to make the best use of it. 

We named the initiative Rayna because it means pure, clean, and strong in several languages. We launched our pad banks in several stores in Simikot and the HQ of HEAD Nepal. The shopkeepers who agreed to sell the pads at MRP are also taking a huge downfall in their income from selling pads at exorbitant prices but they understand and are excited about this change-making process. We launched Rayna on December 8, 2021, on Dignified Menstruation Day.

We are extremely happy and hopeful. The pad bank is currently running, we have already held a couple of awareness drives and the number of women using sanitary pads also seems to be increasing.

The power of CSR is huge, there are so many organizations that wish to do good for society and we need to give them the option to help and bring that change. Small efforts from the organizations like Yeti airlines and Padelux go a long way in bringing such huge impacts in the lives of rural menstruating individuals. 

The next step is to remove the pink tax from menstrual hygiene products and get them easily accessible to further nooks and corners of Nepal. Moving forward, we would also hold awareness programs too to make sure that menstruating individuals in simikot and around can access the pads and understand their importance.

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