By Kurniawati Kamarudin
KUALA LUMPUR (Bernama) -- Did you know that many female students living in the interior regions of Malaysia skip school when they have their monthly periods?
This is evident among the Orang Asli and other ethnic communities in Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah and Sarawak, particularly among those living in the remote areas who either have no access to sanitary pads or are too poor to afford them.
Such a situation also exists among poverty-stricken and disadvantaged communities in Bangladesh and Nepal and in some African countries.
To address this issue, a Malaysian non-governmental organisation Mycorps Alumni, under the auspices of the Youth and Sports Ministry, has introduced its BUNGA Pads initiative to provide free sanitary napkins to underprivileged female students in and outside Malaysia.
The NGO launched the BUNGA Pads project on July 19, together with its Pad4Her campaign to create more awareness on the school absenteeism issue and raise funds to finance its initiative.
THE BANGLADESH STORY
Fitiryatu during the humanitarian mission in Bangladesh in 2017.
-- Photo courtesy of Fitriyati Bakri
The sanitary napkins that Mycorps Alumni intends to give out to underprivileged schoolgirls are not the usual use-and-dispose types but reusable pads made of bamboo charcoal cotton, a high-quality fabric sourced from Vietnam.
These eco-friendly pads are being produced and marketed by Mycorps Alumni under the brand name BUNGA Pads.
BUNGA Pads joint patron Fitriyati Bakri, 24, said the NGO is expected to give away the first batch of sanitary napkins as part of its Bunga Pads project in December, with the recipients being the female students of a school in Sabah.
Fitriyati, who is from Sandakan, Sabah, said she and her fellow Mycorps Alumni volunteers came up with the idea of making their own reusable pads whilst undertaking a two-month humanitarian mission in 2017 in the impoverished area of Gabura in Satkhira district in the west coast of Bangladesh.
She said while they were there, they came to know that absenteeism among female students in that area was high and that, according to a survey done over there, the girls did not attend school for at least 50 days a year because they were menstruating.
"We asked them about it and they told us they were too shy to go to school when they have their periods. Their families can't afford to buy sanitary pads as each pack costs about 80 taka or about RM5, while their daily household income is only 100 taka," she told Bernama.
Fitriyati and seven of her team members then decided to develop their own washable cloth pads to be given away to the girls there. It took them a month to design a pad that suited the local culture.
"The women there don't wear underwear so it was a challenge for us to design a pad that they could wear. After we got it right, we taught a group of poor single mothers there how to sew the pads," she said.
BUNGA PADS IN MALAYSIA
Fitriyati said initially she and her team had no intention of implementing the sanitary pad project in Malaysia as they did not realise that the menstruation-absenteeism issue was common among the disadvantaged communities in this country.
They only decided to introduce it after they got to know from their other NGO friends who had worked with Orang Asli communities in Kelantan that many girls and women use rags when they have their periods as they could not afford to buy sanitary pads.
She said her friend who taught in a remote school in Sabah also informed her that the female students stayed away from school when they were menstruating.
She said the BUNGA Pads project was sanctioned by Youth and Sports Department director-general Datuk Hatipah Ibrahim, with the Youth and Sports Ministry extending some financial support to kick-start the project.
Fitriyati and her team have commissioned a group of six tailors, comprising single mothers from the B40 group, in Kuala Kangsar, Perak, to sew the BUNGA Pads brand sanitary napkins.
So far they have produced 100 kits, with each kit priced at RM100 and containing seven pads (three panty liners, two pads for heavy flows and two regular pads).
According to Fitriyati, the washable pads can last between three to five years.
Fitriyati said the Malaysian Nature Society has expressed its interest in marketing BUNGA Pads due to its eco-friendly nature.
She said her team is also collaborating with an NGO running an alternate learning centre for undocumented children in Sabah, as well as with Universiti Islam Antarabangsa Malaysia's Kelab JASA which wants to give away the sanitary pads to the Orang Asli community in Sungai Siput, Perak.
"We're also targeting to set up a vocational school catering to the field of tailoring to help single mothers and school dropouts to learn sewing skills," she said, adding that all contributions received under its Pad4Her campaign and proceeds from the sale of BUNGA Pads would be used to fund the free pads for the target groups.
Fitriyati and her team also have an Instagram account @mybungapads to create more awareness on their good cause.
Incidentally, Fitriyati's 43-year-old mother Bunga Sape was the inspiration behind the name of the team's eco-friendly sanitary pads.
"The name BUNGA was chosen as a token of appreciation for my mother who raised me and my five siblings well despite the hardship she faced.
"When I was 13, she was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer. She couldn't afford to go for surgery but she managed to heal herself by taking care of her food intake," said Fitriyati, adding that it was her mother's positive spirit that she would stress on when helping other women, especially the single mothers involved in the BUNGA Pads project.
Translated by Rema Nambiar