She cre­ated a me­dia frenzy with her in­vite to the wed­ding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in May. And her work is noth­ing less than a rev­o­lu­tion. So­ci­ety in con­ver­sa­tion with Suhani Jalota, founder of the Mum­bai-based Myna Mahila Foun­da­tion

Society - - CONTENTS - By All­win D’Souza

How did a woman work­ing in Mum­bai slums get an in­vite to the wed­ding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle? Suhani Jalota, founder of the Mum­bai-based Myna Mahila Foun­da­tion, tells us her awe-in­spir­ing story

Myna Mahila Foun­da­tion was the only non-UK based or­gan­i­sa­tion out of the seven char­i­ties that were cho­sen to ben­e­fit from do­na­tions dur­ing the wed­ding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, held at Wind­sor Cas­tle in Lon­don last month. Suhani Jalota, founder of Myna Mahila Foun­da­tion, along with Ar­chana Am­bre, Deb­o­rah Das and Imo­gan Mans­field were the in­cred­i­ble four who flew 6,000 miles for the royal wed­ding to rep­re­sent their foun­da­tion at one of the most talked about events of the year. We spoke to Jalota about her much talked about in­vite to Wind­sor Cas­tle and ex­pect­edly, she says be­ing at the royal wed­ding has been a mar­vel­lous ex­pe­ri­ence, a dream come true for her and her team mem­bers who ac­com­pa­nied her. “It was sur­real, com­pletely un­ex­pected and so out of the or­di­nary. The spirit in the town of Wind­sor and four of us decked up in sa­rees, meet­ing in­cred­i­ble peo­ple...,” she holds her breath while nar­rat­ing the ex­cit­ing mo­ment. Back in 2016, Jalota was a stu­dent at Duke Univer­sity in North Carolina, pur­su­ing a Dou­ble Ma­jor and a Bach­e­lor’s de­gree in Eco­nomics and Global Health. She was a part of Bald­win Scholar, a women’s four-year lead­er­ship pro­gram and was

also a Melissa and Doug En­trepreneur­ship Fel­low 2016 to start the Myna Mahila Foun­da­tion. It was as a part of the lat­ter that she came up with the idea of pro­duc­ing sanitary nap­kins and sell them to un­der­priv­i­leged com­mu­ni­ties in Mum­bai slums at a lower cost than the ac­tual price. She won the Glam­our Magazine’s ‘College Woman of the Year’ award for this con­cept, win­ning $20,000 (thir­teen lakhs sixty thou­sand and hun­dred ru­pees) as the cash prize, with which she started the foun­da­tion. It was at the awards func­tion that Suhani met Meghan Markle, who later vis­ited the foun­da­tion in Mum­bai in March 2017. Markle’s visit to the foun­da­tion has worked won­ders for Suhani’s or­gan­i­sa­tion. “Her visit has helped us in terms of pro­mo­tion and boost­ing self-con­fi­dence for the women on the job. It was great and we learnt a lot from her and she too learnt a lot about the com­mu­nity. It was re­ally a hum­bling ex­pe­ri­ence.” Jalota, who be­came the founder and CEO of the Myna Mahila Foun­da­tion at the age of 23, says. In 2017, she also won the Queen’s Young Leader Award for her work. The or­gan­i­sa­tion was es­tab­lished in part­ner­ship with Dr Jockin Ar­putham, founder of Mahila Mi­lan (a self-help group) along with a lot more sup­port that came from dif­fer­ent quar­ters to help her es­tab­lish this foun­da­tion. She has also re­ceived help from her alma mater, the Duke Univer­sity. It’s been eight years that the or­gan­i­sa­tion has been work­ing to­wards hy­giene and san­i­ta­tion in Mum­bai’s slum areas. Jalota’s mis­sion is to ob­tain equal amount of ac­cess to health­care ser­vices for ev­ery­body. She has been work­ing in ur­ban slum areas and with ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties, re­search­ing and de­sign­ing strate­gies for a num­ber of projects rang­ing from health­care for ado­les­cent girls and water and san­i­ta­tion to so­cial pro­tec­tion poli­cies. Jalota has also been a part of var­i­ous eval­u­a­tion projects with IDin­sight, UNICEF and De­part­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion in the Philip­pines for san­i­ta­tion pro­grams. Few years back, Suhani was also work­ing in the Philip­pines, South Africa, Thai­land and several cities in In­dia. Suhani’s fight for hy­giene and san­i­ta­tion is not only for girls and women in Mum­bai but also for chil­dren all over In­dia. She is also a TEDx speaker and re­cently spoke about break­ing health taboos as she re­searched and worked at Dhar­avi, the world’s largest slum area. Her in­spi­ra­tion has al­ways been women and their sto­ries. In fact, what in­spires her more than even their sto­ries is their po­ten­tial. The foun­da­tion pro­duces sanitary nap­kins on a daily ba­sis. They have a tar­get of pro­duc­ing 1000 sanitary pads per day. The cost of one sanitary

“Markle’s visit has helped us in terms of pro­mo­tion and boost­ing self-con­fi­dence for the women on the job.”

nap­kin pro­duced at the foun­da­tion is and it is sold for three, two ru­pees five paise or even for one ru­pee five paise. The team also or­gan­ises dis­cus­sion, health con­ven­tion camps and goes door-to-door to ed­u­cate women about hy­giene and san­i­ta­tion. With re­spect to the door-to-door ed­u­ca­tion—which takes place ev­ery day—their tar­get au­di­ence is both school girls and women. The health con­ven­tion camps hap­pen once a month. While the group dis­cus­sions hap­pen once in two to three weeks. The foun­da­tion reaches out to 10,000 women per month while there are only 60 women work­ing in the in­sti­tu­tion. The team co­or­di­nates with the man­ager with the re­quire­ments and the man­ager then re­ports to the head of­fice. The Myna Mahila Foun­da­tion has cre­ated sort of a rev­o­lu­tion with their work. And when it comes to spread­ing aware­ness about san­i­ta­tion and men­strual hy­giene, the or­gan­i­sa­tion wouldn’t be lim­it­ing them­selves to Mum­bai alone. They have plans to reach out to the tribal areas out­side the city as well, Jalota tells us. With the eu­pho­ria around the royal wed­ding com­ing to an end, it’s now time to get back to work for Jalota and her team. So is Markle vis­it­ing them again any­time soon? We ask. “I am not sure. But she will con­tinue sup­port­ing us,” Jalota is hope­ful. For now though, she along with her fa­ther Ra­jiv Jalota—who hap­pens to be the Sales Tax Com­mis­sioner for the Govern­ment of Ma­ha­rash­tra and also a former stu­dent of Duke Univer­sity—is work­ing to­wards de­vel­op­ing the eco­nomic and so­cial sec­tor in In­dia. Apart from pur­su­ing a PhD in Health Pol­icy at Stan­ford School of Medicine.

Re­ceiv­ing the Queen’s Young Leader Award from the Queen her­self

Meghan Markle with Suhani Jalota and the women work­ers at the Myna Mahila Foun­da­tion

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