Born in India but raised in Indonesia, Sanandha Prabu is the face of young leadership and an innovator of social service. This young 15-year-old girl leads a passionate life – passionate about her pets, passionate about art, and significantly, passionate about her community. Residing in Bandung, Indonesia, Sana noticed that the homeless women in her town were struggling to take care of their health. That’s when Semua Sehat was born. Launched in February of 2021, Semua Sehat is a program that distributes period products to menstruators that are houseless. As of October, over 113 packets have been distributed by Sana herself. In fact, Sana also packages the bags too, with the help of her parents, of course.
“I get a lot of help from my mom,” she says. “We kept discussing about this idea for a long time, but I decided to just start, because if you keep talking about it…you’re just gonna keep prolonging it.” It’s a pretty simple approach. Sana saw a problem in her community and decided that she could be the change needed to make the situation better. Each package contains sanitary napkins, bar soap, laundry detergent, and other small items which she buys in bulk from small shops for reduced prices. After packing them in Ziploc bags for convenient carrying, she distributes the packages while on her bike rides to whoever she sees that is in need. “They’re so happy when they get those items. Usually people give just food, so seeing other items makes them even happier.”
I’m sure they are. Sanitary pads, especially the high-quality ones, are incredibly expensive. Sana shares a little about the research she conducted about the ways in which the community she reaches prioritize their spending. “I asked them about their estimated income in a day, and it’s like $1 or $2, and that’s on a good day. So if you wanted to buy, like, pads, it’s gonna take a couple of days.” People usually prioritize things like food and clothing. Even though menstrual products are technically hygiene products, they aren’t prioritized as such. “I asked them how often they buy cleaning supplies like soap and detergent, and they say they rarely buy that. It’s really affecting their health.” Perhaps the reason that people with low income don’t consider menstrual products, among other hygiene products, a necessity is because of the way they’ve been socialized.
On a global scale, menstruators, especially young girls, are subject to cultural shaming and social ostracization when dealing with their periods. This creates a problem of period poverty. According to GlobalCitizen.org, period poverty is the “lack of access to sanitary products, menstrual hygiene education, toilets, hand washing facilities, and/or waste management.” Sana first learned about period poverty through Operation Period, a nonprofit organization founded in 2015 that ensures that no one is held back because of their period. They have a goal of menstrual freedom for everyone that bleeds, achieved through advocacy, art, education, community involvement, and direct aid. (Learn more about Operation Period at www.OperationPeriod.org) Operation Period’s Instagram also mentions the ways menstrual products are taxed as non-essential items, yet products like Viagra are left untaxed because they are considered “essential”. This “tampon tax” contributes to the high costs of menstrual products, making them inaccessible and perpetuating sex discrimination. Working with this organization as a graphic designer, Sana was inspired to start Semua Sehat, and together, these programs are working to provide more resources for menstruators and to undo the stigma surrounding periods.
Semua Sehat is a young project, but Sana has goals to reach out to people in need even outside of her community. “Hopefully I can go into the schools, the not so quality schools if that makes sense, in the villages and teach them about periods, other things, and also distribute the packets to them as well.” Sana tells me about how, growing up in Indonesia, people don’t really speak about periods. Even though sex education is a mandatory subject, “How do I put this, they don’t really get the facts about menstruation. They don’t get all the information they need, just the basics. I feel like they need know how to take care of themselves, the effects it has on your body and other things.” A distressing reality, yet true for so many young menstruators around the world, including Sana herself. “My family is more traditional, so I didn’t learn about [the facts of periods] until I started menstruating. I learnt about it in school…but I learned better when it actually happened.” Sana is realizing this at the age of 15, so she’s already a bit ahead of the curve. As a 20-year-old who didn’t learn the facts about menstruation until they were 18, I realized that not only was my education on menstruation brief, but it also wasn’t deemed as important as other subjects.
Sana has also worked with Super Position Wildwood, and outreach program that empowers women and non-binary people to pursue education and careers in STEM. Though this program doesn’t address period poverty the way Semua Sehat does, Sana recognizes the importance of education to help people to take better care of themselves. “Homeless people don’t really finish school…I feel like encouraging people to go into STEM will help lift them out of their situation.” There are also a lot of houseless people helping their parents out [financially]. “I feel like if they get an education they can be in a better position.”
Until she started Semua Sehat, Sana hadn’t realized just how many houseless women there are, and how dire their situation can be. “I also [realized] that being a homeless woman on the street is very dangerous. Most of them have a husband or a man with them to protect them. Some of them have children, [and if not] most of them stay in a group so they’re not alone so it’s less dangerous.” The work that Sana does is on a small scale compared to government policies that could protect houseless populations or large organizations with the funds to provide menstruators with resources, but the direct impact that Semua Sehat has on the lives of poor women is undeniably powerful. “Some of the recipients are really unforgettable,” she mentions with a small smile on her face. “This one woman started crying when I gave her the package. It really affected me.” I asked if she maintains contact with any of her recipients and Sana says “I do my best to give them something at least once a month. Otherwise, if I see them, I usually at least say hello. It gives me a lot of happiness to do this kind of project.”
It’s almost like a cycle of empowerment. Sana provides care packages to these houseless women, which takes one expense off their shoulders and an opportunity to take care of themselves as necessary, and in turn, this service to the community builds this young girl into an empathetic leader with a willingness to learn new things about the world, to be faced with a harsh reality but also be unafraid to step up to the plate and do something about what she feels is wrong. When you’re passionate about something, the way Sana is passionate about her community, there’s nothing you can’t do. “Do not be scared about what you’re passionate about. Just do it. And stop thinking about what other people will think about you. I was honestly kind of scared about how people would think about my project because [periods] are more of a taboo in Indonesia.” After seeing the impact of Semua Sehat, she realized just how happy the attitudes towards her efforts were. She was positively affecting the lives of real people. “If you’re passionate about something, just pursue it. Life is short.”
To show your support for Semua Sehat, follow their Instagram: @semuasehat.indo