This article has been sponsored by MG Motor India.
During a trip to Bengaluru, eco-innovator Lakshmi Menon came across a gut-wrenching sight. A family was asleep under a bridge, and the baby, who had no clothes on, was sleeping on sand.
“I felt terrible for the baby,” she says and adds, “I wanted to do something in my own capacity. As a designer, I’ve always felt that it’s my social responsibility to find neat solutions for the problems we encounter daily.”
It was here that the idea of ‘Shayya’ (which means ‘mattress’ in Sanskrit) came about. The eco-friendly mattress aims to resolve two pressing issues – waste management and lack of bedding at many Covid centres. “Just like the baby didn’t have a mattress to lie on, FLTCs (First Line Treatment Centres for COVID-19) were facing a shortage of mattresses,” Menon, who lives in Ernakulam in Kerala, says.
“In Kerala alone, there are around 1,000 panchayats, and each has a varying number of care centres, with a minimum capacity of 50 beds. Mattresses are the need of the hour. One mattress costs somewhere between Rs 500 and Rs 700, and it has to be replaced for each infected patient,” says Menon.
As a designer, she was aware of how much scrap was being created while tailoring PPE kits. “My grandmother always says that nature doesn’t know waste. So I always try to use the concept of upcycling in all my innovations,” she says.
“I realised that these PPE scraps could be used to make mattresses. The technique is so simple that if you know how to braid your hair, you’ll be able to make these mattresses,” she adds.
The Better India and MG Motor India have come together to co-create MGChangemakers Season 3, a series recognising and commemorating heroes who are using innovation for social change, like Lakshmi.
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The scraps are braided together and more are added till the length reaches about 25 metres. These braids are then arranged in a zig-zag manner and the ends are tied together using more scrap cloth. The bed has to be at a length of 6 ft and width of 2.5 ft.
No machine, thread or needle is required to make these mattresses. The material is waterproof and can be cleaned by washing well with soap and drying it out. In addition to solving logistical and ecological challenges, Menon says the shayyas are also creating jobs and boosting the local economy. “I have employed around 20 women, who are paid Rs 300 every day,” she adds. Each shayya is sold at Rs 300 as well, to cover the labour charge.
So far, around 700 shayyas have been donated to old age homes, FLTCs and homeless shelters. To help further this initiative, Menon also provides online training for NGOs, students, and governing bodies. Menon’s efforts have been recognised by the United Nations, and she hopes they will be replicated in the world at large.