Former Oakwood High School students Ruby Schiff, Avery Siegel and Claire Sliney executive produced the doc along with their English teacher Melissa Berton
A period should end a sentence, not a woman’s education. That’s the motto of The Pad Project, a nonprofit organization founded by the Oakwood High School students who brought their message to life in Period. End of Sentence. with the help of their English teacher.
The film, which is up for best documentary short at this year’s Oscars, aims to fight the stigma of menstruation, starting in a rural village outside of Delhi, India. For decades, the women there didn’t have access to pads, which resulted in health problems and girls missing school or dropping out entirely. But when a sanitary pad machine is installed in the village, the women learn to manufacture and market their own pads. The ladies feel so inspired that they name their brand Fly because they want women “to soar.”
“When we started this project, we really had no idea how far it would come,” Avery Siegel, Period’s executive producer and former Oakwood High School student, tells PEOPLE.
Siegel and her classmates Ruby Schiff and Claire Sliney’s efforts started almost six years ago with simple fundraisers in their Los Angeles community. “Our first round of fundraising was solely through a bunch of different bake sales and a yoga-thon,” says Siegel, who is now studying communications and media studies at Tulane University. “It was really word-of-mouth. We launched the Kickstarter in October of 2016, and that’s how we raised our initial amount of money.”
Then they brought aboard award-winning director Rayka Zehtabchi to make multiple trips to India and capture the journey of the women of Hapur.
“Talking about periods and having these women work on the machine makes people comfortable with the discussion, and forces people to learn about what periods are, and about women’s health,” Sliney says. “Watching these women become more and more comfortable talking about their periods indicates a larger cultural shift that I’m sure in due time we’ll be able to see even more clearly.”
Siegel even noticed a change in the men of the community’s attitudes.
“The men started actually wanting to learn about the project, and they even tried to make their own pads,” she recalls. “That is a cultural shift that we never even expected would happen. The fact that that much change happened in six months gives us so much hope for what will happen in the future of this machine and globally in this movement.”
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Now that filming on the documentary has wrapped and Period. End of Sentence. will begin streaming on Netflix on Tuesday, its producers are looking ahead to expand their mission to other communities in need, such as ones outside of Hapur, and Sierra Leone, through The Pad Project.
“We hope to be the organization that links communities in rural villages who are in want of a machine with access and ways to get the machine,” producer and Oakwood High School English teacher Melissa Berton says.
They also want to help out right here at home. “In the United States, women in prison still don’t have access to pads,” she continues. “Women in lower socio-economic areas don’t attend school just like in countries around the world when they don’t have access to pads.”
As the women continue to raise awareness on the subject, they feel more comfortable than ever talking about a once “taboo” subject.
“Not only has the film really significantly altered the taboo in India, but also just in talking about the film and publicizing the project, we’re dispelling the taboo in our own home communities,” Sliney says.
Adds Berton, “It breaks your heart to think that people think that the period is a source of shame. We’re excited to be a little part of breaking that taboo.”
Period. End of Sentence. is streaming Tuesday on Netflix.