Lakshmi Menon, an Ernakulam-based social entrepreneur and designer, has fashioned eco-friendly mattresses for COVID-19 patients from PPE scrap material.

When Lakshmi Menon saw a poor family sleeping on the bare ground, she decided to do something to help the needy. In March 2020, she conceived the idea of shayya mattresses made out of tailoring scrap.

PPE to the rescue

As the COVID-19 pandemic hit the country, hospitals and First-Line Treatment Centres (FLTCS) in Kerala struggled to provide enough beds for patients. Mattresses became the need of the hour, each one costing between 500-700. When Lakshmi called up tailoring units for scrap to make shayyas, she discovered that they had switched to making personal protective equipment (PPE) suits for healthcare workers. A lot of scrap material is generated while making these suits. As it contains small amounts of plastic, it can be disposed of or recycled by a professional agency only something that many tailors cannot afford. So, they would get rid of the scrap by burning it, causing air pollution. Lakshmi then decided to create shayyas from PPE scrap.

These mattresses are easy to make, requiring no stitching. The scraps are braided together and arranged in a zigzag manner before their ends are tied together with scrap cloth. The resulting shayya is 1.8 m (6 ft) long and 0.7 m (2.5 ft) wide. Unlike a regular mattress, which is difficult to disinfect, it can be washed with soap and reused.

Jobs for local women

 Lakshmi employs around 20 local women who had become jobless during the lockdown. Each woman makes one shayya a day, for which she is paid 300. A shayya is sold at the same price to cover the labour charge. Around 700 shayyas have been donated so far.

Lakshmi's innovative project addressed three major issues - waste management, job creation and the lack of bedding for patients. It has t been recognised by the United Nations in their list of best practices. To enable NGOs, students, etc. to replicate her model, Lakshmi provides them with online training.

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Julia Lorraine Hill (known as Julia Butterfly Hill, born February 18, 1974) is an American environmental activist and tax redirection advocate. She is best known for having lived in a 180-foot (55 m)-tall, roughly 1500-year-old California redwood tree for 738 days between December 10, 1997 and December 18, 1999.

When Julia Lorraine Hill was seven years old, a butterfly landed on her finger during a hike with her family in Arkansas, USA. Amazingly, it stayed there for the rest of the hike, earning her the nickname 'Butterfly'.

At age 22, Julia was in a near-fatal car accident. The crash changed her life. She decided to become an eco-warrior.

Hill climbs Luna

Julia joined the movement to preserve the redwood forest in Humboldt County, California. Hundreds of the massive, ancient redwood trees were marked for cutting down by the Pacific Lumber Company. Several activists prevented the loggers from chopping the trees by climbing them and staying put for a few hours, sometimes a few days. Julia chose a 55-m-tall redwood that was almost 1500 years old and climbed it on December 10, 1997. She called it Luna because she had ascended it on a moonlit night.

Though she hadn't planned on it, the days turned into weeks. Soon, the 24-year-old had spent 42 days atop Luna, longer than anyone else! Volunteers from Earth First! and other organisations helped her build a covered shelter on top of the tree.

Succeeds finally

During her 738-day vigil, the logging company subjected Julia to loud horns and blinding lights. They flew helicopters so close that she was buffeted by strong winds from the rotors. She also lived through one of the worst winters in California history. However, Julia stuck firm. She only came down on December 18, 1999, when the company agreed to preserve Luna and create a three-acre buffer zone around itJulia wrote a memoir called The Legacy of Luna and continued to work actively against deforestation. She set up Circle of Life, a foundation that offers tools for sustainable living.

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On June 18, 1983, Sally K. Ride was onboard the space shuttle Challenger for the STS-7 mission, thereby becoming the first American woman to go into space. Apart from making two space flights, Ride championed the cause of science education for children.

The first decades of space exploration was largely dominated by two countries the US and the Soviet Union This period is even referred to as the Space Race as the two Cold War adversaries pitted themselves: against each other to achieve superior spaceflight capabilities.

While the two countries were neck and neck in most aspects. the Soviets sent a woman to space much before the US. Even though Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space in June 1963, it was another 20 years before Sally Ride became the first American woman in space

Urged to explore

Ride was the older of two daughters born  to Carol Joyce Ride and Dale Ride. Even though her mother was a counsellor and her father a professor of political science. Ride credits them for fostering her interest in science by enabling her to explore from a very young age.

An athletic teenager, Ride loved sports such as tennis, running, volleyball, and softball. In fact, she attended Westlake School for Girls in Los Angeles on a partial tennis scholarship. She even tried her luck in professional tennis, before returning to California to attend Stanford University.

By 1973, Ride not only had a Bachelor of Science degree in Physics, but had also obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in English. She got her Master of Science degree in 1975 and obtained her Ph.D. in Physics by 1978

Restriction removed

Having restricted astronaut qualification to men for decades,  NASA expanded astronaut selection with the advent of the space shuttle from only pilots to engineers and scientists, opening the doorway for women finally. Having seen an ad in a newspaper inviting women to apply for the astronaut programme Ride decided to give it a shot

Out of more than 8,000 applications, Ride became one of six women who were chosen as an astronaut candidate in January 1978. Spaceflight training began soon after and it included parachute jumping, water survival, weightlessness, radio communications, and navigation, among others. She was also involved in developing the robot arm used to deploy and retrieve satellites.

Ride served as part of the ground-support crew for STS-2 and STS-3 missions in November 1981 and March 1982. In April 1982, NASA announced that Ride would be part of the STS-7 crew, serving as a mission specialist in a five-member crew.

First American woman in space

On June 18, 1983, Ride became the first American woman in space. By the time the STS-7 mission was completed and the space shuttle Challenger returned to Earth on June 24, they had launched communications satellites for Canada and Indonesia. As an expert in the use of the shuttle's robotic arm, Ride also helped deploy and retrieve a satellite in space using the robot arm.

Ride created history once again when she became the first American woman to travel to space a second time as part of the STS-41G in October 1984. During this nine-day mission, Ride employed the shuttle's robotic arm to remove ice from the shuttle's exterior and to also readjust a radar antenna. There could have even been a third, as she was supposed to join STS-61M, but that mission was cancelled following the 1986 Challenger disaster.

Even after her days of space travel were over, Ride was actively involved in influencing the space programme. When accident investigation boards were set up in response to two shuttle tragedies - Challenger in 1986 and Columbia in 2003 Ride was a part of them both.

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Geetanjali Shree has become the first Indian author to win the prestigious International Booker Prize for her "utterly original" Hindi novel "Tomb of Sand", a family saga set in northern India about an 80-year-old woman who travels to Pakistan to confront the unresolved trauma of her teenage experiences of Partition and re-evaluates what it means to be a mother, a daughter, a woman and a feminist.

At a ceremony in London on Thursday, the 64-year-old New Delhi-based writer said she was "completely overwhelmed" with the "bolt from the blue" as she accepted her 50,000-pound prize, and shared it with the book's English translator Daisy Rockwell. The prize is split between author and translator equally.

"Tomb of Sand", originally "Ret Samadhi", is set in northern India and follows an 80-year-old woman in a tale the Booker judges dubbed a "joyous cacophony" and an "irresistible novel".

"I never dreamt of the Booker. I never thought I could. What a huge recognition, I'm amazed, delighted, honoured and humbled," said Shree in her acceptance speech. "There is a melancholy satisfaction in the award going to it. 'Ret Samadhi/Tomb of Sand' is an elegy for the world we inhabit, a lasting energy that retains hope in the face of impending doom. The Booker will surely take it to many more people than it would have reached otherwise, that should do the book no harm," she said.

Reflecting upon becoming the first work of fiction in Hindi to make the Booker cut, the author said it felt good to be the means of that happening. "But behind me and this book lies a rich and flourishing literary tradition in Hindi, and in other South Asian languages. World literature will be richer for knowing some of the finest writers in these languages. The vocabulary of life will increase from such an interaction," she said.

Rockwell, a painter, writer and translator living in Vermont, US, joined her on stage to receive her award for translating the novel she described as a "love letter to the Hindi language". "Ultimately, we were captivated by the power, the poignancy and the playfulness of ‘Tomb of Sand’, Geetanjali Shree's polyphonic novel of identity and belonging, in Daisy Rockwell's exuberant, coruscating translation," said Frank Wynne, chair of the judging panel.

This is a luminous novel of India and Partition, but one whose spellbinding brio and fierce compassion weaves youth and age, male and female, family and nation into a kaleidoscopic whole," he said.

The book's 80-year-old protagonist, Ma, to her family's consternation, insists on travelling to Pakistan, simultaneously confronting the unresolved trauma of her teenage experiences of Partition, and re-evaluating what it means to be a mother, a daughter, a woman, a feminist.

The Booker jury was impressed that rather than respond to tragedy with seriousness, Shree's playful tone and exuberant wordplay resulted in a book that is "engaging. funny, and utterly original", at the same time as being an urgent and timely protest against the destructive impact of borders and boundaries, whether between religions, countries, or genders.

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Enheduanna, a princess and priestess, who lived in the 23rd Century BC, is considered to be the world's first known author. She lived 1,700 hundred years before Sappho, and 1,500 years before Homer. She was born in Mesopotamia, the birthplace of the first cities and cultures. Her father King Sargon the Great, was history's first empire builder who conquered the separate independent city-states of Mesopotamia under a unified banner.

Royal Duties

Sargon was viewed as a foreign invader by the people of the older Sumerian cities of the south because he spoke Akkadian and belonged to the north. To bridge the gap between the two cultures, the king appointed his only daughter, Enheduanna, as the high priestess.

The women of the royal family were well educated and traditionally served religious roles in the kingdom. They were taught to read and write in both Sumerian and Akkadian and trained to perform mathematical calculations.

Until Enheduanna, writing was only used in record-keeping rather than composing original literary works that could be attributed to an author. Her duties entailed managing the city's grain storage facilities, overseeing hundreds of temple workers and presiding over monthly sacred rituals.

Her written works aimed at bringing together the older Sumerian cultures and the newer Akkadian civilisation. She accomplished this by composing 42 religious hymns that combined mythologies from both traditions.

Enheduanna's poetry for Goddess Inanna (goddess of desire and war), is considered to be her most valuable contribution to the literary tradition of the time. Her odes to the deity mark the first time an author used the personal pronoun T. After her demise, she was honoured as a minor deity. Her poetry was widely circulated, studied and performed throughout the empire for over 500 years. Her works went on to inspire and influence the Hebrew Old Testament, the epics of Homer and many Christian hymns. Today, her legacy is preserved in excavated clay tables from that period.

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