It’s been just over a week since our return from Tanzania and I’m still working to process all that transpired.
We had no idea that sanitary pads would feature so prominently in this trip or represent such a galvanizing focus for social entrepreneurship. Both Danielle and Lyndsey had researched this topic as part of their ELN independent studies and were well aware of the connections with girls’ education and public health.
But seeing Danielle working on the reusable pad project was an emotional experience for all of us. The idea had come from her final study abroad project and when she discovered Dare Women’s Foundation’s model via an internet search, they had offered to train our partners in Musoma. Danielle quickly raised the funds needed to support Stephen Marwa’s (Executive Director of Hope Revival Children’s Foundation) travel to Arusha. And here we were, returning just one year later with sewing materials, ready to support the start-up of a Musoma-based reusable sanitary pad project.
To our surprise, the very next day Stephen delivered the first batch of reusable pads (see featured photo) and I was proud to be the second customer -Danielle being the first. Stephen explained that after the pads are certified by the Ministry, they will be manufactured and sold. Proceeds will sustain the sewing project while also supporting school-aged girls unable to afford appropriate menstrual supplies.
I was so pleased with the pads that I carried the prototype with me as we visited leaders and organizations throughout the area.When we were introduced to the Anglican Bishop of Musoma, Dr. George Okoth, he was so impressed with the project and our interest in menstrual management that he asked us to visit a Safe House in Mugumu Serengeti where village girls fled go to escape Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). He explained that they had acquired a disposable pad machine that was sitting in storage, without any institutional knowledge about how to operate or fix it. Although Muguma was a clear departure from our itinerary we were all eager to accept the invitation. With a recent Engineering grad (Mathew Falcone), our own Macgyver Librarian (Cindi Tysick), and resident pad experts (Danielle and Lyndsey), how could we pass up the challenge?
Our 2+ hour drive to Muguma was both fascinating and bumpy. We winded our way around the massive Acacia gold mine as we tried to anticipate what lay ahead. When we arrived at the Mugumu Safe House we received a brief tour of the facility while learning about the daunting challenges facing the girls. And then Melina (Director) showed us the pad machine.
It was sitting in a a storage closet draped in plastic, obviously never touched or utilized. We all stood and stared at the impressive contraption, trying to comprehend what we were seeing. Then Lyndsey yelled, “It’s from the Pad Man!” We knew this to be a movie that our UB School of Management colleague, Debbie Grossman, who had visited Tanzania with us the last year had urged us all to see- but we hadn’t had had time. Within seconds the girls were texting Debbie and miraculously even though it was the crack of dawn in Buffalo, she immediately replied, confirming that the machine was indeed the same type and make of Indian apparatus featured in the movie.
And then they were off- a quick assessment (with the help of YouTube) revealed that nothing was wrong with the machine. There was simply no Tanzanian adapter for the Indian power cord. Dan quickly surrendered his travel converter and the machine immediately purred into action. Between Cindi and Matthew the first prototype was produced in minutes and once the girls got the hang of it, the Muguma Disposable Pad Project was born before our very eyes.
But our biggest joy came as Melina recognized what she had just stumbled upon. Suddenly, her prospects for supporting and stewarding the Safe House and its girls were much more promising.
How to celebrate the promise of girls’ empowerment in the Mara Region? Early in our trip we were treated to unforgettable dancing and poetry by the new “Musoma Action, Girls Empowerment” group led by partner and friend Monica Achieng. These beautiful girls were gathering to celebrate their solidarity and share inspiring messages about education, self-empowerment and women’s health.
As we reflect on the beauty and vibrancy of the young women we met throughout the trip and the promise of their collective futures we can’t help thinking about menstrual management and girls’ empowerment in a new way. Clearly, there is much to celebrate and infinite opportunities to learn, share and collaborate around this important topic.