Community Champion: How Kenya’s Florence Kamaitha Is Keeping Girls In School One-Pad-At-A-Time

In Kenya, at least 2.5 million adolescent girls miss 3 to 5 days of classes monthly because they do not have access to affordable sanitary pads.

While some of them miss classes during their monthly cycle, others drop out of school entirely.

Although the Kenyan ministry of Education said it has been able to provide sanitary towels to about 678,700 needy girls in the country under its sanitary programme for primary school girls (a programme that was launched in 2010), a large number of primary and secondary school girls have remain missing in school during their monthly cycle.

Florence Kamaitha has stepped up to beat this predominant challenge that is creating a barrier to girl-child education in Kenya. She is doing this by producing eco-friendly affordable towels made from agricultural waste.

These sanitary towels are produced from stems of the millions of bananas harvested in Kenya yearly.

Rural Reporters spoke with Florence to discuss how she is working to keep girls in class one pad at a time through PadHaven Initiative.

The interview:

What is the rationale behind “Pad Heaven Initiative” and what need do you address with this project?

One in ten girls in Africa drop out of school as a result of missing school regularly due to their menses. 61 percent of girls in Kenya miss school during their menses, despite the fact that education is free in Kenya. Sanitary pads are too expensive for most household living below $2 a day to afford.

Pad Heaven has been distributing sanitary pads and undergarments to girls to keep them in school, and now we are in the process of manufacturing low-cost sanitary pads from locally available materials to ensure poor girls and women can afford this product and go to school and work with dignity.

Do you have a personal experience that made you create the “Pad Heaven Initiative”?

It just so happened that I had joined some friends to donate desks in a school in the rural areas, and the head teacher shared with us the plight of these girls missing school during their periods leading to a lot of drop–outs.

What are the challenges of creating a project such as yours in Kenya?

One of the challenges of a social enterprise is sustainability. We all appreciate that a social enterprise aims to solve society issues, impact the community as well as be sustainable. However, it may take a long time to be sustainable and that reason discourages investors to invest in your business and we have to rely on grants and donors to help us grow wings for some time.

Another challenge is being a new invention in Kenya, not many people will understand the raw material of our choice. However, we plan to educate the communities on the benefits of the banana fibre as a raw material in the pads.

The banana-tree fibre pad, how is it made and what number of production are you targeting per year?

After the banana is harvested and the stalks are cut, we remove the white part of the stem called the ‘pseudo stem’. It is beat into a pulp and dried out in the sun. it forms an absorbent fiber that will be the main raw material.

The machine we are making can build up to 10 pads a minute. We aim to make at least 200,000 packets every year and increase production as we go on. We also plan to set up production units in all 47 counties, partnering with women communities on the ground to allow them to engage in entrepreneurship.

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Is this pad hygienic and for how many hours can this pad absorb menstrual flow?

Yes it is. It has been tried and tested by top engineers and research labs. The invention was done in Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 2008 and it is working in Rwanda. It will be launched in India next month and we are glad we will be sharing this technology to help the girls and women in Kenya.

How do you intend to distribute this pad to girls in the rural area? Is it for free or does is it for a price?

The pads will cost over 40 percent cheaper than what is in the markets. We will use women in communities to sell to other women and girls and get a commission from their sales, as well as stocking shops in the villages. We will also engage the local government to buy for the primary schools as some governments are already having a sanitary pads budget for girls in their counties.

How far have you gone with your project?

We just finished the designs for the machine, and the engineers started building it in September. We hope they will be done by November so we can test the product in December and start production in January.

How do you (intend to) empower rural dwellers with your project, socially and economically?

We intend to engage women in entrepreneurial activities such as selling and also training them to start off their production unit in their respective areas. We will also be employing locals in manufacturing of the sanitary pads and also engaging farmers to be our suppliers of raw materials.

We also intend to go round schools and teach girls about menstruation management, puberty, sexuality and HIV/AIDS.

What is your message to other young African change makers?

Change starts with you. If you have a solution to a problem, do not sit back and wait for the government and other institutions to come and solve it. Do not wait to get a lot of money so you can create a big enough change. Change is change, no matter how small. Start now and start with the little that you have to change someone’s life. As Mother Teresa said ‘I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create ripples’. This means that Change usually starts on a very small scale. People see a better way of doing something or a simple product to change people’s lives. They experiment, try new approaches and share their successes with others. A few more will try the changes and join the movement. The movement begins to gain momentum and we will see a big change in our society.

Busayo Sotunde is a prolific writer with special focus on Business, Entrepreneurship, Reproductive Health and other development issues in Africa. Her articles have been published by different outlets including Investing Port and Ventures-Africa.com. She has a penchant for reading and sustainable development. Follow Busayo on Twitter @BusayomiSotunde

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