I would like to introduce you to WRAPS, the washable, reusable, and affordable pads that we are making in Southern Ethiopia. You might ask, why in the world are you making sanitary pads in Ethiopia? That’s a good question.
Well, in Ethiopia, village school girls and even poor city girls are missing anywhere from 1-5 days of school per month due to their menstrual cycle. Let me give you an example. Bethlehem is a very bright 6th grader. She is so bright that she scored the highest score of 5th graders in Soddo, the town we are living in. Unfortunately she comes from a home with seven sisters. Because her family is poor, her father cannot afford to purchase disposable sanitary pads for his daughters. Consequently, she doesn’t go to school during her cycle. When the national examinations take place, it is highly probable that she will score below the males in her class purely because she misses ¼ of school each month.
In the villages there are no disposable sanitary pads and even if they existed the cost would be too large for a poor village family to afford. For instance, a village farmer makes about 150 Ethiopian birr per week. In American dollars that is equivalent to $7.50 a week. One packet sells for 25 birr, which is $1.25. That would be 4% of your monthly salary. In Ethiopian villages the girls and women use whatever is available to them. It might be old dirty rags, newspaper, cardboard, leaves or even grass. During their cycle, they are not going to go to school where there is no privacy.
So how did we get this crazy idea to make reusable sanitary pads? It all started with the book, “Half the Sky.” In one small paragraph the authors talk about girls missing school due to their menstrual cycle. The thought had never entered our minds. We began to investigate the possibilities and were introduced to Donna and Jon Terpstra from Coopersville, MI who manage an NGO called “It’s My Mission: Period.” Donna and Jon and a collage of sewers throughout the United States make and take the pads to Kenya and Nigeria. We purchased their template and sewing ideas and the party began.
The WRAPS consist of two parts. The barrier is made of two pieces of cloth with a piece of plastic sewn between. We are using either Dollar Store shower curtains for our plastic barrier or throw away paper/plastic surgical drapes. It was important to us to find a plastic that didn’t crinkle too much. Into this barrier we sew two pockets on either end. The second part of the WRAPS is a flannel 10 inch square double thickness pad. We sew the edges and then sew two straight lines in the pad to mark the fold. This is folded twice and then placed inside the barrier pockets. Finally we provide a “Mary” bag to put the used pads in. This allows the girls to take the pads to school and change them at school if necessary. The basic kit comes with three barriers, ten flannel pads and one Mary bag.
After developing the initial WRAPS idea, we created a sewing space out of a shipping container on the Soddo Christian Hospital compound. We purchased sewing machines and experimented with different fabric and plastic to see what worked. It was and is important to us to try and use Ethiopian products. Finally we taught our employees how to cut and sew the WRAPS. Since they had never held scissors in their life, let alone sew on a machine, it was a long process.
Now we are in the next phase of the project which is testing the product and our teaching methods at a local school. In October we took 150 packages to Kena School. We used a slide show to teach about the menstrual cycle and also the importance of good female hygiene. Finally we showed the girls how to use the WRAPS and how to wash and dry them.
Our goal is to get the WRAPS into the hands of village girls so that they will stay in school. Multiple studies have shown that if girls will stay in school they will marry later, become better mothers, have fewer children and be better managers of their homes.
We have no illusions that this is a panacea to keep all girls in school, but we believe it is a realistic partial solution to the high absentee rate with village girls in rural Ethiopia.
The NGO, Children’s Cross Connections, will become our sponsoring organization in the future. This NGO is an umbrella to the Wolaitta Village, whose goal is to employ Wolaitta people in projects that are sustainable and income producing. Our WRAPS ministry fits perfectly with their vision.
Future needs: At this time our project is not sustainable. We are dependent on financial contributions to purchase the cloth and pay our salaries. We would like to be able to sell our kits in the local shops in the city but in the villages the people will not be able to afford our product…the persistent rub of working in a developing nation.
We have several ideas floating around as to how we can make our product work in the villages. One would be to divide the large packet into smaller kits of one barrier and three flannel pads and charge a very minimal amount for the initial kit. We do not want to give the product away. Women could later add to their kit by purchasing individual pieces at the Wolaitta Village or various shops.
Would you like to become a part of our WRAPS ministry? You can donate to our project using our Global Outreach International account. We receive 100% of all funds donated. Our current needs include funding for the cloth, thread, future sewing machines and salaries.
Our vision statement: To make a high quality, attractive product for the Wolaitta women at an affordable price and to teach menstrual hygiene to the Wolaitta girls and women in hopes that these women will be empowered to finish school and become better citizens and mothers.