Archives for Sep,2014

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Spotlight: Florence Kamaitha

During a routine volunteer trip to a local school, Florence Kamaitha noticed a strange similarity among the classrooms. …Where are the all the girls?

Due to the cost of sanitary items, female students are forced to spend their menstrual cycles at home, a teacher answered.

This shocked Kamaitha into action, and in 2011, she began the Pad Heaven Initiative, and works to manufacture and distribute feminine hygiene products and reproductive health information to schoolgirls.

“There is P&G and other Chinese products, but we don’t have things that are done in Kenya,” she said. “Now we want to use locally available supplies to make our own brand of products. We’ll get a cheaper product and employ women to do manufacturing and distributing.”

The sanitary pads are made from banana fiber, manually beat to a pulp, and dried in the sun. Kamaitha has her eye on machinery that speeds up this process, much like Indian social entrepreneur Arunachalam Muruganantham’s invention. The machine can be leased and used in different counties, reviving cottage industries, Kamaitha said.

She currently serves Nairobi and Kiambu and plans to expand to all 47 counties in Kenya and eventually reach her East African neighbors Tanzania, Uganda, and Rwanda.

But the most challenging aspect of tackling feminine hygiene issues is educating men. “They’re the decision makers, but they don’t understand the problem,” she said. “They don’t see it as a basic need.”

Pad Heaven Initiative educations all students on female reproductive health, in hopes to break the stigma surrounding menstrual cycles.

“Girls grow up with a low self esteem, especially when they stain their clothes,” she said. “I’m trying to make sure the boys respect them.”

When NPOs take her on as a corporate social responsibility project, the going’s good for a while — until it’s time to jump to the next project in a year. Kamaitha’s set up a Kickstarter campaign and plans to start mass production by the end of 2014.

“When girls get educated — things change,” Kamaitha said. “I want to get girls to make decisions about their own lives. I know the ripple effect of a girl having the education she needs.”

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Spotlight: Joel Tembo Vwira

In 1992, Joel Tembo Vwira’s country experienced a wave of political unrest. The Democratic Republic of Congo, or DRC, was still named Zaire at the time, and organized looting left many businesses bankrupt. His father’s business was one of them.

“So I grew up with a business mindset,” Vwira said. “Being very young, I didn’t want to go through this passively.”

Through high school and university, Vwira sustained several small businesses. With over a decade of experience under his belt, it was time for big business, he said. He looked to his community to determine what services were most needed. A simple walk through his hometown of Goma overwhelmingly led to one answer – waste management.

I always want to be part of the solution whenever there’s a problem.

Impoverished governments don’t place professional waste management high on the priority list, and Goma’s environment suffered.

But what does it take to beautify a city? First, education. Creating a culture of environmental responsibility was Vwira’s initial objective. His team printed posters. They organized meetings in churches and schools. The local media highlighted their efforts. With a population of 1 million people, littering can escalate quickly.

“How does it start? Just one person dumps. Then the rest follow,” Vwira said. “It requires high interaction with the community to get them on board.”

With a team of about 30 people, Vwira provides trashcans for households and routine garbage collection. They take care of pest control, cleaning, gardening, compost, and consultation services. But to run a professional waste management company, one of the first of its kind in Goma, requires major investment. Vehicles, supplies, training, data management systems, and continued community outreach can only be improved with more finances.

“It took us years to help Goma people realize that they need waste management,” Vwira said. “So we need to invest in technology that will help spread the word. Tech is a key resource for us to go to another scale.”

Entrepreneurs are fueled by high vision, Vwira said. With plans to tackle more cities like Kinshasa, Lubumbashi, and Bukavu within the next three years, he remains excited and passionate.

Stay active, not passive.

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