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.”