It’s often said that the best things in life can take time, and that relationships are everything. In the case of a unique new tactic that supports education for girls in the developing world, these old adages are more than true.
I was initially contacted online by CottonTales and Transformation Textiles founder Rachel Starkey in the early 2000s, connecting over our shared interest in washable pads. We met in person for the first time in 2003 in Vancouver, when Rachel had returned back to Canada for a family visit from her home in Alexandria, Egypt. Little did I know at the time that our relationship would span decades and continents.
Over the years we have met up in Las Vegas as well as Egypt, every time going deeper on the idea of using mass-scale garment manufacturing to create mass-scale reusable panties and pads to support girls education in the developing world.
Having identified the need for underwear as a key component to the success of the adoption of cloth pad use, together we created an easy-to-make pattern for adjustable-sized undies that could be made from factory offcuts. The process of using leftover wasted fabric and turning it into underwear is where Transformation Textiles gets its name.
The underwear have small strips of fabric in the gusset that can be used to hold simple cloth pads made of a combination of absorbent and waterproof fabrics, which can then be washed and re-used for years without creating disposable waste.
We got an ideal opportunity to test the products when I was approached by Canadian Anna Ebert of Good Hope Ministries in 2012, who had been working for many years in Malawi and had identified the need for personal hygiene supplies and requested enough for a staggering 50,000 girls. Until that point, Pads4Girls donations had been at most 500 kits at a time.
We settled on 10,000 kits as an initial test run, and set out to raise funds to cover shipping a container from Egypt to Malawi. The final landed cost per kit, each of which includes 3 pairs of undies, 9 pads + a carrying bag, is $5. Lunapads reached out to our community and raised $12,500, including $500 from our friend Danielle LaPorte, a highly influential author and speaker.Celebrity support also came via talk show host and filmmaker Ricki Lake, who referred us to Marie Da Silva, Ricki’s former nanny. In 2002, Da Silva, a CNN Hero award recipient, founded the Jacaranda Foundation, a Malawi-based orphanage and school.
In an email response to my inquiry about the need for hygiene supplies at Jacaranda, Marie enthusiastically shared: “This is so amazing, because just last week I sat in a class of teenage girls who were being taught by a German volunteer about hygiene during their menstrual period. Remember these girls are orphans and do not have any kind of income to even buy the new piece of cloth. We have 400 Orphans at our school and 50% are girls. Most teenage girls in secondary school. Two days later I received your email and forwarded it to Julia who is the German volunteer. We could not believe it. There must have been some Angels listening in that classroom.”
Rachel set to work to make the kits, however because of political unrest in Egypt following the revolution of January 2011, the shipment was delayed by almost 2 years. At last the shipment has arrived in Mzuzu, Malawi earlier this year, and the distribution process has now begun! Thank you everyone who has been part of this amazing project, and stay tuned for more stories as the period kits are distributed throughout the remainder of 2014.