I met up with Carrie-Jane who is the founder of Afri-Pads last week. She lived for a chunk of time in rural Uganda. And her legacy is quite amazing. It is also very simple. Afri-Pads is a local, small factory that makes washable, reusable cloth menstrual pads. It rents a small factory space from the local secondary school. It employs local women in an area where there is next to no work beyond subsistence farming. And it has a great outreach program to help combat menstrual related absenteeism in schools. Check out this amazing video of it here (super inspiring).
I showed her the video for One Day Without Shoes and while she watched the video, I watched her reaction (here is a link to the counter-campaign). I could see everything she felt on her face. It started with confusion- why would people think that shoes are desperately needed? She reminded me of all the little shoe stores in the nearby town. How most of the stores sell shoes, clothing, food, and mobile phones. She said that people can get flip flops for only a few shillings if they really wanted them. She said plenty of people did go shoeless but often it was a choice – they saved their nice shoes for school or for church and did their chores shoeless. She said that most of these children would rather have money for school. And we talked about how parents would rather have healthy children with access to good medicine, inoculations, food, and education. I could see her face turn from confusion to disappointment and frustration. Why would people get so excited about such a silly cause? Why would people think this was good aid?
I was chatting with another friend about why it is so important to support the local economy in developing communities… why it is not a good idea to send free stuff (new or old). And I explained to her about Afri-Pads. I explained that it is a factory that relies on orders. When they get a big order for their pads, they work at full capacity. This means that people have a job to come to and they can get paid a salary. (They can pay for their kids’ school, medicine, food, clothing, and so on.) When no orders come in, when a charity chooses to bring in free tampons and pads from other countries, then the factory needs to scale back and people don’t get work, so they don’t (they can’t) get paid.
Afri-Pads is a Ugandan company. It is a social enterprise in its infancy and still relies on support from outside funders. It has greatly benefitted from a relationship with Lunapads a local Vancouver company that makes reuseable, washable pads for the North American market. Lunapads provided the prototype that Afri-Pads uses and they also helped Afri-Pads secure a good price on cotton. Lunapads supports other start ups wanting to do the same thing.
Now that is what I consider cool- a Ugandan company that employs local people and tackles a real issue (absenteeism from school), parents that can pay for their own children’s education, food and so on (and yes, shoes), and a Canadian for profit company that supports good social enterprises overseas.