From papyrus leaf to pad. The journey of a biodegradable sanitary pad.

30 Nov 1999
Okay, first of all - we're not going to gross you out. I know that this can be a squeamish subject - and you might be wondering how FAR we're going to take you on the journey of a sanitary pad. Well, I promise it's not TOO far. When we heard that women in Sierra Leone were using items like newspaper, toilet paper, kitchen sponges and old t-shirts to manage their periods, we knew we had to do something about it. So we created LaunchPad. We're training local women to sell biodegradable pads in their communities (we call them our LaunchPad Champions), as well as offering free pads and menstrual health and hygiene training to high school girls.

Did you know that a girl in Sierra Leone might miss up to one week of school every month JUST because she has her period?

Crazy! And although we answer a lot of questions about LaunchPad on our programs page - we often get asked.. HOW are these pads made? And where do they come from? And how do they get to the women in Sierra Leone? Well, LET US TELL YOU!

Phase One: Not so Humble Beginnings

The first step of the Sanitary Pad journey is the manufacturing of the pads in Uganda. These pads were chosen specifically because they are biodegradable and environmentally friendly. Watch this short (but amazing) video to see the fascinating process.. Makerere University's Faculty of Technology started making pads which were 75% cheaper than other pads available on the market. And we partner with them. Not only because the pads are affordable and bio-degradable, but the factory itself has provided employment and skills development to Ugandan women, girls and men, working on different aspects of production. See? These pads really are making the world a better place!

Phase Two: These Pads Have Wings

After the manufacturing stage the pads are packaged for the LONG trek from East to West Africa. The pads are first transported to Kenya and are flown (wings..get it?!) to Sierra Leone via Kenyan Airways. This flight usually involves several stops all along the way and the pads spend a bit of time in cargo.

When they arrive at Lungi Airport, they are sent to customs and stored until our One Girl team in Sierra Leone travels by boat across the bay to the airport to clear them.

Once they are cleared from storage, they come to Freetown by boat to our office in Murray Town. You start to see how long this process can take huh?

© 2013 Charlotte Kesl Photography

Phase Three: Our pads get around.

After traveling by plane and boat they’re FINALLY in the county, but the challenge to get them to the women in the communities is a whole different journey! It's important to see that our Champions have enough pads each month to sell. Because Sierra Leone is in the midst of it's rainy season, transporting the pads to Tonkolili District can take a long time by poda-poda (a minibus used as public transport) and taxi and usually involves switching many vehicles. It's important that this is done with care because if the rains are really bad we can’t deliver boxes of soaked pads.. After this journey the pads make it to Mile 91, the major road out of Freetown to the rural communities we work in.

Our LaunchPad Champions are from five different communities in the Tonkolili District, but some are still an hour or two drive from Mile 91!

When the pads reach the hands of the Champions, it's not uncommon for them to take an okada (motorbike) to sell the pads in different parts of their communities. © 2013 Charlotte Kesl Photography - Makapads in Sierra Leone And once they get into the hands of the women and girls in these communities, that's when the pads start to make a REAL difference. These pads save women from relying on old sponges, multiple pairs of underwear or old rags ('pieces') to manage their period. They save women them from monthly embarrassment from washing stained cloth in public wash areas, and from bruising, infection and countless health risks associated with using old cloth. It makes them more productive, more confident and healthier women. Ma - a LaunchPad Champion in Sierra Leone In the photo above, that's Ma - a LaunchPad Champion in Sierra Leone.

The pads break down barriers and cultural taboos about periods and menstrual health in communities. They starts conversations. They create change.  These pads are literally changing lives - for the better.

Not to mention they're keeping our scholars in school, keeping them comfortable and confident to go to class despite having their period. They won't fall behind and it removes one more barrier to them getting access to education. And for every year a girl stays in school, she'll go on to earn an average of 10% more income, so the ripple effects last long after they've left school. Bet you didn't think a sanitary pad could do all that, huh?

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