When I first heard about Mamma’s Laef, I was quite intrigued and curious to know more about this small enterprise making washable sanitary pads. As I could only find a few short articles and some pictures on the internet, I soon started searching for contact details so I could meet the people behind this organisation and learn more about their activities. I managed to get in touch with Mary, one of the members of the organisation, who invited me to come over on a Wednesday morning so I could meet her, her husband Jack and the other women of the enterprise while they would be working on the next badge of sanitary pads.
I thus took my bicycle and rode to the nearby village of Pango, located in the capital Port Vila. In one of the colourful little houses close to the coast line, I found a group of women working on the pads. They all welcomed me warmly and soon started explaining the details of the production process. One of the women sorts the colourful fabrics, another one cuts them using patterns, another woman uses a sewing machine to sew the different patches together, another one puts buttons on them and yet another woman puts a few of the pads in a small plastic bag so they can be sold. Although they are just a few women sitting together on mats or around small tables in a house in Pango, they are very organised and all know well what to do.
Even though I am a young woman myself, it was the first time I ever saw such washable sanitary pads. I am used to non-washable sanitary pads or tampons and have to admit I did not think much about how many other women in the world cannot afford such female hygiene products. These women often have no other choice than to use cornhusks, sand, grass, papers, cloths or other unhygienic options during their period. In Vanuatu, most women use old rags or unsterilised cloths which is not only uncomfortable but also unhygienic. Girls are also often sent home from school because of their period and on some islands in Vanuatu, women are supposed to stay in a separate house during their menstruation and not touch food as there is a stigma surrounding menstruation.
To address these problems and the negative impact menstruation can have on the lives of girls and women in Vanuatu, Mamma’s Laef was kickstarted by Lav Kokonas, a business based in New Zealand, and the international organisation Days for Girls. These organisations provided the capital and fabrics while the ni-Vanuatu women use their own sewing machines and skills. Once or twice a week, Mary and her husband Jack host a few other women from the village to produce kits consisting of two shields, eight liners and a sheet with instructions on how to use and wash the pads. These are contained in a zip lock bag so dirty pads can be carried when away from home. The prices of these kits vary between 1.500 and 1.800 Vatu.
It is clear that Mary and the other women are passionate about the project. Although it is not a full time job - the women still work in their gardens and sell produce on the markets - they enjoy working together to contribute to the improvement of women’s health. Since they started about one year ago, Mamma’s Laef has made over 800 reusable sanitary pad kits and delivered several educational trainings about menstruation and reproductive health in schools. Moreover, there is an increasing interest for the kits and the educational programmes, both from individuals as from organisations. Chances are thus high that more communities across Vanuatu will benefit from the pads of Mamma’s Laef.
What is more, this small enterprise in Pango does not only support girls and women through their pads but also provides an environmentally friendly alternative to old rags and disposable sanitary products as the pads have a three year life span. This also indicates a kit can save women a lot of money which makes it also economical compared to standard sanitary products.
It was a true pleasure to learn more about these pads and the work of this small social enterprise. The women are all passionate about empowering other women and contributing to communities and the environment through the pads. They are committed to deliver more pads to more women and to decrease the stigma surrounding menstruation in Vanuatu so girls can be kept in school and women are not excluded from their communities. Besides, Mary, her husband Jack and the other women started earning a steady income and keep learning more business skills and improving their financial literacy. I am thus sure there is more to come!