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FEATURE/Empowering Girls in East Africa: Love Binti strives to combat period poverty

06/01/2024 09:02 PM
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Sara Liu, founder and chairperson of Love Binti. CNA file photo
Sara Liu, founder and chairperson of Love Binti. CNA file photo

By Bernadette Hsiao, CNA staff writer

[Editor's Note: This is part two of a two-part series looking at the effort of Taiwanese NGOs in advocating for period equity, both at a national and international level. Read part 1 here.]

After discovering during her volunteer work in 2015 that some girls in Kenya miss and even drop out of school because they cannot afford sanitary pads, Sara Liu (劉兆雯) began thinking about how she could help. Shortly after, she founded "Love Binti" in 2015.

"As a girl growing up in Taiwan, I never imagined that someone would be unable to attend school simply because she didn't have access to sanitary pads," Liu said, as she recalled the shock she felt all those years ago.

Based in Uganda and Taiwan, Love Binti is an NGO dedicated to combating period poverty in East Africa, with operations in nine countries including Kenya, Rwanda and Burundi.

Love Binti's first project, the reusable pad workshop, aims to address the issue of girls missing school during their periods due to a lack of sanitary pads.

"Binti" in Swahili means "girl" or "daughter" and "our name means to love and care for girls," Liu told CNA in a recent interview.

Reusable pad workshop

"Menstruation is a normal physiological phenomenon that girls experience and it should not prevent them from going to school," Liu said.

She noted that menstruation is considered a taboo topic in many East African societies, "Some even call a girl on her period cursed" and "schools and mothers don't really teach girls about it," she explained.

Often due to tough economic situations, schools can only provide limited help to their students.

A local resident sews a reusable pad with a Love Binti staff during a recent reusable pad workshop in Uganda. Photo courtesy of Love Binti June 1, 2024
A local resident sews a reusable pad with a Love Binti staff during a recent reusable pad workshop in Uganda. Photo courtesy of Love Binti June 1, 2024

"In the workshop, we explain menstruation to participants, tell them what a reusable pad is, how it is used, and teach them how to sew one," Liu said.

"We also tell them where to find the materials needed, and how to clean and preserve the pads."

Each participant makes two or three pads during the workshop, Liu said, adding that they can be used for up to three years if made and maintained well.

Once, while Love Binti staff were visiting a village in Uganda's West Nile sub-region, a girl, identified as Josephine, approached and thanked them, Liu said.

Josephine. Photo courtesy of Love Binti June 1, 2024
Josephine. Photo courtesy of Love Binti June 1, 2024

The girl said she used to stay home and miss school during her period because she didn't have sanitary pads, but thanks to Love Binti's reusable pads, she was able to start attending school and had enrolled in high school, Liu recalled.

According to Liu, since the project was launched, over 3,000 workshops have been held, with more than 150,000 participants.

In addition to helping girls stay in schools, the workshops also have positive environmental impacts by promoting sustainability.

Because periods last around three to five days every month, disposable pads create lots of waste, Liu said.

She added that in rural Africa, waste is often burned, which has significant negative environmental impacts. Therefore, using reusable pads contributes to sustainability.

Video: Love Binti

Sewing training centers

Participants can further develop their skills learned at the pad workshops while learning how to make clothes and bags at sewing training centers.

"We hope to enhance their sewing skills and bring out their creativity. And maybe they can even use these newfound skills to improve their livelihoods," Liu said of the idea behind the centers.

Business concepts such as accounting, understanding cost structures and pricing strategies are also taught, to help people start their own businesses.

Another special aspect of the sewing training centers is the annual "graduation ceremony," an idea first proposed by their Ugandan project manager.

At the graduation ceremony, all participants wear clothes designed and made by themselves. Some of them even bring along their kids, who also wear the clothes made by their mothers.

"It's a very heartwarming moment," Liu said, "Every one of them looks happy and confident. They may not have finished primary school due to economic factors, so it's a wonderful experience to have a graduation ceremony that showcases their achievements following three months of learning and training."

Teach a person to fish and you feed them for a lifetime

Using Uganda as an example, Liu explained the reasons behind starting reusable pad workshops instead of donating pads.

"First of all, the population is over 45 million and around two-thirds of women in Uganda menstruate."

The cloth reusable pads. CNA file photo
The cloth reusable pads. CNA file photo

"Plus, a period isn't a one-time event. Women have them for decades, from around age 12 to 50. Given the number of pads needed and the cost, who is in a position to guarantee a consistent supply indefinitely?"

"If one day we were no longer able to supply girls and women with pads, they'd be back to square one. So, this is why we teach them to make their own instead."

Liu added that Love Binti provides needles and threads at each pad workshop, which participants can take home to use later.

Outlook for the future

In addition to pad workshops, Love Binti also works on building projects, like renovating classrooms, and building toilets, water wells, and carbon-neutral stoves.

Agricultural training is also provided to help residents learn skills that can be used to improve their livelihoods.

Already a registered NGO in Taiwan, Uganda and Eswatini, Liu said she is now working on getting Love Binti registered in the United States and Denmark, where discussions about periods are generally more accepted.

Liu added that this could help boost opportunities to collaborate with other NGOs and bring together those who want to improve the lives of people living in challenging circumstances.

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