Mary Kalsrap is from Santo and her husband Jack is from Pango. They coordinate Mamma’s Laef, a micro enterprise situated in Pango, which makes reusable sanitary kits consisting of 2 shields and 8 liners. The kits can last up to 3 years and are 1500vt for a regular size and 1650vt for a maternity size. Mamma’s Laef was kick started by Lav Kokonas, a NZ based business owned by Belinda Roselli, in collaboration with the NZ branch of the international organization Days for Girls. Lav Kokonas and Days for Girls have provided the capital and necessary components while the mammas in Vanuatu use their own sewing machine and skills.
Every Wednesday the mammas come together to sew at Mary and Jack’s house. If there is a big order, particularly from NGOs such as Care International who have started ordering kits for high school aged girls, they will work an extra day or so. Jack and Mary coordinate the ladies by distributing the supplies according to demand and providing the working space at their house. The mammas work in true island style on the outdoor verandah – some sit on the floor with a sewing machine, others are sharing a single desk with the machines facing each other so they can have a good storian and another has brought her pikininis who are watching fabric being cut.
Mary and Jack keep in close contact with Ms Roselli to update her with Mamma’s Laef progress. Jack admits that he used to feel embarrassed when the project first started, as he had to talk about women’s reproductive health. As a father to two daughters, he now courageously discusses the importance of women’s health. ‘I used to feel shy, but now I am proud that we are helping women. It’s normal to me now.’
Mary says that women who can’t afford or can’t access sanitary products use the same cloth napkin that babies use as an alternative sanitary care measure. The reusable diaper is folded in half but its bulkiness is uncomfortable and inadequate. ‘If they can’t afford the cloth napkin, women in Vanuatu will use old rags,’ Mary says. ‘Who knows what our ancestors used before. Probably leaves.’
Menstruation is seen as a rite of passage in Vanuatu. In islands such as Tanna, a ceremony is held on the beach to celebrate the first menstruation. The young girl is taken to the water with her friends where she is dipped in the water. Her friends are then playfully beaten with soft wood as a symbolic gesture of her coming of age. It is also alleged that in certain areas of Tanna, some women are supposed to stay in a separate house away from other people during her menstruation cycle and not touch food, as they are ‘unclean’.
It is clear that Mary is passionate about the project. She says, ‘My daughter has been sent home from school because she had her period and didn’t have anything to use. It’s common for girls to not go to school at all during their period because she has no sanitary care. That’s the reality. If you don’t have money for sanitary products, then it can limit your opportunities. This is why this project is important. It’s a good investment that can really help them.’
Another issue that comes to light is that if women are using reusable sanitary products, some of them are ashamed to dry their kit in the sun and let it hang it in a semi dry place like the bathroom or a place where no one can see it. This can often lead to the kit not being as effective as it could be. If this is the case, it’s best to let it dry where there is a strong wind or in front of a fan.
Mary finishes off by saying that she is also happy that the project helps the environment. ‘There is no waste. It doesn’t spoil the environment like the sanitary products bought from the store, which are very bad for the earth. Our sanitary kits at Mamma’s Laef are hygienic and comfortable and if you buy a kit, you know that are also doing your part for the environment. On top of that, in the long term the kits saves a lot of money. We are proud of our project.’
Place an order with Mamma’s Laef on FB or ring Mary on 543 4414.