It’s probably something you never think about. It’s that time of the month and you get your period. You use a sanitary pad or tampon. No big deal. The worst thing that could happen is that you may feel some cramps or eat a bit too much or get moody. But for many women in the world who cannot afford female hygiene products, getting their period is something they dread. To manage their periods, alternative sanitary care measures are used in the form of cornhusks, sand, ash, grass, newspapers and unsterilized cloths. These options are not only inadequate but also unhygienic, and can lead to serious medical problems.

resusable sanitary products vanuatu

Mamma’s Laef resusable sanitary products made from pretty prints

If women and girls are unable to mange their periods, it can affect their day-to-day life. *In rural India, girls can miss up to 50 school days a year. In Kenya, men in positions of power use this opportunity to exploit girls, with one school director exchanging funds and demanding sex for sanitary products. Girls in Zimbabwe suffer crippling adhesions from untreated infections because they use cornhusks, the only product they have access to, to manage their period. In Vanuatu, mostly unsterilized cloths are used but because of the stigma surrounding menstruation, many women dry the cloths in the shade rather than direct sunlight, which increases the chance of infections.

sewing mammas laef

Mammas sewing in Pango

‘I never even thought about it until my housegirl bled all over her dress and I had to drop her home,’ says Catherine, an Australian expat living in Port Vila for three years. Julie, a long term resident from New Caledonia, adds, ‘I usually wear tampons, but once I ran out and when I tried to find my sanitary napkins, there weren’t any left. My housegirl admitted to me that she had used them. She also admitted that having her period was the reason why she hadn’t turned up on some days. I think she thought I was going to fire her for taking my napkins, but I didn’t. I felt sorry for her and just stocked extra.’

When Catherine drove her housegirl home, she was appalled to find out that her housegirl had been using old rags to manage her periods. This practice was not only unhygienic but also uncomfortable, so for Christmas she decided to buy her a kit from Mamma’s Laef, a micro enterprise situated in Pango. The kit consists of 2 shields, 8 liners and an instructional sheet on how to use and wash it so it’s clean and hygienic for the following use. It’s contained in a zip lock bag that can be used to carry dirty pads when away from home. The prices are 1500 vatu for a regular size and 1800vt for Maternity use or a heavier flow.

Mary at Mamma's Laef

Mamma’s Laef was kick started by Lav Kokonas, a NZ based business owned by Belinda Rosselli, 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 use their own sewing machine and skills.

‘I believe these kits do give dignity and the uptake so far has been very encouraging. There is a great deal of interest from within Vanuatu from all women. There are a number of generous ex pat women buying kits for their staff/ house maids/ friends in nearby villages,’ Belinda says.

This project not only supports the community but also provides a eco friendly product that is greatly needed. If you are interested in buying a kit, please ring Mary on 543 4414 or visit Mamma’s Laef for more information.

*Source: Days for Girls