The Beginning of Maka Pads
Dr. Musaazi was asked to build an incinerator in the latrines of a primary school for the purpose of burning the refuse from feminine products. Previously, girls had to carry buckets full of used sanitary pads far from the school grounds to dispose of them. A while after he had built the incinerator, two women invited him to a meeting. After he arrived, they asked him if he had ever seen a menstrual pad before. He was taken aback and responded “No”, after which they threw an expensive commercial pad at his face. They explained to him that they needed his help to design a menstrual pad that girls could afford and that would be produced from local material using local labor.
He scarcely considered their request upon returning home, but their pestering didn’t stop. After hearing about a method to make underwear liners out of local materials in South Africa, the women sent Dr. Musaazi there to learn about the process and see if it could be replicated in Uganda. After testing banana fibers, elephant grass, and other natural materials, Dr. Musaazi discovered that papyrus was best suited for absorbent pads. He initially named them Maka Pads because “maka” means “home” in Luganda, symbolizing that they are made from home, but later decided to make that into an acronym for: Menstruation, Administration, Knowledge, and Affordability.
Today, women in refugee camps harvest the papyrus for the production of Maka Pads. The pads are made at both the camp site (using solar powered machinery) and a manufacturing site in Kampala, the capital of Uganda. Dr. Musaazi purchases excess pads produced by the refugees, giving them a source of income. Moreover, Dr. Musaazi remarked that domestic violence has decreased due to the financial status of the wives from selling pads, thus improving the lives of the women working for Maka Pads.
VHP and Maka Pads
CoBIN and VHP chose four schools in Kiruhura district (Kyeera, Rwomuti, Huguuka, and Mittoma Primary Schools) in which to implement maka pads. An average of 20 female students per school regularly missed classes due to the lack of menstrual supplies.
Beginning in Dec 2009, a total of 164 female students and 328 family members began receiving pads. CoBIN held workshops to educate the pad recipients and teachers about proper hygiene, importance of nutrition, and normal developmental process during adolescence.
Maka Pad Evaluation
We conducted focus groups with girls who received Maka Pads at the primary schools where distributions occurred. The response was overwhelmingly positive.Short surveys were administered to a random sample of girls from each of the five schools.
All girls who responded said that they think they would benefit from continuing to receive pads in the future. 51% of girls reported missing school because of their monthly period before receiving Maka Pads and 6% reported that they continued to miss school because of their monthly period after they received Maka Pads. Girls also reported missing school less often after the introduction of the pads.
The girls offered suggestions for improving the project, including increasing the size of the pads, choosing pads with wings, and distributing more high quality underwear to prevent the stickiness of the pads from damaging thin underwear.