When I was a child, my mum always told me that one day I would be grateful to know how to sew a hem by hand. No question about it, apparently. So every weekend my imagination would channel the ‘accomplished’ heroines of Enid Blyton’s boarding school tales and I would attempt to sew for about twenty minutes without knotting my thread or bunching the fabric up into a hopeless mess.
About fifteen years on, it would appear that my mother may have had a point. For a blissful month at the end of 2012, I found myself back in the beautiful village of Muhaka, indulging in classic ‘girl-talk’ with a group of local young women as we sewed by hand. These enterprising young women call themselves the Pink Chapati Ladies and it is a true honour for me to introduce you to them.
The Pink Chapati Ladies of Muhaka Village were a determined bunch. They are mothers, school-students, breadwinners and orphans. They know all the words to Rihanna’s songs, recognise good fashion and love to have a splash in the ocean. But unlike many of the young women I meet on a daily basis, the Pink Chapati Ladies sew their own re-washable sanitary pads (chapatis).
A pink chapati is a simple solution with very big benefits. You take three cotton circles and one plastic circle and then sew around the circumference. Next you sew on two thin parallel straps and two tiny squares of velcro so your circle can be folded onto itself to make a soft, winged pad. Finally, you fold a square piece of soft, absorbent fabric into a liner and tuck it under the straps. And there you have it – Muhaka Village’s safe and eco-friendly alternative to newspaper, cowdung, rags or nothing at all!
And the pink chapatis are keeping girls in school. Students, who previously were embarrassed to attend school while menstruating or were forced to truant in order to earn money to fund personal expenses such as the purchase of sanitary pads, now have a different story to share. These days, the girls carry a plastic-lined segregated pouch allowing fresh new liners to be separated from used ones. Each pouch also comes with a clean pair of underpants and includes a bilingual women’s health information booklet.
These dedicated Pink Chapati Ladies are establishing themselves as local seamstresses and role-models just because they come together every day to have a good chat over their sewing. These remarkable young women are on their way to developing this work into a small business, allowing them to earn some pocket-money for everyday expenses while ensuring their community has sustainable access to clean sanitary pads.
The Pink Chapati Ladies are driving positive change in Kenya. It was a pleasure to work with them. And in case you’re wondering, they agree with my mum – my sewing could do with some improvement!