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Menstrual Hygiene Management in Vanuatu

I headed to Vanuatu in early December to move forward the Mamma’s Laef Washable Sanitary Pad project.


Extra baggage in tow to fit in the donations from Richmond Athletics – 5kg of shorts and tank tops for Pikinini. Also loaded up some things for Johnas and Cheryl and baby Angus. Johnas is keen for Angus to speak English. Some quintessential kiwi books from the Hairy Maclary series, were included.

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Vanuatu Amputee Association needed crutches to assist the mobility needs of people who had recently become amputees (mainly due to diabetes). Air New Zealand allowed me this additional baggage, as the contents were medical related.   Five sets of crutches. They were distributed then onto sorting out the weeks plan for the Mamma’s Laef Washable Sanitary Pad project.

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In terms of launching the Menstrual Hygiene Management kits, and to achieve the best bang for the buck, I thought it was best to go to where ladies would be gathering – and in Vanuatu – that is very often around the local market places. The price of one advertisement in a newspaper was the equivalent of hiring a bus for 2 days. So that is what we did, demonstrating the use of the kits and making women aware that these were now available for sale.


Manples market was our first stop.   Mamma’s gathered like bees around a honey pot and I felt so proud of the Mamma’s Laef team as they didn’t hesitate to show the kits off. A large banner was displayed at the roadside so we had ‘free’ advertising for passers by. Our first sales were from a generous ex pat,  Robin who lives part time in Vanuatu. She is well known as a grass roots supporter of projects around Port Vila. What a buzz it was for all of us in the team. This kind woman is to donate the kits to women in the village near to her Vanuatu home.   It was a marketing angle that I hadn’t considered. Another seed was planted for me to consider.

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Throughout the day, we visited markets at Freswota, Korman, Seaside and the large Port Vila market. By 3pm we were all very tired so a quick stop at au Bon Marche Supermarket for a celebratory local Switi ice cream. A REAL treat for many of the mamma’s.

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A story of the Washable Sanitary Pads was published in the Vanuatu Daily Post newspaper, the weekend before I arrived in Vanuatu. It had created a lot of interest, so I met with a few of those who had emailed me. It was valuable to gain an insight into what work had already taken place in terms of WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene ) and education around reproductive health.


The Mamma’s Laef team and I were back on the road again on Thursday, revisiting market places, making sales and demonstrating to those who had missed out on our first visit. There were two things that really stood out for me on day 2 of the visits.

  • How many women were very aware of the environmental impact of disposable sanitary pads – ie plastic taking years to breakdown and
  • The number of older mamma’s who were insistent that younger women use these products.


In one particular community we visited, there was a communal toilet block. However non washable sanitary pads were not always disposed of safely, creating a members of the community at risk from bacteria etc. It became clear that education would need to sit hand in hand with this project.   That in itself is a massive undertaking, so collaboration would be essential.

Meet the team from Mamma’s Laef

There were other meetings too including the possibility of deviating into washable babies nappies, led by a Volunteer Service Abroad worker. Effectively they are the “same” just with slightly different fabric. Another fruitful meeting was with an Australian lady who has had close links with Vanuatu for decades who has offered to fundraise for another overlocker.


A  full-on week, but well worthwhile. Since returning to New Zealand the web has widened and many key relationships have been formed. I will keep you posted in 2016.


Mi lukim yu


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