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Menstruation, a tabu topic with a solution

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It was back in August of this year that I shared with you the latest micro enterprise that I had been working on, which would, I hoped, help some women in Vanuatu manage their monthly periods.   Days For Girls, a voluntary group that has bases all around the globe, do a fantastic job of making sanitary kits and distributing all over the world, to women who would otherwise have little or no access to purpose-made sanitary products. I approached Days for Girls New Zealand requesting permission to use their pattern for the two main components for the system. They indicated that they had an interest to assist in the Pacific, but had not moved forward at that stage. Email conversation started and  I was delighted to receive the news that they wanted to assist Lav Kokonas and we began our collaboration to achieve the end result together, that is of course, providing women with sanitary products. Between Days for Girls New Zealand and Lav Kokonas, most of the components to make the sanitary systems were delivered to Vanuatu.


October arrived and part of my trip to Vanuatu included leading a two day workshop in the home of friends, in Pango village, just out of a Port Vila. It was important that this initial workshop had access to electricity, something that isn’t always available in Vanuatu. I am grateful that the family rearranged their home to accommodate us. The brief for the workshops was to introduce the ni Vanuatu sewers to the design of the sanitary system, to start production straight away and to formulate a marketing strategy to sell the systems across Vanuatu.


Day one

eight ladies arrived, armed with scissors and Singer hand sewing machines. All the other components, were provided by Lav Kokonas with the help of Days for Girls New Zealand. Throughout the day, another 4 ladies arrived wanting to help with cutting fabric and generally wanting to know what all the fuss was about. The day was spent cutting and sewing the liners, as these were the easiest part of system to start with. New skills were learnt by the women. Some were a little hesitant to use an electric sewing machine overlocker, but they overcame their fears, and surprised themselves with their high level of skill with both machines.  Their sense of achievement was evident and was a pleasure to witness.


Pango is a small village and word soon spread about what was happening down the road, and like any community, women talk.   So we had visitors popping in to see for themselves, what these sanitary products were like and how they would make managing periods a little easier and convenient. The ex-pat community had also heard about the project and we welcomed those visitors too, this was widening the “word of mouth” approach to our sales technique.

The sewers and I were spoilt during the day, as the family who hosted the venue for the workshop made sure we had our coffee and tea breaks and a delicious lunch – thanks to some kind people in Nelson, who donated money to cover these costs. The ladies loved the French bread smothered in a treat that I indulge in when in Vanuatu – Coconut Gold – produced by Job on Araki Island, South Santo – a delicious caramelised blend of coconut milk and coconut sugar.



Fed tummies means good workers


Day two

Was all about the shields, the piece that holds the system together. These were a lot more complex to cut and the sewing, a lot more detailed.  A few of the ladies from the first day had other commitments, and there were some new faces – just one of the lovely things about Vanuatu – expect the unexpected.   I too had some other commitments, so had to leave for a while, but that provided the ladies with a good opportunity to simply, go for it. When I returned, the team had cut, sewn and ironed so many shields, I was amazed.  Although it was getting late in the day, they didn’t want to stop. Their production line was slick and efficient, everyone taking on a role that they were great at. I felt so proud of their achievements and knew that these ladies were the right ones for the project and they understood the impact that these sanitary systems would provide – I think that was the key to their enthusiasm.

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We touched briefly on marketing and the financial requirements to make this small business operate. Those with the skills in this area were identified.   One aspect of the marketing which the ladies seem to really want to pursue, was the concept of “Paying it Forward”, so I have planted the seed as to ways we can do that with the sanitary systems, to support women who may benefit from the system but are unable to purchase it.


As my time in Vanuatu is always so short, I promised to mentor the group from New Zealand via phone calls and Facebook calls.  As I write this blog, the ladies are meeting for the second production day since my departure.  I received some photos and I can see that they have started to make up the completed sanitary systems packs.  Job well done ladies.   Mi lukim yu.


A big fala, Tank Yu Tumas to

Days for Girls New Zealand for their support,

the Nelson donor of LOADS of cotton fabric,

Ecomoon Boutique for your advice

Puncdot for adding bislama text to the pictorial notes for each of the kits

ALL of which gave  a kick start to the project and helped Lav Kokonas to once again identify and deliver ways to “Pay it forward in Vanuatu”

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