Teaching women and girls to make cloth sanitary pads

Status: Just started

Some months ago a discussion started on Nabuur about girls in Kabondo, Kenya not being able to attend school during their period; a common problem in many parts of the developing world. Disposable pads are very expensive and alternatives don't seem to exist for most girls. They often just stay home for the 5-10 days per month that they have they period, rather than be embarrassed. This cuts heavily into their education. ( To see past discussion visit http://www.nabuur.com/en/village/kabondo/project/task/feminine-hygiene-p...)

From these discussions a number of options came up:

One option was cloth, reusable sanitary pads. They are just like disposable ones in shape and look. They snap or button around the underwear and the absorbency is increased or decreased by adding or removing 'liners.'

After some discussion in the community, they decided to give it a try. Nabuur volunteers found patterns that could be made from hand.

Deanna Duke of Goods 4 Girls helped out and rounded up kits from individuals and manufacturers. A total of 70 kits (which included 3-5 liners/pads, a carrying bag and instructions) were gathered.

In July 2008, I had the fortunate opportunity to hand deliver the kits to the girls. Seventy girls from Oriang Girls School and 2 teachers from Got Rateng Primary took part in the project.

It has been nearly 6 months now and we are glad to report things are going fairly well. The girls and teachers reported that they are very happy with the sanitary pads as it saves them the monthly expense.


The next step is to have some of the girls or women in the community learn to make the cloth pads for themselves. The costs are minimal and the supplies are locally available. Basic supplies include:

Cotton (6 oz) or Flannel - 3 yards/8 pads - most females will require between 12-18 pads per month
Snaps or buttons
Needles for sewing
Paper for tracing the patterns
Pattern (which can just be printed and photocopied)

The girls and women would have to be taught how to sew, if they don't already know how, which has a number of other benefits. Some of the women may wish to pursue this as a business opportunity and become a supplier of sanitary pads in the community. This would generate much needed income.

We would like to discuss options and alternatives for sustaining this project and getting it going. While some seed funding may be required, we are ultimately interested in coming up with ideas for a sustainable way to get the girls sanitary pads.



You will definitely need to do some proper research on how much it will cost to make, how much you can sell for, and whether there is a market.

Assuming the numbers make this look practical, I think that you could get the pad making started without needing a lot of money from outside especially if you can find a school or vocational training centre which is willing to work with you.

It may be that they are able to get some limited startup money from another source. For example if they are a government school, are there grants available for health-related projects, or to help keep girls in school etc? Or start with a school that already has some outside support of its own that can find the money.

I am sure these are not realistic numbers, they are an example to try and keep the maths easy. Lets say it costs $100 to make 100 pads/sets, and you can sell them for $1.50 each....

You provide the patterns to the school.

They buy the material for 100 pads (using money as described above), the sewing teacher, or another stafff member with sewing skills, agrees to make the pads. Maybe start with a school that has a sewing machine for speed/ease of making.

She keeps e.g. 10 pads to use herself, give to family, or sell.

The other 90 are sold at $1.50 each, giving a total of $135.

You keep repeating the process, buying material and making pads until they have made enough money to pass $100 on to another school so that they can start. The first school trains the second school, and this process keeps repeating, passing on to other schools.

Once the school has helped another to start making pads, it is up to them to decide how they continue the programme e.g. they can start giving pads to students who cannot afford to buy, and start teaching students to make them too, as long as they continue to sell enough to make sufficient profit to keep the business running.

I realise that it will take a while for all the girls to get pads, but it may still be quicker than waiting for outside money. And once a few schools prove this is possible, that they are prepared to cooperate to make it happen, you are more likely to attract outside support to expand the project.

I have not completely thought this through, and am sure this whole process will need refining, but it may be a starting point for some discussion?

Eric, Barb, what do you think?



Hi Barb/Mary,

Thanks Mary for the points you bring up. What we wanted to do is to build the capacity of some girls to be able to make their own pads. Given the high drop out rate of girls from school in this region, i know it is possible that out of say 50 girls trained to make own pads from locally available resources, 5 or so could develop interest in taking this to the next level(a business)given the enthusiasm i saw welcomed the reusable towels in Kabondo. May be after the training, we could even assist one very determined girl/woman with little support under the micro loan project to continue with this after assisting her develop a sound business plan. I agree we have not focused on a sound plan that takes care of everything like marketing strategy, availability of cheap resources locally, projected cash flows etc etc.

I will also do a small research on the other issues you raise here.



One thing i had done earlier in collaboration with Barb was to check on availability of cotton flint among other things. Before i saw the pads from Goods4Girls,I did not really know what Barb was talking about. Later when she arrived with the pads, i learnt that most of the material used to make it could be available locally,with room for trial with other local materials.

Kenya borrowed her 8-4-4 Education system from Canada and when implementation of this new system started in the late 80s, new school subjects were introduced into the school syllabus, one of which was Home Science. In Home science one of the subjects taught is knitting, dress making among others. I will ask a teacher in one of the schools if this is something we can do in partnership with a home science class.


Hi Mary,

Very good points you bring up. From the research we gathered during the pilot I would say there is definitely interest in the pads themselves. Many of the respondents indicated that they wanted to continue to use the pads, but required more for them to sufficiently cover their cycle. However, we did not gauge whether there was interest from large numbers to do so as a business. This is where Eric would have to provide insight. I remember that Eric has talked with this a number of times in the community, and there was discussion when I was in Kabondo, about moving the project to training so that the girls were not dependent on outside sources.

Eric, would you be able to gather some information and feedback on whether this would be something that the school could offer for training or if there is interest in making the pads, or finding a source nearby that the girls could purchase from? What are your thoughts on this Eric?



Hi Barb

The info I have on Kitchen Table (from others, not directly from them) is that they are not accepting any more applications this year, but may do so in the future. So I guess give it a couple of months and see what they say.

Would be good to get in contact with some of the others in Kenya, find out exactly what they do.

If any of the local schools train kids in sewing, am sure they could come up with enough material to make maybe 5 pads, just to try, how easy it is. Has anyone checked on this, and on whether it is something they might be interested in pursuing as income generation for their school?

I have the feeling you may face the same challenge as with the initial application to Friends Of Kenya. What I mean is - do you hope this will become a business, or is it an exercise to train a few people to make them for themselves?

If its just for themselves, it may be quicker and cheaper to get them from one of the other groups making them in Kenya.

If planned as a business, you will need some evidence of research into costs, likely selling price and markets i.e. whether the women will make any profit from it. That's the sort of basic business planning that you hope to give to the women getting the loans. If its a viable business, would one of the groups be interested in it, starting on a small scale?

Because there are no clear plans, I don't know whether this is something women and girls in Kabondo WANT to do or not, if they want it they are far more likely to get it if they work towards it...

Can probably find you a few places to apply to (although actually getting money is tough), may also be worth checking other funding options within Kenya too, but they will ask the same questions, and more!

Not sure if you have seen this about a similar project in Rwanda? http://sheinnovates.com/ourventures.html



Hi Mary,

I think we need to re-examine the budget as prices have increased. I would estimate the budget to be closer to $1000 now.

As for who has been tried, there was Kitchen Table Charities, but you mentioned they were no longer accepting projects at this time. There was Friends of Kenya, but they declined a project - but it might be worth reconsidering. There were some connections made with other groups working on these types of projects, but many themselves were looking for funding.

Regarding experimentation - it hasn't been tried in Kabondo, but other projects have done so in Kenya. It would be a good idea, but the main issue is getting fabric and sewing needles to even test this - which requires some seed money. Alternatively, if some of the girls have fabric from old clothes or blankets, they could practice making them from that fabric, but I would be hesitant given the nature of the use. The fabric should be new and clean and should last. Plus it has to be cotton in order to work. But, to practice the actual sewing part, any fabric would work. We know the pads themselves work, the girls just need more of them.

Eric, would it be possible to organize a small group of girls to practice sewing the pattern from scrap fabrics so they can at least get better at making them by hand before trying ones for actual use?



Hi Barb

Would be nice to see this happen!

Is the estimated budget still around $500 as shown in the task description? I ask as there is a post further down saying that Eric was going to do some research on this. Also, who have you tried so far? Am also wondering whether they were able to experiment with making a very small number to decide if it is practical or not?



This project is one that received a lot of interest. I still get many people asking about it. It would be good to see it move to the next level, which is to provide the training.

While the task has stalled, I would like to invite neigbhours to provide their input again and for someone to step forward to find some possible opportunities for moving this project forward. In the past a few potential funders were identified, however most of those have been exhausted or are no longer offering funds at this time.

We would like neighbours to:

1. Research potential sources of funds - grants
2. Identify other possible ways to raise the funds
3. Research organizations that Kabondo could possibly partner with on this.



Hi Kirsti,

Thanks for taking this task up! Looking forward to seeing what you come up with.



Thanks to Barb and George for your warm welcomes to the group! I will apply myself diligently to the task that Barb proposed - thank you for that! It's difficult sometimes to gauge where to pitch in when joining an existing project, and I so appreciate the relatively concrete suggestions as it give me a landing strip so to speak! I will keep you updated as to my progress, but hope to get a few hours to spend on it this weekend.
Many thanks again


Hi Kirsti!

As George says - welcome!

It is great to have you here and we welcome any bit of assistance anyone can offer. From behind your computer there are many things you can work on. May I suggest, if it interests you, to look through the posts already made regarding possible sources of funds for this project as well as search other possible sources of funds. If you could put together a list with the name of the organization, the contact information, any funding requirements and any funding deadlines. Is this something that would appeal to you?




Hello Kirsti,

First thanks for seeing it fit to join the course for humanity.

You can trust that what you have is a big resource some of us lack but still volunteer here for the betterment of our neighbours and the world as a whole.

Welcome and surf through, don't fear to ask questions, from that asking we may know how you could help.....we are privileged and you as well, the fact that you can read on a computer screen tell it all.Bring all that resource to the aid of the girls in Kabondo.





Dear all,
I am a little in awe of your collective wisdom and experience here, and fear I may only have feeble contributions to offer in contrast :-) but I wanted to simply offer my time and energy to help out in any way I can. I am afraid my background is not terribly economically-oriented (I work in special education) but I have a laptop, and internet access, so I figure there must be some task, however small, that I can be put to work on...:-)
Thank you, and I look forward to working with you all...
Best wishes
Kirsti (Shields)


Thanks Ginger!

Yes a proven record is important and having the microloan program operated by KPAO will go a long way for securing funds for other projects.



Hi Abby,

Thank you very much for your contribution to this discussion.We gave re-usable sanitary towels on a trial basis to about 70 poor and vulnerable girls who have been using either used clothes, toilet papers or cotton wool during their menstrual flows and their response was very impressive. We administered a questionnaire to these young ladies to gauge its efficacy and any problems they may have. Overall the girls agreed that they cannot afford to buy pads monthly and that the best way to help them is to have these re-usable sanitary towels.

Funding has been slow in coming for this vital project and so far we have not been able to raise any amount for this project. We welcome any kind of support and pray that you be of help in any way you can.



Hi Barb,

I agree with Ginger, it is important to have a proven record that the money will go through to the next cycle. Once a project outline and proven record can be submitted, I believe then funding will be much easier to come by. The key here is to have a project that will generate enough to keep the cycle moving forward for the next person awaiting a loan.