Image credit: Suzan Yumbe
Menstruation and menstrual practices still face many social, cultural, and religious restrictions which are a big barrier in the path of menstrual hygiene management. In many parts of the country especially in rural areas, girls are not prepared and aware about menstruation so they face many difficulties and challenges at home, schools, and workplaces.
Girls and women have very less or no knowledge about reproductive tract infections caused due to ignorance of personal hygiene during menstruation time. In rural areas, women do not have access to sanitary products or they know very little about the types and method of using them or are unable to afford such products due to high cost. So, they mostly rely on reusable cloth pads which they wash and use again. Needs and requirements of the adolescent girls and women are ignored despite the fact that there are major developments in the area of water and sanitation.
One woman committed to changing this narrative is Suzan Lucas Yumbe, a water sanitation and hygiene activist, social entrepreneur, Founder and Executive director of AFYAPLUS. AFYAPLUS is a non-business and non-governmental organization dealing with water sanitation and hygiene, Nutrition and women empowerment based in Iringa Tanzania in which we have completed different projects.
In this interview with Leading Ladies Africa, Suzan shares the background story to establishing her organization, the impact her business has made, especially on girls and women in rural areas and tips on how to start a social impact business.
Background story to Founding “AfyaPlus Organization“
I grew up in an area where there is no clean water supply, which is common in many parts of Africa. I, like many women and girls in my community, spent a lot of time fetching for water far from home and when I started menstruating, it was an embarrassment and humiliation, as there was no provision of pads in schools, no information on menstruation hygiene and management, and no water in school.
Six years later, after joining a University in a different region, 600kms from my hometown, I realized that the same problem still existed and persisted, even though significant progress had been made in closing gender gap with more girls in schools. For that reason in 2017, I organized a team and started AfyaPlus Organization, focusing on water, sanitation and hygiene, nutrition and women empowerment in which we have completed three projects.
Image credit: Suzan Yumbe
Tell us about “AfyaPlus, Afyaplus reusable sanitary pads” and the Inspiration behind the name.
AFYAPLUS is a non Business and non Governmental Organization dealing with water sanitation and hygiene, Nutrition and women empowerment based in Iringa Tanzania in which we have completed different projects. Through our Menstrual Hygiene Management project, we came up with an idea of a small scale industry for reusable sanitary pads which can be used for more than six months.
It’s durable, easy to wash and dries easily, so that girls and young women will have access to sanitary pads at the lowest price and this will help girls to stay in school during their menstruation period and increase their school performance. These reusable sanitary pads are called Afyaplus reusable sanitary pads. The name Afyaplus reusable pads carry the name of our organization.
How would you measure your impact over the years?
In the last 3 years of establishing our organization, we have recorded many achievements through our projects. Firstly, we trained local 100 young girls and women through our Improve100 project, where we trained and graduated 70 students, 42 of whom now have their own income-generating activities and are now employed as well as provide employment to other people.
Secondly, in the area of reusable sanitary pads, we have been educating school girls and teachers on menstrual hygiene management. Additionally, we helped many school girls get sanitary pads as well as increase their school attendance. Finally, we managed to launch Afyaplus reusable sanitary pads which will increase availability of sanitary pads with lowest price especially in rural areas.
Image credit: Suzan Yumbe
As an entrepreneur in the nonprofit space making an impact, how have you managed with Funding and sustainability?
We have managed with funding through different campaigns that include donations from different stakeholders in all aspects of development whenever we are in need but also through our own efforts of negotiating and getting material and human resource support through our partners.
As for sustainability, we have already started a small reusable sanitary pads industry employing local women; and thus, with the production, we aim to sell at the lowest price to help the local community; but at the same time have the financial stability we need to sustain the organization’s activities. On the other hand, we have a skilled human force at our office who ensure the continual generation of ideas and handling of projects for sustaining the organization.
Where do you see Suzan Lucas Yumbe and AfyaPlus in Five Years?
I see myself and Afyaplus in a position of providing equal opportunities to learning, through empowering women in the area of MHM, removing the stigma that surrounds menstruation, and also providing low-cost affordable pads in the rural areas of Tanzania and Africa as well. We also hope to address the barrier towards better academic performance and cultural inequality to achieve positive changes to girls, the society and the nation as a whole.
Challenges on your journey and lessons…
Taboos – this was one of the challenges we faced. Since the belief is that menstrual issues are not to be talked about; however, through media campaigns involving political and religious elders, we managed to provide health education that broke the taboo. Another lesson I learnt is that everything can be changed positively, as long as we look at the bright side.
What upcoming projects are you currently working on and what you hope to achieve?
Currently, we are trying to expand our reusable sanitary pads industry so that we cover many local young girls and women in Tanzania, and maintain good menstrual hygiene management in our community.
Secondly, we are on the verge of starting a new project on water for schools where we plan to supply tanks and accessories to help students in schools practice handwashing; but at the same time, supply schools with clean and safe water for drinking through special buckets for drinking water. This project goes hand-in-hand with continued education on hygiene issues in schools.
Image credit: Suzan Yumbe
Tips for those who are clueless on how to create and build an impactful business?
Developing a thriving social enterprise requires strong leadership skills, a good team of individuals, planning and resources. I strongly believe that there are different ways of starting an impactful business. My advice is: ” don’t be confused by other people’s ways of doing business. Rather, look at what you have and start with that, using a method that can work for you.
You’ve attained quite a success within a short period of time, and have been recognized widely. What is the secret to your success?
While I know I still have a long journey; however, the little I have achieved can be attributed to being a critical thinker with lots of vision. I’m also a hard worker and persistent persistence about my dreams. The eagerness in me to see a positive change in my community also pushes me to generate new ideas that I think will solve its problems.
Final words to women in our community
“It’s hard for people to believe in your dreams or your vision because they know you well and not your dream. What you need is to work hard on your dream and believe in yourself – because that’s what matters!”
The Lady Boss Series is a weekly interview series that highlights the achievements and entrepreneurial journeys of African female entrepreneurs. The idea is to showcase the Leading Ladies who are transforming Africa and the African narrative through enterprise and business.
It is an off-shoot of Leading Ladies Africa, a non-profit that promotes leadership, inclusion and diversity for women of African descent.
If you know any kick-ass women of African Descent doing phenomenal things in enterprise, email email@example.com, and she could possibly be featured.