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This Ugandan Startup is making low cost sanitary pads out of sugarcane!

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It all started when Lydia Asiimwe Sabiti the Founder of EcoSmart Pads, met a 16 year old girl Kyomuhendo who had travelled a long way, hailing from her village in Rwanyamahenbe, the Western part of Uganda.

Kyomuhendo was being escorted by her mother in search for better health care at Mbarara Regional referral Hospital. She had developed wounds in her vagina that had first presented with itching soon after her menstruation period.

“As I approached her, I could tell she was in so much pain. Her eyes were swollen from crying and her mother seemed weary from managing her daughter’s pain. They couldn’t find their way through the hospital so I offered to walk with them to the department of Obstetrics.” Lydia explains.

As the two walked and talked, Lydia learnt that due to failure to afford sanitary pads, Kyomuhendo had been using 3 pieces of the same old cloth over the last 2 years of managing her menstruation. She learnt that the same cloth was shared among 3 of her sisters and 2 other cousins who all lived with them.

Her mother mentioned with distress that the cloth had not only changed color over time but had also developed a very bad odor making it increasingly uncomfortable to wear at school or any other public place.

“I silently concluded that this form of menstrual management was the source of Kyomuhendo’s pain and I was determined to do something about it. A week later I was selected to participate in the CAMTech Uganda internship programme and I got my chance to tell this story.” Lydia explains.

When Lydia finally told her story, two other students on the programme were inspired to act and they joined her and together, they formed a team. The team grew to be known as the EcoSmart Pads team and they have figured out a way to upcycle sugarcane fiber into a material that they are now using to make low cost and eco friendly sanitary pads that people like Kyomuhendo will be able to afford. Their vision- To ensure equality, vibrancy and dignity in menstrual management among girls and women in Uganda.

The Eco-Smart Pads idea

The Eco Smart Pads are sanitary pads made out of sugarcane recycled residues for girls and women of menstrual going age from low income backgrounds.

“Sugarcane residues at sugar manufacturing factories are the raw materials to our product and are obtained at an affordable price.” Lydia says. She is convinced that this idea will work because of the low costs of production that will significantly lower the price of this product.

The team first conducted an experiment in the Microbiology lab at Mbarara University of Science and Technology to determine which one of the two between Maize and Sugarcane had residues with a high absorbance rate. Sugar cane emerged with a higher absorbance percentage and was selected as the plant to be considered as a raw material for this innovation.

“We did conduct a needs assessment, interacted with our end users and generated findings from them that are ones now informing our price estimates and what the product packaged quantities will be.” Lydia explains.

Lydia conducting a Focus Group Discussion creating awareness about the pads.

Right now, EcoSmart pads team is sending on the market a 12 piece pack (because the end users said on average each would be conformable to use 12 pieces in a single menstruation period).

“We are selling each pack at UGX 1500  cutting down current costs by 50%, 90% of the end users we interacted with said they could only afford to pay between ugx 1000 – 1500. We are not looking to generate much revenue from sales because we are selling to low income earners. We are looking to work with philanthropists to cause impact in our local community. As for the sustainability of our company, we are looking at other income generating options.” Lydia elaborates.

These pads are also disposable. The team figured you don’t give a reusable pad to uneducated- rural based -low income earners and expect them to maintain it at its required high standard hygiene levels. They will maintain it the same way they maintain the old cloth that they use – washing it at night and keeping it wet under their beddings. It will cause infections and you will not have made any difference The EcoSmart sanitary pad is disposable and our packaged quantities allow them to change the used pad at least 3 times a day which is more healthy.

This fits well in the target beneficiaries of the pads. The primary beneficiaries of this product are school going girls from low income backgrounds whose pursue of education has been affected by this challenge.

Other non school going women from low income backgrounds such as women in prison, refugee camps, public hospitals, are also primary beneficiaries of this product. Generally, female Ugandans from high income earning backgrounds will too benefit from the low cost of this product as they will be able to make some saving.

The issue of menstruation

Menstruation is one thing which almost every woman has to deal with. Every month.

Many Ugandan women still use scrap cloth from old saris and towels, the traditional method for managing menstruation for thousands of years.

On average, a single woman generates 125kg of sanitary waste during her menstruating years when she uses disposable sanitary products.

A UNESCO report estimates that one in ten girls in Sub-Saharan Africa misses school during their menstrual cycle. By some estimates, this equals as much as twenty percent of a given school year.

Many girls drop out of school altogether once they begin menstruating. Young women miss twenty percent of school days in a given year due to a lack of facilities or a lack of information or a lack of sanitary products.

In june 2017, EcoSmart Pads told their story during UNFPA’s Up Accelerate challenge and the judges were touched. They won a $10,000 to move our idea from inception to prototype development.

Don’t you think Eco Smart Pads is going to change this status quo?

 

Profiles

How This Group of Young Men is Creating Employment Through Art and Craft

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BY MARVIN MUTYABA

A group of 6 youths in Makindye has embarked on a life changing journey, turning their passions and skills into a profitable business.

After attending a crafts exhibition at the National Theatre in 2015, these friends were inspired by the attractive crafts on display to start their own workshop making and selling crafts.

“We talked to Mr. Muwembo, the craftsman who was showcasing his work. He offered to give us training as we worked for him. His workshop was in Kanyanya so we used to come from Makindye every day to Kanyanya. It took us over a year to master how wood craft is done,” said Mark.

While at this apprenticeship, these young men started making their own pieces which they sold, using the profit to purchase their own equipment.

“We had a strategy. Every month we had to buy equipment. After a year, we had developed skills and were able to start our own workshop,” said Malakai, one of the proprietors of the workshop. “To start any business, it needs commitment, passion, and ready to take risks, consistency and involvement.”

In 2016, these committed youth started their workshop on a small piece of land given to them by Malakai’s father at Lukuli, Nanganda.

“After two months, KCCA came and demolished our workshop saying that they wanted only built up structures on the main road. Even all our equipment and materials were taken. We went back to zero and all our savings had been used to buy these things,” narrates Mark. “We visited KCCA offices several times trying to see if we could recover the materials. We had lost wood, vanish, paints and tools like small axes, carving tools, pry bars, clamps, hammers and marking tools. We never got any back so we gave up on them”

As a result, their work was put on a standstill for some time. This was a very big set back to their dream of building a very big craft shop. Their next challenge was getting another location.

“Towards the end of 2016, KCCA advertised a funding opportunity for the youths who had business ideas and also those that had running businesses. We wrote a proposal but this took a while and we never not get any feedback.”

Desperate for capital to start over, they sought loans from their parents to no luck. Only Abdul’s parents supported them with a small loan that wasn’t sufficient to cover the cost of materials and new equipment.

“During that time, there was a road construction project. we asked for jobs and worked there for 6 months. We saved all our money and rented a small piece of land where we put up a workshop. This time it was not on the main road.  We started working again and lucky enough, we had market from our time at Muwembo”s workshop,” narrates Mark.

Malakai working on one of the pieces in the workshop

Due to their hard work, these six young men have managed to create jobs and employ more eleven young people who distribute and take on other tasks like filing, shaping, chiseling, painting among others. The group is constructing a workshop and a showroom on the main road in Lukuli. By next year, they believe, the workshop will be done.

“Basing on the current situation in the country, we are able to earn a living and also employ other people,” says Abdul.

When asked about their goals, this inseparable team wants to have at least 100 employees by the end of next year and also start exporting their craft. They encourage their fellow Ugandans to follow their passion and find a way of earning from it.

*This is a guest post by MARVIN MUTYABA, a student at Makerere University Business School, currently pursuing a Business Administration in his second year. He is passionate about entrepreneurship, skills development and fitness. 

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Profiles

Turning Rubbish into Money In The Fight Against Unemployment

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BY: MARVIN MUTYABA

Meet Calvin Matovu, a twenty-five-year old graduate from Makerere University who recycles wastes and rubbish into charcoal.

After attaining a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental science in 2013, Calvin searched for a job in vain. His life started becoming difficult as he had no source of income and he found it senseless to finish university and sit at idly at home.

In the struggle to fight unemployment, Calvin harnessed the idea of collecting wastes and rubbish from the community with his friends, to make some money.

“I asked myself, all this waste we collect and KCCA burns, can’t we reproduce a product out of it?’ Basing on my knowledge from campus, I came up with the idea of recycling wastes into charcoal.” Says Calvin at his factory in Erisa zone, Kyebando.

He set his plan in motion by gathering jobless youths in his community to create employment for themselves. Calvin and his team of seven started reusing wastes, especially organic wastes from agricultural products for example peelings from matooke. These are mixed with ash, clay, carbon and water to make a final product.

“At first we did not have market because people were already using charcoal from firewood with no clue about charcoal from wastes.” He says.

The idea of reusing garbage to make charcoal seems so unrealistic until he breaks down the process through which waste can be made useful and environment friendly.

“The raw materials include banana peelings, paper, clay, cow dung, cassava flour basing on your income level for example one can use clay or cow dung or cassava flour. The machines used are: a charring drum, crushing machine and a stick briquette machine. Peelings are collected and dried then sorted and grinded. Then they are burnt and put into the charring drum. The binder, which can be either  cassava porridge, clay or cow dung is added to the wastes mix and the mixture is then poured into the briquette machine. the last step is to dry the briquettes to produce charcoal. This is done in the drying rack.”

Calvin’s workmate sieving the raw material in the workshop

Calvin and his team have faced a number of challenges but this has not stopped them from going further.

“In the beginning, we used our hands to mould the charcoal which was very tiresome and it left our hands spoilt with dead skin in the palms. Our quality also wasn’t that good. The market too was very low but we never gave up.”

“Use what surrounds you” is a common saying that we often do not give attention too, but instead, we keep asking our leaders for help yet what’s surrounds us can be very useful in our daily life.

Basic principles of Physics state that “Effort + Load  = Work done.” Calvin’s hard work and desire to see his brilliant idea boom led him to overcome all the challenges that he and his team met. After months of several dynamics, critics and mental exhaustion, the season ended and he harvested fruits from his tree. Schools and some small companies started making orders for his charcoal. He has since received support from KCCA in form of a a manual machine that ended the hands era.

The briquettes are laid out to dry in the drying rack

Calvin Matovu now he employs twenty young people from his own community in Kyebando. The charcoal briquettes they manufacture cost UGX 1500 and last for over seven hours, which minimizes the daily costs also reducing demand for firewood.

“Anyone can do this anywhere at any time.” He says in conclusion. “Every person should base on talent at least 50% of their daily economic activities.”

The finished products. Briquettes ready to be sold.

This is a guest post by MARVIN MUTYABA, a student at Makerere University Business School, currently pursuing a Business Administration in his second year. He is passionate about entrepreneurship, skills development and fitness. 

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Lifestyle

Kalule is using visual art to link Ugandan youth with their role models

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Meet Emmanuel Sekitto Kalule, one of the founders and Team Leader of Faces Up Uganda – a youth led organization that is linking young people with role models for inspiration and support.

Emmanuel who holds a bachelor’s degree in Industrial and Fine Art from Makerere University, practices art as an activist platform and most of his works act as a voice to the voiceless within various communities.

Speaking about his journey to This Is Uganda team, he says “I Initiated Faces Up Uganda in 2015, during my second year at the art school at Makerere university. The organization fully and publicly got started on January 27th 2016 as I launched our first project called Faces up art campaign.” Emmanuel remembers. “Having studied art at the university, I came to realize how powerful art is as a tool to transform other people’s lives because I learned what true art is and how it can be applied.” He says.

Kalule empowering young people during a session.

On coming up with the Faces Up Uganda idea

When we are growing up we look to our role models for inspiration and use this as a blueprint for how we should behave when we’re older. This is likely a survival function designed to help us to mimic the traits of those successful members of our society and thereby help us to be successful too. This is what Emanuel is doing.

“I started up Faces Up Uganda to create a proper platform for mentorship for the young people and also link them to proper role models.  Having grown up with a single mother after their separation when I was in primary two, I faced quite a lot of challenges especially lacked the parental guidance from my father and this was a challenge for me to find my true self as I grew up.Like most of young people be, I was a jack of all trades since I lacked a role model and a mentor who could guide me.” He remembers.

According to Emmanuel, majority of the multitalented young people in Uganda lack opportunities that recognize and support their talents and above all help support their development. This is evident that many multitalented young people here in uganda don’t reach to their full potentials due to lack of mentorship and Creating a platform to help identify and develop talents.

It’s such challenges encountered he encountered at an early age and in his quest to find proper individuals who could help guide him, he landed on a few good ones and a lot of wrong ones who drained his energies as a young person to satisfy their needs and also as a source of free labor.

Kalule and his team at Faces Up Uganda

On how he overcame some of those challenges

“Research and reading was one of the ways I dealt with the unique technical challenges. Being a fresh graduate from university, I had no resources and capacities to continue with the great cause I had started. Therefore I had to educate myself so that to be in a better position in this competitive world.” Emmanuel says.

Understanding the dynamics within the art market also helped him come up with relevant art. This has made Faces Up Uganda remain creative so as to be on top of the game.

“You always need to stand out in whatever you do and that has always been on back of our minds as an organization.” He emphasizes

But of of course team work comes first.

Team work, like the saying goes…”no man is an island” to be successful it is not a one man story. Faces Up Uganda has a team of multi-talented young people that are passionately committed to the mission and vision of the organization. This has helped the organization a lot in overcoming various technical problems and also leverage opportunity.

The role models that have been featured by Faces Up Uganda

By the time of writing this article, 50 portrait art works of public figures whom the young people look up to as role models have been featured. These include Hon.Rt. Hon Rebecca kadaga, Owekitiibwa. Charles Peter Mayiga, Miya Farouk , Onyango Denis, Angella Katatumba , Sylvia Owori , Hon.Bobi wine , Nabimanya Humphrey, Robert Kabushenga , D.j Shiru , Jamal Salim , Isaiah Katumwa among others. These art works were executed by a collective of five artist I.e Saekitto kalule Emmanuel , Byaruhanga Raymond, Kamanyire Osca , Arion Bonaface ,and Kalyemenya Douglas bush and exhibited at the prestigious award Makerere art gallery.

Kalule believes art plays a very instrumental role in changing lives of young people

Sustaining the idea

As a fundraising strategy, Faces Up sells customized organization items such as jumpers, T-shirts, bags, caps and art works to fund the various activities toward realizing its mission.

The team constantly gets offers from people. These offers turn up depending on the economic situation. Fortunately, the public is rapidly appreciating Faces Up Uanda items such as jumpers , T-shirts, bags and above all art works and they are learning to buy them and we believe they numbers are going to increase in the near future.

His advice to emerging Ugandan artists

“Artists need to first appreciate and value their own works before they put them to the public. How will someone else learn to appreciate your work if you yourself handle it as trash?” Emmanuel says.

Feel like you need some art?

Get in touch with Faces Up Uganda team in Lugala , Luya parish along Sentema road as you head to Masanafu or contact them on +256705859110 / +256773367093. If you’re on social media, find them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram or visit their website www.facesup.org

Like this story or have something to share? Email us on info@thisisuganda.org or connect with us on Facebook and Twitter.

 

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