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Uganda Innovates

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?

 

Uganda Innovates

Makerere University Students Build Computer from Scratch

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BY MARVIN MUTYABA & ISAIAH NGABIRANO

Computers today have become part of our lives that basically most of the things we need are in these machines. With so many benefits like quick information and communication, entertainment, entrepreneurship, activism and so much more, the computer use has become an extension of the human fabric.

The growing movement of digital migration in the world has opened a worldwidedemandfor innovation and inventionwhich has given rise to the exceptional programmers and inventors who have created appliances and tools that have revolutionized the way we do everything. This picture features Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Nikola Tesla among other inventors.

In Uganda, a group of youths have added their names to this list by building an organic computer, using their knowledge from school and exposure to computers.

The group is spear headed by Ivan Karugaba Junior, a student of mechanical engineering at Makerere University who gained inspiration to develop a computer through personal experiences

One evening at campus my computer was stolen and this got me asking myself why couldn’t I develop my own computer since that’s what we learn in class,” he narrates “Developing the first prototype of the computer was not an easy one and it involved a lot of research and commitment from the team. There were so many lows but we worked as a team and persisted until we came up with a functioning computer, it was a huge achievement to us.

The mother board of the microfuse computer

Having done his internship in Shenzhen,the high-tech hub of China, Ivan gained a lot of experience in developing computers and established some connections as well. This has helped in steering the development of their computer.

When he returned from the one month internship, Ivan decided to start acompany with some colleagues from school, Ochieng Elvis a computer engineer, Etwalu Emmanuel a mechanical engineer, AineamaniTwesigye a software engineer and Nyakoojo Oscar an industrial artist which they called Microfuse, after their computer.

Microfuse is a multipurpose device that can function as a computer at the same time as a media box with the capability to use a low power consumption of a rate of 5w connected to any display, projector, monitor or TV and a computing functionality as Microsoft office. It can also turn any TV into a smart TV, enable access to online connection, live TV and radio channels. All these marvelous features are to come at a simple price of UGX 350,000 (USD 96) with all the necessary accessories attached.

Microfuse basically means joining small parts together to come up with one strong and reliable equipment.” He says. “Microfuse’s aim is to make affordable computers to the normal Ugandan. I believe that every Ugandan deserves to own a computer. It’s absurd to find that someone studies computer in their A-level and the only time they get to use a computer is when they are doing their final papers which is not pleasing and this is majorly because the current devices are expensive and most Ugandans live below the poverty line you cannot expect them to afford these devices.

Ivan however states that the microfuse will be ready for distribution after the team embarks on batch production, which they haven’t been able to do due to the lack of funding and support for their project. He however,believes that the funding will eventually come in the near future since people have started appreciating their motive and the products they intend to produce through the numerous exhibitions that they have participated in.

Ivan (left) at one of the exhibitions

The team has also started a training program to help young Ugandans who are ready to learn and attain some skills in mechanical and computer engineering.In this way, the group is able to transfer knowledge to these youths which they can use in their innovations.

The microfuse team on one of the trainings

Microfuse is located in Wandegeya, Maricha Centrum Building, Ground Floor, office number A3. Tel: +256772292171Email: microfuseug@gmail.comWebsite: www.microfusetechug.com

 

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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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