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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?

 

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

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Uganda Innovates

How Lucia Bakulumpagi- Wamala is transforming access to renewable energy one community at a time

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Seven years ago, while visiting her family in the town of Gayaza, in central Uganda, Lucia Bakulumpagi-Wamala couldn’t help but notice the garbage on the streets. Having grown up in Canada, this was an unfamiliar sight for her. She began to wonder if the trash could be used for something productive.

Who is Lucia Wamala?

I’m a dreamer, a do-er and a believer. I see endless possibilities and love to see people live out their dreams. It’s actually what motivates me. People very close to me call me a “stage mom” because I love to push people to amaze themselves. You can normally find me with my 7 year mini-me, sometimes she even sits in on meetings.  She has a wonderful aesthetic and advises me on some marketing pieces. I pay her in toys!

Let’s talk about Bakulu Power. What does it do?

We invest in the renewable energy sector. We design, implement, own and operate energy infrastructure. We are a young team with bold visionary ideas. Our engineers and researchers are some the brightest in the country. Uganda is a young country; about 77% of its population is under 30. By providing access to and hands-on involvement in the emerging renewable energy industry, we help power our tomorrow.

What Inspired you to start Bakulu Power?

I was staying with one of my cousins and her family in Gayaza when the idea first came to me. As we drove to and from town I would look at the garbage on the street and wonder how to get rid of it. I grew up in Canada so seeing garbage on the streets wasn’t normal to me. What I found interesting was that the waste was primarily agricultural. I thought about making fertilizer then quickly scrapped that idea. I started to read everything I could about waste management, informal workers, deforestation and waste to energy. I joined associations around those themes and talked to a lot of people. I gained a theoretical understanding of how to convert waste to energy and wanted to support women. Everything else has really been a series of miracles.

Why renewable energy?

Energy is the precursor to development. In order to industrialize, solve unemployment and move to a middle income nation we need more electricity. My initial spark was waste to energy which falls under biomass. Our equatorial placement makes solar a no-brainer. Agriculture is our biggest industry so we know potential for biogas is huge. The renewable resources are there and there are some great policies to support its development. Africa has contributed the least of any continent to climate change, but unfortunately we will face the greatest risks. I think investing in renewable energy is the responsible thing to do.

What communities does Bakulu Power engage with?

Our office is in Kampala but our team spends most of their time out in the field. You can often find us crossing Lake Victoria to beautiful Buvuma district. We also have projects in Kamwenge, Butambala and Gulu to name a few. It’s amazing to travel around country and meet different communities while enjoying the natural environment. One of my favorite communities at the moment is in Mpigi district – Kamengo. We’ve had the pleasure of working with the Agnes Zabali Boys and Girls Club (please use hyperlink: www.azboysandgirlsclub.ca) a wonderful organization addressing health, education and social needs for 100+ youth in Kamengo. We wired and installed solar at the guest on top of a hill. The view is incredible! Remember, I’ve dealt with winter for nearly my entire life so sometimes I got lost in the greenery of communities that are new to me.

Bakulu Power’s core purpose is to power local communities by providing residential and commercial clients with clean, affordable renewable energy systems tailored to their specific needs. For example what needs?

We do a lot of outreach in agricultural communities to educate on the benefits of solar water pumps. We feel strongly about supporting agribusinesses. In other situations clean cooking fuel is the need so we step away from electrification and design biomass systems. Some larger industry clients are looking to reduce their diesel consumption so we design solar systems with larger battery components. We take all of our clients seriously no matter how big or small. We range from a solar water heater for a family home to mini-grids that electrify hundreds of homes.

With the Right Honourable Ruhukana Rugunda, my Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Richard Sseruwagi and Evace Kabahukya (OPM staff).

Bakulu Power’s goal is to design and build integrated, highly efficient systems that increase electrification for our end users and reduce utility costs. How exactly do you do this?

We do it one community at a time. One client at a time. We work hard to earn the trust of our project stakeholders. We celebrate our successes, learn from our lessons and continually improve. We’ve been blessed to work with amazing partners. It’s really about people. It takes a lot of people to develop energy infrastructure.

In March this year, Forbes Magazine named you one of the 30 most promising entrepreneurs on the continent, how did you feel?

I felt really emotional. I knew it was a rare sliding door moment that would change my life. I immediately called one of my dearest friends in New York and we literally screamed for 30 minutes. Meanwhile my daughter kept repeating, “let’s go and buy it!” I taught her about Forbes last year and we taped a picture of ourselves on the cover of The Forbes 400. She was a little confused because the article isn’t in print and more so because her picture isn’t online! Though slightly disappointed, she printed the article and took it to her teacher. As a mother it’s great to see that your child is proud of you.

Where do you see Bakulu Power 6-10 years from now?

I see offices across the continent. I see a huge research and development department. I see university endowments to support even greater research on the continent. I see empowered communities, improved health services, thriving industry. My goal is simple, to create jobs – internally and externally.

Lucia Bakulumpagi- Wamala is transforming communities through access to renewable energy.

Let’s talk about personal inspiration. Which people inspire you in everything you do?

My parents and my siblings are at the top of the list. I’m lucky to be part of an intelligent, educated and ambitious family. As the youngest of the bunch I’ve had the pleasure of watching my sisters and brother attain their own successes. Because of them I have the nerve to create. I’m inspired by people who create. It isn’t easy (or comfortable) to turn an idea into something tangible. I’m very inspired by Kanye West. I often joke that we should include his discography in the new hire package. I make so many references to his work that if you don’t know it I won’t make much sense.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to be like you?

Be willing to learn. To learn you have to be willing to be wrong, to be vulnerable and to be embarrassed. You have to continually learn and DO. Thing is, you have to do while you’re learning. It’s absolutely terrifying. And most of the work is not fun or glamourous. But once you start the process (oh ya, you have to learn to love the process because there is no final destination) you will amaze yourself. I would also say to be kind, curious and open. Business is really just a series of relationships and you know never know who you are talking to.

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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Uganda Innovates

How The Medical Concierge Group is using social media to transform access to healthcare in Uganda

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A problem further beyond Uganda’s low doctor-to-patient ratio, is the distribution of those doctors. Most, particularly specialists, congregate in Kampala while some decide to go seek greener pastures abroad in hope for making a breakthrough in their medical career growth.

In Uganda, the Doctor to Patient ratio stands at 1 Doctor for every 24,725 people in 2013 and 1 nurse for every 11,000 people. The recommended ratio by Ministry of Health is at 0.117  physicians per 1,000 people.

To add to this are Uganda’s rising costs of healthcare and the limited engagement of patients on their health outside the confines of the hospital.

One doctor and his team are however trying to change this status quo.

Dr. Davis Musinguzi, having qualified as a medical doctor from Makerere University, sought to address the issue of Uganda’s appalling the doctor to patient ratio.

“We were seeking to address the challenges with accessibility, affordability and quality of health care service delivery in Uganda not forgetting the poor accessibility to health professionals particularly in rural areas to access basic medical consultation.” says Dr. Davis Musinguzi.

He founded The Medical Concierge Group (TMCG), and immediately started an entrepreneurial journey to provide much needed solutions to the challenges at hand.

The Medical Concierge Group is an innovative healthcare service delivery and communication channel. It leverages a freemium model, a 24/7 call centre reachable at routine tariffs, a Doctors-on-Call service through voice calls, SMS, social media and whatsapp to improve accessibility to affordable and quality health care in Uganda, Kenya and Nigeria.

“We are trying to address the rising cost of private health care considering up to 80% of health care expenditure is out-of-pocket in the region. More so, many suburban health care primary healthcare facilities are of low quality and run by low skill personnel.” Dr. Davis says

TMCG is also trying to address the low patient engagement and information gaps about their ailments, prescription medicines, disease prevention and wellness. The issue of social stigma attached to cases has caused people not to access medical services because of insufficient privacy.

Why TMCG decided to use the internet/technology is simple. According to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, there are approximately 13,023,114 Internet users in Uganda translating into 31.3% of the population as of March 2017. Using internet makes TMCG a pioneer in the delivering of mobile health services in Uganda.

The group has dedicated WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter accounts. At the everyday phone tariffs, mobile phone users by voice/SMS/email/IM/social media from anywhere 24/7 can access a Doctor’s consultation. The users only have to listen to or read a health related advert/infomercial embedded in the call/text/Email/IM/Social Media.

TMCG as of today, records an average of 50,000 online interactions, which is proof of how valued the platform has become to its users.

Through partnerships, TMCG is able to meet the set up and running costs as well as scale geographically to reach beneficiaries both in Uganda and beyond.

The group is now looking to complement the tele-consultation with its Doctors with cloud-based remote diagnostic monitoring, mobile money payments for recommended health services and post-care follow up. This will especially be valuable to chronic patients such as hypertensives and diabetics.

The group also looks further than Uganda. With other African countries like Kenya and Nigeria facing similar health care challenges, TMCG has already scaled up the innovative and impactful services in these markets.

The vision is to cost-effectively impact the health outcomes of Africans through innovative and patient-centered digital health services.

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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