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Palesa Pads: Empowering African Girls through Education and Menstrual Health Author: Palesa Pads Who are Palesa Pads?
Palesa Pads is a female-led social enterprise and the first manufacturer in South Africa to pass the SABS test for washable, reusable, high-quality cloth sanitary towels.
Their products are locally manufactured by previously disadvantaged women, providing them with skills and meaningful employment. They aim to be the leaders of the "Cloth Revolution- in Africa” while simultaneously restoring the dignity of women and girls across Africa.
Founder and CEO of Palesa Pads, Shérie de Wet affectionately known as "Palesa", gave some insights into what inspired this project.
"On my travels to Africa in my previous career, I discovered poverty first-hand and resolved to change my course and put my mind to finding a solution.
During my research, I discovered that girls in South Africa were missing up to 30% of their school days* during their period due to a lack of sanitary pads. This is where I decided to start. I'm a true feminist, and I believe that we should be empowering women at every age and every stage of life, but how can we do that if girls can't even attend school and have an equal opportunity to receive a quality education?"
(*Stellenbosch law clinic study)
The first sponsorship of 30 girls took place in November 2017, and the business has grown tremendously since then. To date* we have manufactured over 750,000 pads and provided FREE sanitary pads to more than 118,000 girls to keep them in school with dignity and pride.
Promoting menstruation as a natural, healthy and necessary part of life for all women is at the core of this initiative.
Shérie believes that "without periods, no woman could ever fall pregnant, and the human race would cease to exist. Periods are the start of all life. Together with our menstrual education, we provide high-quality, washable, reusable sanitary pads and a bucket and cleaning products to girls for free."
The Palesa Pads kits are sponsored by corporations and other organisations that work with Palesa Pads. They have created jobs through the program and are committed to manufacturing the best quality reusable pads in Africa.
Each pad is subjected to meticulous quality control to ensure that girls and women receive a beautiful kit they can wash and reuse with dignity and pride for up to 5 years!
They currently distribute pads into the surrounding Southern African countries and in the future, hope to train local teams to continue in their stead. Palesa Pads are guaranteed for up to 5 years, a girl's entire high school career.
The company's product line includes:
The pads come in five variants: o MINI – for light menstrual flow o MIDI – for medium menstrual flow o MAXI – for heavy menstrual flow o MEGA – for very heavy menstrual flow o MAMA – for extremely heavy menstrual flow or maternal use
The pads are available as single pads, in combo packs or in Flo Kits which include a combination of reusable pads, all of the cleaning materials needed to keep the pads sparkling clean and a bucket to soak and wash the pads in.
The organisation plans to expand their product range to include babies, children and adults’ nappies. This project is incredibly important to Sherie, but for now, they are working on improving their current products and initiatives and maintaining their levels of quality and empowerment throughout the organisation and beyond. The products are all eco-friendly and sustainable. Marketing Strategies to achieve goals.
Much effort has gone into marketing and education to change how people think about menstruation, particularly cloth sanitary pads, which have been used by women for millennia. What makes Palesa Pads different, though, is the fabric they use. The material is stain-resistant, so it's easy to wash and dry. Cold water and regular laundry soap are all that is required to wash these pads. The pads contain a full waterproof layer to ensure they don't leak, giving the girls the confidence needed to go about their day, knowing that their pads will keep them dry and fresh. Palesa Pads contain no chemicals; therefore, there is none of the odour we usually associate with menstruation.
Defining and quantifying impact against the mission
A detailed database of every school visited and how many girls were sponsored is kept and updated regularly. This helps ensure that school visits are made at the appropriate times to top up donations for new girls who have since joined the school.
Feedback is gathered from the students and teachers from different schools through a School Girl Satisfaction Survey, which helps obtain measurable feedback. The feedback is always positive, and messages are often received from girls years later explaining how much Palesa Pads helped them and that they were able to complete their education.
They recently received an offer from one of their sponsors to assist with a more robust reporting system and are keen to start the process.
The consistency of donations is the biggest challenge. There is no shortage of sponsors during certain months of the year, such as Women's Month, but sponsorships dry up in other months, especially during school holidays. This puts the organisation under financial pressure and makes it challenging to cover the basics like rent and salaries. Consistent relationship building over the past six years has garnered some repeat sponsorships, which helps to cover the gaps. "We hope that as we make more of these relationships, we will eventually have enough to cover us for the year. For now, we are fueled by faith", says Shérie.
Though the Palesa Pads initiative is in its own right highly successful, Shérie believes that every one of their events is a success in its own way. "Some are big, others are small, but each one is special to us." There are so many stories to share, but one, in particular, comes to mind. This message was received from a girl who had received Palesa Pads many years prior; she had finished school and is now in university; this is such a great testimonial. Education and Awareness
The importance of education and awareness within the strategic plan and the mediums used to communicate their work to supporters and the general public is considered one of the most essential things Palesa Pads does. Shérie says, "There are so many myths about menstruation, pregnancy and even sanitary products. We have done our research on all of these and love to share the knowledge we have gained and, in doing so, change people's minds about it. We aim to lead the Cloth Pad Revolution in Africa, which starts and ends with education."
Like most non-profit companies, funding comes primarily from private sponsors and donations.
Their biggest sponsors are the corporates, as they have the necessary budget to impact whole neighbourhoods and cities significantly. We do all we can to build and maintain those relationships to grow our base of sponsors and achieve our goal of ending period poverty in South Africa and the rest of Africa.
The Palesa Pads Foundation NPC partners with corporate sponsors, individuals and non-profit organisations to provide FREE reusable sanitary pads to disadvantaged schoolgirls.
Should you wish to donate, kindly visit the Palesa Pads website for more information - https://www.palesapads.com/donate/
Fighting Period Poverty with Fun and Education
Every organisation has its part to play in the fight against period poverty, and only together can we really succeed, says Shérie. Palesa Pads has a unique style, brings a lot of fun to events and talks openly and honestly with the girls. Doing this repeatedly means they can explain their products as well as the benefits in detail and address the questions that everyone thinks about before they have a chance to ask them. Shérie commented, "Recently, a school principal told me that another organisation donated cloth pads to his school, but he wasn't convinced; however, after hearing our presentation, he absolutely loves cloth pads and is sold that this is the right solution for the girls at his school. Our programme is structured and scripted to ensure that every girl receives the same experience, no matter where we go.” Overcoming Logistics Challenges
The lack of a dedicated vehicle hinders the organisation's mission and limits the outreach to girls in need.
A dedicated vehicle would make all the difference in helping to reach more girls. Until now, they have been using Shéries personal vehicle, which is not big enough to carry staff, equipment and stock.
There are also additional costs related to transporting the pads to the venue, and a van and matching trailer will save costs by enabling them to transport the kits themselves. This would help reach more remote locations and, ultimately, more girls in need.
Building community and mobilising others for positive change
To mobilise others around their mission, Palesa Pads believe in building strong relationships and fostering a sense of community. They engage with people from all walks of life, listen to their feedback, and make them feel valued and appreciated. The focus is on creating a clear and compelling vision for their mission, articulating its benefits and impact on the world, which helps to inspire and motivate others to join in their efforts. They also leverage technology and social media to spread the word and reach a wider audience. Creating a sense of belonging and purpose has attracted diverse individuals who share their passion and commitment to making a positive change in the world.
"We have been so fortunate in this regard. People like our style and what we do and offer to come on board and work with us. We have had incredible support from all walks of life." says Shérie.
SA is on course to achieve the SDGs
As the halfway mark between the adoption and finish line of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development approaches, it is believed that the African Region is only on track to achieve 26 of 169 SDG targets.
Despite this, Shérie does feel that SA will achieve the SDGs, however she can't speak to the time frame. Until organisations start working together for a common cause, time will always be our enemy.
Get in touch To get to know the organisation and its footprint better, visit their official website and social media pages to learn more: (www.palesapads.com | social media handle @PalesaPads. Posts and videos are shared regularly. The Future
For Shérie and her team, the only way is up.
"In my dreams, I see Palesa Pads providing a full range of sanitary pads, maternity pads, breast pads, nappies and so much more. I see these being available in every supermarket or pharmacy that sells their single-use alternative. I hope to grow the factory and spread our wings more in South Africa and eventually into our neighbouring countries.
She is inspired by her team and the tenacity of women in South Africa and on the African continent and continues to lead with her heart.
Shérie loves to see people, particularly women, succeed and overcome their circumstances. A strong woman to me is a success story because I know there is no turning back for her, and she will inspire many more women," she says.
In a world where gender inequality still prevails, initiatives like Palesa Pads offer a glimmer of hope. By providing women with access to affordable and sustainable menstrual hygiene products, they are not only improving the physical health of these women but also empowering them to pursue their dreams and aspirations without being held back by a natural biological process. Palesa Pads' work is a testament to the power of empathy, compassion, and the belief that every person deserves to live a dignified life. Their efforts remind us that when we work together to uplift marginalised communities, we create a better world for all. Let us continue to support and uplift initiatives like Palesa Pads so that every woman has the opportunity to thrive and achieve her full potential. It's just another day - PERIOD.