For women and girls in Cambodia, a menstrual period can put a full stop to life for a whole week every month. This young entrepreneur is changing that in her community.
Sreilak missed a week of school. Again.
She’s not alone. Each month, young women around the world are absent from educational opportunities because they can’t afford feminine hygiene products.
They can’t leave home during their menstrual period.
But a group of young women in Cambodia are changing this reality.
On my recent trip to Tasiem Village in Cambodia, I met Kim Houy Hor, the original seamstress for the recently established re-usable sanitary napkin business.
This is a first on so many levels.
This business grew out of the first Savings and Loans group established for youth and it’s an entrepreneurial endeavour run by young women, serving women. But the firsts don’t end there.
Twenty-seven young women each contributed $12.50 to become stakeholders in the business, which has already seen a net profit of over $300, an unimaginable amount of money in a materially impoverished area. The young women have purchased sewing machines and stocked their shelves with products needed to manufacture the re-usable pads.
Their enthusiasm and passion has been contagious.
The elders got on board when they saw benefits for the entire community— reliable employment and income; increased population stability; and young women attending school regularly.
Leaders pooled resources and constructed a building to house the sewing machines and materials, creating unity and a sense of village pride over the young women’s accomplishments.
Production of the sanitary pads began in April of 2017.
Each hand-made, fabric carrying bag contains two pad holders and six cloth liners. The liners are made of thick, soft fabric and have a moisture barrier sewn into them to prevent leaks. These products are sold with two Ziplocs as well, which girls can carry used pads in. They’ve thought of everything!
And imagine a year’s worth of feminine hygiene products costing $2.50 per year or less. These packages are sold for $5.oo and last at least two years.
But income generation and affordability are just two measure of success for this project. Kim Houy Hor and Food for the Hungry staff beamed as they spoke of how these napkins reduce waste and are therefore good for the environment.
They shared how the kits are proving to be an open door to discussing women’s health issues in their community and beyond.
And they proudly noted that this product is chemical free, offering a healthy and safe alternative that doesn’t have to be purchased monthly.
But perhaps the most glowing report is that young women are free to attend school, participate in activities, and learn practical skills for future employment.
It’s already clear that Kim Houy Hor is an excellent seamstress. I would say her marketing ability is growing as well. As I held the cloth bag and examined the pads she asked with a wide smile, “How many would you like to buy?”
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In The Midst