Melita Patricia, Santa Clara University, Marketing, 2017
“If you pick fruit from a tree while menstruating, the tree will go barren.”
This notion is among many myths that primary school girls are taught in Uganda. Even as the girls advance to secondary school, they are shy to address beliefs that result in unsafe methods and that fail to protect them.
Challenges in Rural Uganda
The challenges faced by Ugandan society as a whole are extreme for young girls. The rural poverty level is higher than in urban Uganda, and school-related expenses are barriers for many girls seeking to attend school. Even when girls can afford to stay in school and buy sanitary pads, many mature without understanding appropriate menstruation management.
Undergraduate Students with a Mission
With a passion for social justice, Christina Egwim and Déjà Thomas worked together with Bana -- a social enterprise that provides a hygienic way for girls to manage menstruation -- to evaluate Bana’s work from an outside perspective. They spent 8 weeks living, traveling, working and conducting research in rural Uganda.
Christina and Déjà’s work with Bana was coordinated through Miller Center’s Global Social Benefit Fellowship. Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship is committed to improving lives globally. It is situated on Santa Clara University’s campus and works towards the Jesuit mission to foster wholesome and uplifting education. The Fellowship exemplifies this commitment, as it provides a comprehensive program of mentored, field-based study and action research for driven students like Christina and Déjà.
Working with Bana
Christina and Déjà observed how Bana staff interacts with local communities and how Bana conducts its menstruation education workshops and business skills training.
The observations were conducted at:
● 2 primary schools and 5 secondary schools (150 school girls)
● 5 community meeting places
● 1 health clinic
● 1 Bana collection center
The girls witnessed how Bana strives to cultivate powerful social change in the community through sensitizing, educating and operating.
Christina and Déjà learned how important the power of word-of-mouth is to spread awareness of Bana’s mission. To address the importance of menstrual hygiene, Bana begins by approaching community leaders and village health teams, then relies on word-of-mouth.
Their observation introduced Christina and Déjà to Sylvia, who has served as the village health team for seven years. Her passion for women’s health has allowed her to gain a reputation around the village of Bukibura as a resource for women and girls. One day Shakirah approached Sylvia and described how uncomfortable she felt with folding pieces of cloth into the cotton lining of her underwear to mimic a pad every time she menstruates. Not only did she have to change the cloth every thirty minutes, but she also had to walk carefully to avoid making the cloth move around too much. With a huge smile on her face, Sylvia described to the fellows how blessed she feels to work with Bana and help girls like Shakirah experience better options when handling menstruation.
The two fellows found out that girls in Uganda suffer in school when menstruating, as they are constantly worried about leaking through clothes and facing disgust against their natural menstruation process. The disruption in performance can lead to dropping out of school for many, which results in a decrease in education for girls.
To address this issue, Bana provides better education about menstruation and offers business skills training for the community. Proper education of young girls and older women allows Bana to uplift marginalized women in communities that are unaware of proper menstrual management. Bana’s workshops train locals in business skills so that schoolgirls and young women can start their own small businesses and afford Bana pads. The workshops teach the 4P’s of business (Place, Product, Promotion and Price), how to assess direct and indirect cost, and the practice of record keeping. Girls slowly become more comfortable with the topic of menstruation through the workshops, which the fellows saw as the avoidance of eye contact and hushed giggles turned into strong, loud voices and steady eye contact by the end.
Bana manufactures 4,600 packets of ten pads every week, with one rural woman producing 92 packets per shift, five days a week. Once the pads are made, Bana depends on rural women, known as “Champions,” to sell the products.
Champions travel through rural Uganda, carrying a backpack full of Banapads and wearing a shirt that signifies their association with Bana. Christina and Déjà noticed that Bana’s business model allows the women to keep 16% of sales revenues, which provides an opportunity for Champions to earn approximately 1 million Ugandan shillings ($300 USD) in extra income every year.
Sarah, a Champion for 5 years, conveys that Bana has positively impacted her life. Bana helped Sarah quickly recognize her misled ideas about menstruation and has since educated her daughter properly. The extra income earned and business skills learned have allowed her to open her own store in Bukibira Village, where she offers products and services that range from clothes to boda-boda (motorcycle) repairs. There is a notable increase in people walking and talking in the area because of her store, which enables Sarah to interact with her community.
Apart from their observations, Christina and Déjà conducted 28 group and individual interviews with Champions, users, parents of users, teachers and health clinic workers. They also took 87 pages of ethnographic field notes during their work in the field.
Student Researchers Driving Impact
In order to effectively evaluate Bana’s work, the two fellows created an evaluation plan to track the various health impacts that Bana has on the community. The girls created a Monitoring and Evaluation Plan made up of two components:
1. Health Data Reporting System: helps Bana understand the relationship between regional sales data and incidents of acute infections and conditions related to menstruation. This report lets Bana compare health impacts before and after its partnership with local health clinics, and conclude the effectiveness of product use and educational programs.
2. Interview Guide: provides further detail to the health report data and collects feedback on Bana’s products and services to help improve impact. Informal interviews will give a voice and story to Bana’s customers and community. The 28 group and individual interviews Déjà and Christina conducted offered insights to improve Bana’s products and services, showcasing how interviews will allow Bana to gather feedback on its products and training.
Christina and Déjà also developed a Theory of Change Profile for Bana, which documents in detail how Bana achieves its social impact. This detailed report explains how Bana spreads awareness, educates communities, and operates as a business. The report narrates the diverse impacts Bana has on local communities, while also explaining Bana’s impact model and theory of change to external stakeholders and potential investors.
Miller Center’s Fellowship allowed Déjà and Christina to learn valuable lessons from working directly with a social enterprise in the field, rather than merely reading or studying about social enterprises from afar. Together with Bana, the students were able to impact lives on a deep level and help the company continue to instill lasting impact. Everyone directly connected to Bana was inspired to bring positive impact in their communities, not just for menstruation, but for other issues regarding health and education.
Bana is not only providing sanitary pads to schoolgirls but also building a brighter future for whole communities in rural Uganda. Currently, Bana has impacted over 50,000 rural girls and women, yet it hopes to continue expanding and generating positive change for as many lives as possible!