Cotton Babies and Dignity Period, an organization whose mission is to keep Ethiopian girls in school by providing quality menstrual hygiene products, have a lot in common. Both began with an entrepreneurial woman who identified a serious lack in her community and decided to do something about it.
Dignity Period supports the Mariam Seba Sanitary Products Factory, which was founded in 2009 by Freweini Mebrahtu, an Ethiopian woman with a bold vision. Growing up in Ethiopia, Freweini went through puberty and young adulthood without access to sanitary supplies. She remembers missing school, being isolated and embarrassed at home, and seeing the same thing happen to her friends.
After receiving a degree in chemical engineering from Prairie View A&M University, Freweini lived for more than a decade in the United States as a successful businesswoman. But during a visit to her homeland, Freweini saw that girls were living through the same difficulties she had experienced as a child. There were no sanitary pads for girls, and no one was helping or even talking about what is considered an embarrassing problem. Determined to help, Freweini returned to Ethiopia and started Mariam Seba, named after her own daughter.
Six years later, the factory employs nearly 50 local women which produces much-needed income and benefits that are vital to their families. The factory can produce approximately one million pads per year for girls and women across East Africa. There is still much work to be done, but the organization’s reach is impressive.
When our founder, Jenn Labit, found out that Dignity Period was also based in St. Louis, supporting a similar factory in Ethiopia, and raising awareness about the rights of girls and the value of girls’ education, she wanted to help. After meeting with board member Matt Fisher, and then Helen and Lewis Wall and Freweini in March, Jenn knew she could help the organization by donating pre-cut pieces of waterproof fabric for the backing of Dignity Period’s pads. Jenn soon found out that Freweini was having trouble sourcing this type of fabric, so the material would be extremely helpful.
Helen and Lewis Walls recently traveled to Ethiopia. During their trip, they delivered 3,600 of these backings to the factory, and the employees got to work immediately. The pads were all made within 24 hours, and were ready to go to girls in need.
Helen Wall is enthused by the partnership: “It’s great to see the St. Louis community coming together to help women and girls around the world. Cotton Babies makes environmentally friendly, exceptional childcare products accessible to every mom and family who needs and wants them, and Dignity Period works to make environmentally friendly, exceptional menstrual hygiene products accessible to every girl in Ethiopia. It’s a great match, and together we are able to reach even more people.”
Photo by Joni Kabana