Dignity Period works with trusted partners in Ethiopia, provide funds to Mekelle University to conduct research, purchase pads from the Mariam Seba Sanitary Products Factory, and distribute the pads to schools.
When Dr. Lewis Wall visited Ethiopia for the first time in 1995, he focused on treating women in the nation’s capital, Addis Ababa, who had childbirth injuries. That experience began a long interest in and relationship with women’s health care in this country of more than 105 million people, many of whom live in poverty and without access to modern household and community sanitation.
Along with his wife, Helen, Wall – a professor of medical anthropology, sociocultural anthropology, and obstetrics and gynecology at Washington University in St. Louis – made subsequent visits to the nation, working with the College of Health Sciences at Mekelle University, about 486 miles north of Addis Ababa. Among the cultural differences they noticed was that menstruation is a taboo subject, rarely discussed publicly or privately. As a result, for the average girl there, entering puberty and experiencing her first period often proves a terrifying, confusing and humiliating event.
In 2014, the couple became familiar with the work and story of Freweini Mebrahtu, founder of Mariam Seba Sanitary Products Factory. Freweini, a native of Ethiopia, earned a degree in chemical engineering from Prairie View A&M University in Texas before returning to Mekelle to open the factory in 2009. She now employs about 50 local women, and the factory manufactures approximately 600,000 environmentally friendly, washable sanitary pads each year. The pads are made from locally available cotton with a waterproof outer layer and cost 85 percent less than disposable sanitary pads. The factory, named for Freweini’s daughter, produces $4 kits that contain four pads, which last from 12 to 18 months, and two pairs of underwear.
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