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A social enterprise’s zeal to curb ‘period poverty’

Among the things Rwanda is known for, is its efforts in promoting women empowerment and its environmental friendliness.

 With similar idealistic passions, Aicha Seifelislam, a Sudanese national, decided to contribute to the country’s women empowerment and zero waste through her social enterprise, Kandaka Naturals.

 

“I am happy to have this opportunity because Rwanda is a woman wonderland with so many strong women, and I’m happy that I was able to bring my thoughts and ideas and implement them here. The people and the government here have been very supportive in terms of promoting zero waste and women empowerment,” she says.

 

Founded about one and a half years ago, Kandaka Naturals ensures that women have access to natural skin care products and affordable menstrual products that are locally, naturally, and sustainably ‘zero waste.’

 

The social enterprise, Seifelislam explains, is reflected in the name Kandaka, which in the ancient Nubia culture means a strong woman and was a title given to historical warrior queens, while Naturals is because “we try to keep our products as organic as possible and at zero waste which is made possible by recycling papers and boxes for packaging and buying Rwandan products like essential oils and clays in bulk.”

“Our soaps are not only natural and zero waste they are also good for our health. We have different kinds of natural soaps, but all of them are special because in comparison to the conventional soaps we use essential oils which clean and hydrate the body,” she says.

The essential and premium collections, with the latter having more oils like avocado oil or shea butter, the soaps in their various forms, she adds, work according to different skin types. For example charcoal soap that is good for cleaning out the fat, the lemongrass, coffee, and different butters all help in improving skin conditions.

In addition to these various types, they also make customised soaps for other brands as well as babies and mothers on an individual basis.

The business, however, does not come without challenges. Seifelislam cites that promoting her products in the beginning was a challenge as people are not used to consuming or selling minimally packaged products.

“They want packaging that is full of colour that even in the beginning, it took us a year to get approved in terms of standard. This is why we are trying to come up with other innovative solutions that are still eco-friendly but still pleases the customers so as to adapt to the local market,” she says.

Fighting period poverty

Statistics reveal that about 20 per cent of school girls cannot go to school during their period as they cannot afford hygienic products. To change that, Kandaka Naturals reinvests the money they profit in handmade soaps and production to train women to produce reusable sanitary pads for fair wages and sell them at an affordable price.

“We wanted to be independent which is why we created a social enterprise which means we are a business, but part of our money goes into a social cause which is ending period poverty in Africa, starting with Rwanda. 30 per cent of the earnings goes to making reusable sanitary pads while also advocating for menstrual hygiene management topics which also entails the standards for reusable sanitary pads which are not yet in place in Rwanda,” she says.

To achieve this, she explains, she created a coalition with Safe to Bleed that has NGOs and individuals as members that work with the government to get the standards for the pads, but to also be able to distribute them legally in schools so that girls do not miss school during their period.

Reusable sanitary pads are also used in other countries like Pakistan, France, Germany and Uganda.

Showcasing the reusable pads they make, Alvera Ishimwe, a coordinator for the pads production and Menstrual Health Management workshops, adds that the reusable sanitary pads are not only aimed at protecting the environment, but are also sustainable for girls, especially in rural areas.

Future plans

For the founder, Kandaka Natural’s goal is to produce more eco- friendly products on the market as well as quality Made in Rwanda products that are sustainable and in years to come, extend them to the whole of Africa.

editor@newtimesrwanda.com

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