Promoting access to sanitation for everyone
So Others Are Protected (SOAP) is a self-empowerment initiative that addresses issues surrounding sanitation and the spread of disease in the under-resourced world.
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Peacebuilding in Rwanda
Health-based approach to peacebuilding in Rwanda, using menstrual hygiene management as a unifier for women.
Almost a quarter-century after the Rwandan Genocide, dangerous tensions persist between the historical Hutu and Twa ethnic groups in the northwest Musanze District, hindering development in the region and producing unequal sharing of resources. In 2015, a World Bank assessment reported the Musanze district as being afflicted by the most extreme poverty in the country The evaluation cites "inadequate access to health care," "environmental degradation," and "inter-community conflict" as major contributing factors. The Bank explicitly identifies the empowerment of women as a key mechanism for restoring regional stability.
This program unites women of divergent communities around an issue that impacts women indiscriminately. Each cohort will be composed of 30 women, 15 from each historically marginalized ethnic group - Hutu and Twa - in northwestern Rwanda.
Improved health: Workshops will be taught by local healthcare workers and professionals who are trained to deliver a comprehensive curriculum on sexual and reproductive health as well as menstrual hygiene management. These workshops will expose participants to an array of topics including family planning options and HIV/AIDS prevention. With limited access to sanitary pads, most women and girls turn to old rags, used clothing, ash or paper to manage menstruation. This project responds to the community’s need for a more sanitary alternative.
Improved access to education and empowerment: Education is vital to the peace, prosperity, and security of our world; we cannot achieve this vision while a large portion of our population is structurally excluded due to center-periphery dynamics, gender relations and ethnic tension residues from the genocide. An intergenerational mentorship program is a unique component of this initiative. Workshop participants will have an opportunity to participate in additional professionally-facilitated training as a pathway to serve in their rural communities as “MHM mamas” for at-risk girls who lack local healthcare services or in-school health education. According to a 2016 review, with access to MHM education and resources, girls miss fewer days of school per year and are more likely to delay marriage and have, on average, 2.2 fewer children. Smaller family size reduces strain on community and environmental resources. Once a month, most women in the rural villages of Musanze turn to old rags, used clothing, ash or paper to manage menstruation.
Roughly 270,000 girls in rural Rwanda miss four days of school every month due to a lack of feminine protection. Every girl deserves the right to pursue an education, but without safe and effective sanitary protection, it is not possible for girls to comfortably leave their homes, let alone attend school.
Economic empowerment: The sales of artisanal sanitary pads will catalyze economic opportunities for vulnerable women. Through this social entrepreneurship venture, women can cultivate relationships with other local businesses and artisans to source required materials (i.e., cotton, fabric, buttons, needles, and thread) and for future ventures.
Environmental conservation: This program recognizes the links between environmental degradation and regional conflict. Thus, all resources and materials used in the construction of sanitary pads will be locally sourced to reduce the carbon footprint from transport. Moreover, one of the primary materials used in manufacture is derived from an invasive species plaguing the Great Lakes region. Water hyacinth is a destructive and invasive aquatic species in Rwanda that obstructs water-based transportation, inhibits fishing, decreases access to freshwater, threatens biodiversity through the depletion of oxygen in water and kills native species. The water hyacinth, native to South America, is also a known breeding ground for mosquitoes and parasites, increasing the spread of diseases like malaria, zika virus, and schistosomiasis.
PFC has an ongoing initiative working with communities to remove water hyacinth from the local Cyuve and Mukungwa Rivers. Water hyacinth fibers have been successfully used as a sorbent in sanitary pads in similar regional programs, and have been positively received by communities, with no detected health risks.
These fibers will be combined with locally sourced cotton as the sorbent for this initiative. The use of water hyacinth will not only reduce waste and protect the local fisheries and fishing industry but also stimulate the local economy. This scourge of Lake Kivu can be recast as sanitary pads to help girls receive the education they need to escape poverty.
Community capacity building and reconciliation: The program features two peacebuilding sessions, one at the beginning and end of the workshop (see addendum). Sessions will teach conflict management and resolution skills through the lens of entrepreneurship. Lessons will include how to: build business partnerships, manage and work within cooperatives; allocation of labor and cooperative work; and communication skills to address, mitigate and solve conflict in the workplace.
About our Founder
Sydney Kamen, 22, is a Junior at Dartmouth College studying Geography, Ethics and Global Health. She founded SOAP in 2012, and continues to run and expand the initiative. For her leadership of this initiative, she has been awarded the President's Volunteer Service Award, the Diller Tikkun Olam Award, the Prudential Spirit of Community Award, the Daily Points of Light Award, the Robbert Shepherd Leadership Award and has been named a Coca-Cola Scholar, and a Global Health Fellow at Dartmouth College.