WEEMA explores new partnership for menstrual pad production

In India, a revolutionary 37-year-old known as the “Padman” is solving an age-old problem by creating low-cost sanitary pads for millions of Indian women. WEEMA staff recently visited with the Padman to see if the entrepreneur’s success could be replicated in Ethiopia.

Arunachalam Muruganantham, the “Padman”, invented a low-cost sanitary pad making machine that has made sanitary pads affordable and accessible to poor Indian women for the first time. More than 5,300 machines have been produced over the past decade and they’re now being used in every state in India, along with 27 other countries.

Despite numerous offers from corporations to commercialize his venture, Muruganantham only sells to women’s self-help groups and schools, which handle local production and distribution of the sanitary pads. By doing so, he creates local quality jobs for women.

Three WEEMA staff members met the Padman and they also visited a self-help group, which has four women employees who are making and selling about 1,000 cotton pads every day for 2 to 3 rupees each (less than 5 cents in the U.S.) A portion of their sales – 25 percent – is donated to local schools and for other community needs.

“It’s amazing,” said WEEMA Operations Manager Susan Daly, who traveled with Ethiopian colleagues Ashenafi Tadesse and Tewodros Belachew on the five-day trip. “They’re creating jobs making the pads and they’re providing a product that other women can buy and afford. There are health benefits, too.”

WEEMA’s visit was a first step in exploring whether the Padman’s model can be replicated in Ethiopia by engaging women’s self-help groups to produce and sell the sanitary pads - a venture that would substantially increase access to menstrual materials, while creating quality local employment. WEEMA already has 110 such self-help groups in place involving more than 2,000.

And there’s certainly a need: lack of access to menstrual supplies – and general information about hygiene and menstrual management – is widespread among girls and women in Ethiopia’s rural areas. In addition to health risks, this access gap contributes to girls’ absenteeism at schools - a problem that WEEMA is tackling head-on by distributing reusable pads to students at the Saruma Primary and Middle School.

“The India trip was inspiring, and we’re hoping we can bring this model of women supporting women to Ethiopia,” said Daly last week.

Stay tuned!

WEEMA Program Manager, Ashenafi Tadesse, and Country Director, Tewodros Belachew, after meeting with the Padman

WEEMA Program Manager, Ashenafi Tadesse, and Country Director, Tewodros Belachew, after meeting with the Padman

Under WEEMA’s leadership, midwives provide training on menstrual health to 405 students in the Saruma School in rural Tembaro, Ethiopia.

Under WEEMA’s leadership, midwives provide training on menstrual health to 405 students in the Saruma School in rural Tembaro, Ethiopia.

Why Giac Nguyen is Running for WEEMA in the Falmouth Road Race

18-year-old patient and his mother soon after surgery

18-year-old patient and his mother soon after surgery

Giac Nguyen cannot shake the image of seeing hundreds of blind Ethiopians get their eyesight restored.

One of the patients he saw in February was a tall 18-year-old boy who had developed cataracts from his diabetes.

“He’d just gone blind 3 or 4 months before (I met him.) It was sad to see him walking in with help from his mom, who he towered over,” Giac recalled. 

Twelve hours later, moments after removing the bandages following cataract surgery, the boy’s life was transformed. He could see again, and he no longer needed his mom’s help. “The next morning, he walked his mom out,” Giac said. 

Nguyen saw 954 such transformations during a five-day stint helping the Cataract Campaign, organized every year in Ethiopia by WEEMA and the Himalayan Cataract Project. Cataracts are the leading cause of preventable blindness in Ethiopia, affecting an estimated 2.4 percent of rural populations.

This year’s effort was held in Hosanna, an area six hours southwest of the capital, Addis Ababa. Ethiopians of all ages were helped, most of them older.

“It’s beautiful to see the immediate change in people when they remove the bandages,” said Giac, who assisted the doctors by trimming patients’ eyelashes before surgery and removing bandages. “People were singing, praying and bowing to God in joy and celebration.”

Giac, a 54-year-old refugee from Vietnam, is a big supporter of WEEMA’s work. He raised money running for WEEMA at last summer’s Falmouth Road Race. In fact, he attracted more donations than any of WEEMA’s non-staff runners, qualifying him for a free roundtrip to Ethiopia (compliments of Ethiopian Airlines).

His five-week trip – a week with the Cataract Campaign, three weeks working with WEEMA’s Ethiopia staff and a side visit to ancient Christian churches in Lalibela – was eye-opening both personally and professionally.

It rekindled powerful memories of Vietnam, his childhood home until he was age 10, when his family made their escape – on a boat - after the end of the Vietnam War in 1975. Visiting Ethiopia reminded him of his first return to Vietnam in the mid 1990s.

“I was delightedly surprised by the similarities between Ethiopia and Vietnam,” said Giac, a Health Unit Coordinator who now lives in Oregon. “How Ethiopia is emerging as a developing country just as Vietnam was 25 years ago. The way they treat each other, the nuclear family, reminded me of my people.”

He was also impressed by the work WEEMA’s Ethiopia staff is doing in rural communities – so impressed that he’s flying back to Massachusetts this week so he can run for WEEMA in this year’s Falmouth Road Race on Sunday.

“Being able to see it firsthand and meeting the WEEMA team really brought it home that I want to continue to help,” he said.

To support Giac and/or any of  the other WEEMA runners, click here

18-year-old patient delighted with the results of his surgery

18-year-old patient delighted with the results of his surgery

WEEMA'S 2018 Cataract Campaign

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WEEMA has performed cataract surgeries on over 1,000 eyes during our 2018 Cataract Campaign!

We are hosting this campaign in partnership with Himalayan Cataract Project in Hossana. Last year, the campaign screened over 10,000 people in the Hadiya Zone and performed 1,000 surgeries.

We reached our goal again this year and restored sight to 828 patients in just 4 days!

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International Day for Maternal Health and Rights

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Maternal health is one of the main focuses of WEEMA's medical work and no one knows its importance better than the WEEMA's midwives! 

Our five midwives have now graduated from Hamlin College of Midwifery and are currently working at rural health centers in the Kembata-Tembaro Zone. This midwives are providing highly skilled maternity services as well as mentoring to their health center colleagues in Hodo, Ambikuna, Gaecha, and Hadero Health Centers.

Thank you to our midwives for their tireless work keeping moms and babies safe!

Happy World Health Worker Week!



We're taking this opportunity to acknowledge and thank all of the global health workers who work tirelessly every day to care for families around the world.  We appreciate you!

Learn more about World Health Worker Week: April 1-7, 2018

WEEMA truly values the dedication and commitment of Ethiopia's frontline health care workers, Health Extension Workers (HEWs). Together, in partnership with D-Tree International and Ethiopia's Ministry of Health, we are developing and implementing a comprehensive mobile tool to empower these women to provide high quality maternal child health care.  While our pilot program is located in the Kembata-Temabro Zone, we plan to see this program scale to all 35,000 HEWs serving rural communities throughout Ethiopia.   HEWs- with these phones in hand- save lives.