Meet the Cardiff Uni student trialling homemade pads for Project Mwezi

Ellie is part of SKIP Cardiff who travel to Zambia every year to advocate change

Meet Ellie Cochrane, a Cardiff University student, who has been part of SKIP Cardiff (Students for Kids International Projects) since 2017. She has delivered educational interventions to children in Livingstone, Zambia and is the co-leader of Project Mwezi.

What is SKIP, you ask? SKIP is an organisation with the aim of caring for and supporting children in accessing the basic rights of health, welfare and education in order to advocate change. Through several universities, groups travel to countries such as Tanzania, Thailand, Cambodia and Zambia (to name a few) with three key values in mind.  Sustainability, empowerment and inclusivity over voluntarism in order to do good.

According to ActionAid, 1 in 10 girls in Africa miss school due to a lack of access to safe sanitary products, and in Kenya alone, approximately 50% of  school-aged girls have no access to sanitary products. Making this project vital.

Starting as a volunteer, Ellie was group leader to a team of five as they delivered interventions discussing puberty, sexual well-being and contraception, STIs, and HIV prevention and treatment in 2017. Following this, she joined the Cardiff committee as Training Coordinator and designed a consent and healthy relationships intervention which was piloted in 2019.

Ellie told The Cardiff Tab, “Project Mwezi is necessary since menstruation often prevents young girls from attending school and can lead to infections if unhygienic materials are used to catch blood. Therefore the intervention aims to improve menstrual hygiene and reduce the number of girls who miss school due to being on their period”.

They hold classes to “teach girls and boys alike” how to make cheap, hygienic and reusable sanitary towels.

What are these home-made sanitary towels like? Well, as Ellie had decided to recreate a Mwezi tutorial suitable to social media, she “didn’t want it to go to waste”. So, she decided to test the quality of their product and wear a homemade pad for the day.

“Penis Pouch” fears

Initially, Ellie was worried that the material would bunch up underneath her skinny jeans forming a very visible “penis pouch”, but apparently this didn’t prove to be an problem after she tucked the strings backwards. However, she said that one of the main issues was the “physical warmth” of having four extra layers in the underwear as well as the “abrasiveness” of the towel. Though she noted that it feeling like “sandpaper” was just because she’d used the oldest flannel in the house.

Not the usual visual horrors

Ellie told The Cardiff Tab, “I’m sure I’m not the only one that couldn’t believe we only lose a teaspoon of blood a day after looking at a used sanitary towel”. But noted that this is different with the home-made towel as it “keeps the blood in place rather than spreading in every direction”. Ellie said this meant that “the whole towel wasn’t as stained red as I anticipated”.

The aftermath

According to Ellie, the towel is “discrete” as you can just pop it in the washing machine to clean afterwards. She told The Cardiff Tab, “I hate the idea of boiling my menstrual cup on the hob surrounded by my housemates” (its an egg, I swear!). She added, “the price is a definite plus, much cheaper to make than buying commercially-produced reusable sanitary towels.” It’s better for the environment – and your bank account – than throwing pads away.

The final opinion

Ellie noted that the Project Mwezi pads definitely wouldn’t suit “the bizarre sex appeal” of branded sanitary towel adverts but, after trialling one out herself, she confidently said that “there is no risk of leaks whatsoever”. She even went as far as to say that the “towel works so much better than pads”.

So, there you have it – a cheap and sustainable resource for your menstruation that can be made at home. Potentially better than the pads we spend so much on in stores and essential for tackling period poverty. But whilst we have the choice to use these, it is the only option for many girls around the globe besides scraps of fabric. SKIP is likely the only way for them to continue to access education while menstruating.

How can you make one of these at home? They are made from three cotton layers, a layer of plastic bag (ideally the bag for life) and straps from a pocket that you put a piece of towel material in to soak up the blood. Luckily for you, Ellie has made a social media friendly video to help you, watch it here. 

If after reading this you interested in joining SKIP, you can browse their page on the Cardiff Students Union website to find out more. 

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