I was lucky enough to speak to Kyan Karashah, a 21-year-old Newcastle Biomedical Science student who's drastically improving lives all over Rwanda.
As part of the non-profit organisation Enactus, Kyan and six other students work together with the aim of supplying a small community of women in Dufatanye, Rwanda, with affordable sanitary towels made from the stems of banana trees. As a biodegradable product with a cheap manufacturing process, these items have the potential to get girls back to school, women back to work and break the taboo surrounding menstruation in this area of East Africa. I was lucky enough to chat with him about the project.
How did you discover Enactus?
I joined Enactus in my first year of university. I knew I wanted to make a difference in the world, I just wasn’t sure where to even begin, so the university sent me in the direction of this project. I’ve never looked back, that’s for sure.
What inspired the Banana Tree project?
Believe it or not, the project was kick started by two students who were travelling on their gap year. By sheer chance, they met Consolle and her four daughters in Dufatanye. Consolle’s husband fell victim to the Rwandan Genocide; killing him and leaving Consolle to provide for her four daughters on her farmer’s wage alone. As if this wasn’t hard enough for the family, monthly menstruation added further struggle. With Rwanda being landlocked, transport adds to the price of an already expensive sanitary towel, costing Rwandan women a days wage for one. Even worse, Consolle could not work when on her period as the dirty cloths she used could not protect her enough, thus losing a week's worth of wages every month. She could no longer afford to send her daughters to school. We worked out that 75% of Rwandan women were living in the same extremes of Period Poverty; there was no way we were going to be ignorant bystanders anymore. These women need help and we’re going to provide that.
This sounds wonderfully progressive, but will it work in practise?
Yes. The key, I believe, to making change is to put the tools in the hands of the people who need them. Menstruation needed to become a point of horizon, not a hindrance. Thus, the machines which manufacture the sanitary towels will be run by Consolle and women alike; providing them with an income and the sanitary care they are so deserving of. Costing only £300 to make the machines, we can send lots over to Rwanda, helping women further afield.
How have you funded such an enormous project?
We’ve had to take a very hands on approach, through ground level fundraisers, for example. Santander generously granted us £3000, which we were immensely grateful for.
You probably get this a lot, but I feel I have to ask; how did it feel being a man in a woman’s world of menstruation?
My mum brought me up as a single parent, so let’s just say I’ve always been exposed to the trials and tribulations of that time of the month. Yet, seeing life for women without adequate sanitary care universalised the topic for me. I realised it’s an issue which the whole of humanity is responsible for, to destigmatize periods. We can’t degrade this by keeping men in the dark through fear of embarrassment.
Kyan will be going out to Rwanda in the near future after he has graduated to visit the women inspiring the project. We wish him the best of luck, and hope for the change Enactus has been working towards, and Consolle so truly deserves.
Have a look at the Enactus Newcastle Facebook page for more inspiration.
Images: Enactus Newcastle and NUSU RAG
Cover image: Oledoe