This spring, members of the SIV Volta Pads Team- Angelique Pompee, Keara St. Fort, and Tishya Dua- worked to solve a pressing issue facing the women of Woadze Tsatoe: limited access to costly disposable menstrual pads. From ethnography conducted in Ghana from prior years to research done by the Volta Pads team, it was discovered that this issue was not only a difficult practical problem for the women, but also had much greater implications. According to members of the Volta Pads team, in communities without access to proper menstrual care, “women can’t go to school when they’re menstruating” and in some cases, girls are so desperate for menstrual care that they enter into child marriages- where “[they] get married so that they can afford pads,” or “get pregnant so they don’t get their period.”
In Woadze Tsatoe specifically, the Volta Pads team found a sustainable solution to the problem that utilizes the passion and expertise in sewing from the Amenuveve Batik Center: creating reusable pads themselves. When reusable pads were first introduced to the village, the “women fell in love.” While the product was well liked by most, there was still hesitation and cultural sensitivity in regards to the idea of reusable pads for some women in the village, particularly those in the older generations; some believed that reusable pads symbolized being poor, dirty, and not of high enough status to buy disposable pads. The Volta Pads team seeks to dismantle these stereotypes by not only helping Woadze Tsatoe develop the pads themselves, but also educating the women on how to use them and why this is actually the best, most sustainable option.
In terms of the actual development of the Volta Pads business, most of the research on reusable pads and the creation of a corresponding educational program was done in the spring. During the summer, the Volta Pads interns created spreadsheets for financial tracking, made an education series on how to run the business, sourced fabrics for the prototype, reached out to potential partners, and worked on the branding. As a result of their persistent effort to make connections in the industry, the team was also able to receive mentorship from another big reusable pad business, where they were fortunate enough to learn from their business model and methods of production.
The difficulties the Volta Pads team faced during this process mostly came from their inability to visit Woadze Tsatoe because of COVID-19. This stunted their plan for ethnography on the ground in Ghana, as well as getting a general feel for the tastes and aesthetics of the village. The latter issue was highlighted during branding, as the U.S. based team had very different opinions on color schemes and logos than the actual women of Woadze Tsatoe- the team members reflected learning that “approaching everything with an American mindset isn’t always the right way” because ultimately they wanted Volta Pads to be built “for Ghanaians by Ghanaians.”
Onsite Volta Pads team in Woadze Tsatoe (left) and Volta Pads interns in U.S. (right).
The next step in the project is appointing people in Woadze Tsatoe into roles in Volta Pads so that it can become a self-sustaining business. The first major appointment was Gloria Afele as the Volta Pads Coordinator and Head of Education, where she will use her background in nursing to lead educational training on the reusable pads. At this step in the process, the Volta Pads team is working to fill in the rest of the positions, create training sessions for the employees, and finally start the prototyping phase. The team’s structure of researching, educating and filling roles prior to the distribution of the product helps to ensure that the business will be stable and long lasting.
The members of the Volta Pads team cited the project as a huge learning experience. Notable takeaways from the group ranged from the importance of “being persistent when you're small and unknown and you need to make a name for yourself”- in regards to reaching out to bigger companies for help- and how enjoyable “the operations and backend of socially impactful projects can be.” The Volta Pads team found great purpose in listening to the women’s stories, and harnessing empathy as motivation for their hard work on the project.
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