After dropping out of school in the sixth grade to help her mother, Fartun Abdi Hashi, 22, was given a second chance at earning an income with a sanitary pads project.
Hashi's family arrived at the Doro camp for the internally displaced in Galkayo, central Somalia, when she was 12. She enrolled at the Galkayo Education Centre for Peace and Development (GECPD) after dropping out of school in 2006 to help provide for her siblings.
"I first trained as a tailor and was very good at it; later, I was selected as one of the girls to make the pads and underwear to go with it,” Hashi told IRIN. “I was not doing much before I started making the pads; I was lucky to get employed and I am now one of the girls producing the most pads. I get a monthly salary of [US]$150 which I use to support my family; I never dreamt that I would make such money without this [project].”
Besides Hashi, the 60 girls - aged between 16 and 22 - who work on the project at GECPD make on average 20 to 30 pads per day.
At least 800 girls are educated at the GECPD and on any given day, 50 to 60 girls have their period, which previously forced many to miss classes or drop out altogether because of a lack of sanitary pads, according to Hawa Yusuf Ahmed, the programme coordinator.
Some girls used paper and leaves to make crude pads which did not work well.
With support from the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), and other partners GECPD started the pads project in 2009 to not only help keep the girls in school during their periods but also provide an income for them.
“We started this project to show the girls that they can manage their periods and make sure they don't miss classes or drop out,” Ahmed said.
The project also provides a livelihood means for the girls who stopped their education because they were too poor to continue or felt they were too old to sit with younger girls and needed to help their families.
Many of the girls come from families that fled violence in south-central Somalia, while others are from poor families in the host community.
The pads project has not only transformed the livelihoods of its employees, it has also made available sanitary pads for tens of thousands of IDPs living in settlements across Galkayo town.
“Residents of 21 IDP camps supported by UNHCR receive the pads, while UNICEF sponsors the distribution of pads to local schools,” Ahmed said.
Ali is now back in school and is helping with the household expenses. “My mother does not have to kill herself to provide for us. I can now contribute.”
Ahmed said most of the material that goes into making the pads is locally sourced.
“We do bring some material from outside but almost everything is sourced here," she said.
On average, the project makes at least 1,400 packages a day – each with six sanitary pads and two pairs of underwear.
“By 2012, we will have produced around 50,000 packages,” Ahmed.
She said the pads were a lot less costly than the imported ones. “Ours retail for half the price and have the added advantage of coming with two [pairs of] underwear and can be washed.”
Ali said her life and that of other girls in displaced camps as well as the poor ones in schools using the pads had changed for the better.
“Previously, many of girls were too embarrassed to admit they had their period and would not come to school or work; those days are over,” she said. “We are wearing them and making a living out of it. It is a wonderful feeling.”