She had taken her daughter to a new school when she felt offended by the stench emanating from the institution’s lavatories.
Lillian King, a Kenyan businesswoman who works in Nakuru town had a similar encounter during last year’s general elections when she was forced to use a toilet at the polling station, which is a public school in the outskirts of Nakuru.
And it was after queuing for hours as she waited to cast her vote.
“The toilets were so filthy but what was more shocking was the presence of maggots that turned out to be nuisance as I had open shoes,” she recalls.
It was a few months later when her daughter reported to the town's Crater Primary School in Nakuru’s Section 58 estate, which is one of the most populated institutions.
And given her previous experience, she decided that something had to be done.
Why? “I could not see a water tap around. And I could only see children enter the messy toilets and on coming out, they would go without washing their hands.”
Together with the school administration, Ms King has come to develop a new initiative aimed at ensuring toilets public school toilets are clean and that children also wash their hands every time they use the lavatories or urinals.
This has elicited interest of both the public health department and Nakuru County Government.
The two have now declared that they would partner with Ms King in her pilot project at Crater Primary School to extend the same to other public institutions especially in Nakuru Town area.
And as the Nakuru Central public health officer, Joseph Kimani , confirms, scarcity of water is a problem in schools within his area of his jurisdiction. Generally, water is a problem in Nakuru, which mainly relies on boreholes and dams for its water supply.
Like in Crater Primary School, most of the schools within the town cannot afford to pay their water bills. And the problem is parents who public health officials say always insist that it is the responsibility of the government to meet such costs.
The toilets at Crater Primary School were in such a mess because the water supply had been disconnected by Nakuru Water and Sewerage Company.
“We had accumulated a bill of $6500 and each parents was to pay $4 to clear it but they refused to contribute,” the school headteacher Janet Okuto clarifies.
The parents haven’t changed their minds yet even after attempts Ms King, jointly with the teachers to sensitize them on dangers their children are exposed to.
Public health officials say they will try to involve officials from Ministry of Education in sensitising parents in public schools to support toilet project.
At Crater Primary School, Ms Okuto says parents are required to contribute less than $4 every month to buy water and detergents required to make the toilets to create a hygienic environment for their children.
It is Ms King who has been spending her money to buy these requirements although they are now able to harvest water from the roofs of their classes.
A container of water with a tap has been placed outside the toilets from where the children wash their hands after using the lavatories.
The already used water is recycled to clean the toilets. There is a lady employed to do the cleaning job, which she does frequently.
“We first held several sessions with the children sensitising them on importance of washing their hands after using a toilet and they have now internalized it,” Ms Okuto explains.
After visiting the school before the children closed for their first term holiday last week, Public health officials were impressed.
“The stench, which could be sensed while entering the gates in no longer there,” asserts, Mr Kimani who says they have to extend the project to other schools in Nakuru Central.
“We don’t have money right now to assist in the project but it appears very impressing. In future, we shall partner with her (Ms King),” Nakuru county executive member in charge of youth affairs Catherine Kitetu said.
The worry Public Health department is expressing – is where to get enough water for cleaning the toilets as most of the schools have had their water supply disconnected.
“The only option left for these schools is to harvest water, unfortunately the roofs of most of the buildings are not from iron sheets but asbestos or bricks and water harvested from such rooftops is not fit for human consumption,” Mr Kimani points out.
Most of these schools have no adequate water to clean their flash toilets or even for the children to wash their heads after answering a call of nature.
This scantiness of water has bred diseases such as diarrhoea and dysentery, which according to the public health have remained a problem.
“If a child fails to wash hands after using a toilet, it is likely to result to contamination and this is how cases of diarrhoea and dysentery occur,” Mr Kimani adding that in a period of two months, at least an average of 1,1095 cases of diarrhoea among children below five-years are reported in public health facilities in Nakuru Central.
At just 26 years, Levy Jackson ranks among the most successful student entrepreneurs in Kenya's capital Nairobi.
He has ventured into the fashion world through custom-made designs of beadwork, clothes, bags, shoes, picture frames and photography.
The fourth year commerce student at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa in south of Nairobi has employed five permanent staff and four temporary ones.
He has opened two stores from where he runs his operations, one store is at the city's business district and the other near where his university is located.
Ambitious Levy hopes to expand his Levyhoods Creations Empire to incorporate a modelling agency before the end of this year.
Passion in fashion and a desire to leave a legacy are his driving forces in the business which he says he has given his all.
Back in his days at Eastleigh High school in Nairobi, Levy developed an interest in designing T-shirts.
He fondly recalls how he started with only $2 to buy a shirt and acrylic paint.
“This was my starting capital since I sold that T-shirt for $3,” Levy said, adding that he has no regrets over the decision.
His work soon started getting recognition in his neighbourhood, orders started streaming in from all corners of Nairobi thanks to great customer referrals.
The net-worth of his business currently stands at $23,000.
So much going on
By the time he enrolled for his commerce degree, his clientele base expanded to entertainment joints and fashion agencies.
he gradually expanded his portfolio to include custom made jewellery and designing birthday cards.
“With so much going on, I opened my first shop in Ongata Rongai (about 20 Km from Nairobi) where I live,” he said.
He says the shop has since become a manufacturing base. In order widen his clientele base, he opened a Facebook page which has so far close to 50,000 followers.
“It is these potential clients who challenge me to try out more stuff. That is how I introduced the designing of picture frames and hand bags in my business,” he said.
The business earns him more than $5,800 a month after deducting all overheads, with high seasons like Christmas giving better returns.
Aside from orders he gets from his country, Levy receives others from across the border, with dozens of orders from Tanzania, Rwanda, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda.
While maintaining disinterest in getting into a business partnership, he says finding capital to fund his expansion strategy remains a challenge.
His father was not always supportive of his move to get into business while still in school, but he has since learnt to accommodate his son’s choice of career - $5,800 a month is a lot of money anywhere.
Levy's piece of advice for budding entrepreneurs: “I always encourage youths to do what they love. They should not stagnate in life simply because they are in one career even when their passion is elsewhere.”
A former street boy from Nyeri County in central Kenya is now earning a living by making jewellery from e-waste.
David Nderitu says his venture into the profit-making jewellery business can be attributed to motivational speakers who always visited a youth empowerment centre where he had been taken in.
The centre, he says, gets professors from universities like the Pennsylvania State University in the USA and the University of Nairobi in Kenya and who gave talks on entrepreneurship.
That was where he got his idea from, he says.
At 16, Nderitu was picked by an administrator to join a children’s home where he first realised that indeed there could be life away from the streets.
He was then enrolled into a welding programme at the centre from which he got the unique idea of making jewellery e-waste
Nothing good comes easy, he says, adding that he has a keen interest in environmental sustainability and he feels bad when the soil is “poisoned” by such wastes.
“It makes every ecological sense as well as economic sense to recycle waste materials instead of disposing them to cause hazardous effects to the soil,” he says.
He notes that the end results of poor soils is poor crop yields.
Nderitu decided to collect waste materials from computers and cell phones to make jewellery for women and children, earning some money out of it and helping to make his environment clean from such wastes.
He says his life has been turned around by this venture. He leads a decent life from what he was used to as a street kid.
“I was once in the streets. And it was hard for me to imagine that I would ever get this far,” he says as he displays his handiworks.
His greatest support comes from his sponsors and friends who offered to source materials for his e-waste jewellery venture.
Sometimes he gets his materials for around $6.
He buys the earring hooks from the Maasai market in Nairobi at an affordable price, he says.
“I always thank God for them,” he says noting that his abilities saw him get sponsorship to go to high school.
He adds that he had attained a grade three certificate from a welding course he earlier did.
Despite his tight school schedule, Nderitu is quick to add that he is able to run his business as well as create time for his studies.
He manages to make 60 pairs of earrings from the scrap materials in about 15 days. No business comes without challenges and his is no exception.
When he started, his barely sold any of his products as he had not yet found a niche market for his unique jewellery.
His however did manage to raise $23 from his first sale, a tidy sum for a young man like him.
Although his products have not yet penetrated into the larger local market, he says that sponsors from the Pennsylvania State University in the USA always get the earrings in bulk after their annual visits to the centre.
A pair of earrings sold abroad by his sponsors would fetch him about $11 while locally he gets $4.
“There is always a way out in every situation no matter what,” says Nderitu, urging other children in the streets to embrace change and do something for themselves.
"I chose to venture into producing e-waste jewellery after discovering my potential while in my new home."
The little I get gives me the energy to keep on going,” he adds saying that he has dreams of joining a reputable university for an engineering course.
“I will keep hitting the rock until it breaks,” says the former street kid.
On New Year's day at 7:39pm, a call came through for Abdulahi Mohamed, better known as Saneey. There had been a blast in Mogadishu, the troubled capital of Somalia.
Almost immediately his walkie-talkie also begun feverishly transmitting through messages of distress.
"It was about blasts outside Jazeera Palace Hotel near the city’s international airport," Mohamed, who is the Director of Fire and Emergency Services of Mogadishu--the first full fire brigade since the country descended into anarchy two decades ago--said calmly.
Thirteen firemen and three paramedics swung into action, racing to contain the fires from twin suicide bombings at the one of the few luxury hotels in a city ravaged by years of civil war and terror couched in religious fundamentalism.
"I alerted the [commander] on the evening shift about the distress," Mohamed said.
The Bondhere District-based brigade's last mission was last November 28, when fire broke out near Km 4 Roundabout, situated roughly halfway between the presidential palace and the airport.
A functioning fire brigade in Mogadishu would hardly have been conceivable two years ago.
But Mohamed was determined to be part of the post-war reconstruction efforts in Somalia, and a functioning fire services and emergency response department was something Somalia needed badly.
"In 2010, I travelled from Leicester City in Britain to Mogadishu in response to the drought crisis affecting a number of regions in Somalia," Mohamed told Africa Review.
“I was a member of a team of volunteers from IQRA Aid Trust, a UK based charity, helping displaced peoples in Mogadishu."
Before settling at Checketts Road in Leicester in the UK, Mohamed was among the fortunate enough Somalis who fled the country when war broke out after dictator Siad Barre was deposed in 1991.
But nothing would have prepared him for the homecoming.
"Coming back to the city that I left at the inception of the civil war in 1991 filled my soul with emotion," Mohamed said.
"It was like finding a town that sunk from the 21st century to the 19th century, having lost the meagre facilities it had."
Mohamed says what he found was a city badly in need of emergency response and fire services.
He remembers seeing helpless residents in Hodon, a suburb in the country’s capital, desperately trying to put out a fire using buckets.
"The house kept on burning as helpless residents tried using water buckets to [put out] the inferno.
"I was told that a couple of fire machines belonging to the peacekeepers serving with the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) were the only reliable machines to fight fire in a city of nearly two million inhabitants,” he said.
"Imagine the disproportionate balance of two fire engines for two million city inhabitants? Besides, the Amisom machines (fire trucks) were not easily available as they were stationed at Mogadishu’s Aden Abdulle International Airport, t[therefore] not helping the situation very much."
Casualties of war
The virtually non-existent emergency response services forced residents in the capital to regularly use wheelbarrows to deliver casualties of the long-running Al-Shabaab insurgency to hospitals.
A vehicle would cost about $20 to $50 to hire – an amount many could not afford. Mohamed realised his city, which he had called home as a child, badly needed fully equipped ambulances with trained paramedics to provide emergency medical care for war victims in Mogadishu.
He immediately contacted the Mayor of Mogadishu, Mohamed Ahmed Nur, and pitched to him his vision of providing emergency response and fire services for the city, a shift from his job in relief services. The two men agreed to team up and implement the project as a joint public-private initiative.
Back in the United Kingdom, Mohamed earnestly began fundraising to buy fire trucks and ambulances for Mogadishu.
"Through IQRA Aid Trust, we used to send teenagers to the streets of Leicester to collect donations for the purpose,” Mohamed said.
In February 2011, Mayor Nur was in the UK, where he received three ambulances and a fire truck donated by IQRA Aid Trust.
More funding was raised through donations from other British cities, and soon enough money was raised to ship the vehicles from London to Mogadishu.
In order to effectively implement the project, Mohamed had to enrol for a crash course in emergency planning and fire fighting in Leicester.
He returned to Mogadishu in November 2012 and recruited a group of young people as apprentices, training them at Banadir Regional Authority Headquarters among other sites.
Follow up training took place in January 2013 at Mogadishu Stadium under the auspices of Amisom peacekeepers, with 16 of the trainees graduating.
The city has since procured more fire trucks. "Two more engines were bought by Mogadishu’s Municipality, increasing the number of vehicles to three," the city Mayor said.
"In August last year, Leicester offered a fire engine, which upon delivery to Mogadishu will take the total to four fire fighting engines," Mohamed chimed in.
The chair of the Combined Fire Authority in Leicestershire, Mr Steve Corrall, handed Mohamed the keys of the fourth truck in September last year at the Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service Headquarters.
A report released by Mogadishu’s fire and emergency services in December said the unit has responded to 78 fire incidents and 137 ambulance calls since December 2012.
The unit has responded to emergency calls from homes, community centres, schools, hotels, and even including the country’s main airport and the Turkish embassy when some of their bullet-proof vehicles caught fire.
One woman is grateful that Mogadishu had a functioning fire service unit when her pharmacy in north Mogadishu caught fire: "The service saved $15,000 in cash that was in my safe."
Mr Mohamed says that on-site experience combined with special training is helping his fire fighters and paramedics gain more knowledge. Twenty of them have been sent to Kenya for more specialised training.
The training, funded by the UN Support Office for Amisom, took place at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. In May, they will take courses in emergency planning and response involving sea and air ports.
Providing emergency services in perhaps the world’s insecure city is not a walk in the park.
Loud sirens and bright lights
"Widespread lack of awareness of the fire and emergency service’s importance hinder our efforts," Mohamed said. Motorists have no idea what is the deal behind the loud sirens and bright lights, and they just don’t give way to ambulances and fire truck, putting lives and properties at risk.
In a business where a second is the difference between life and death or a standing building and a razed one, police officers have no qualms regularly stopping ambulances and fire trucks for security checks – leading to desperate delays.
The city road network is also deplorable, meaning that many areas cannot be reached by road.
"Rather than taking the usual five minutes, a journey takes 15 minutes as we are forced to detour to avoid potholed and bumpy roads."
Mogadishu’s sewerage services hardly work. This means buildings in the city have dug out their own septic tanks at their front yards, placing the fire trucks at the risk of ending in these tanks, which can be several meter's deep.
Water also remains a major challenge in the capital: "[There is] no hydro-system or continuous flow of water through publically available pipes for the fire fighters to connect and use during emergencies," he said.
The 60-strong fire fighting unit--all male--holds weekly meetings every Thursday to review progress and setbacks, highlight strengths and weaknesses, and commend the best performing team.
The fire fighters and paramedics regularly undergo training on literacy and numeracy skills. English is highly encouraged by the management as the manuals and drills are in the language.
In November, the brigade secured the number 555 for fire and emergency services.
"We agreed with the telecommunications companies on the exclusive use of phone number 555, but we are going to let the public use it as soon as we set up the system, properly."
While I was getting ready to wind up the interview, the director received a distress call about four kilometres down the street.
The team on duty clambered onto three fire trucks and rushed off to the scène.
"By January 2014, we are going to provide UK standard dress, footwear and fire extinguishers," said Mohamed.
Uganda may have the third-highest fertility rate in the world but where there is life, death is inevitable. And it is a certainty that Regina Mukiibi Mugongo made the most of when she became this East African nation’s first ever funeral director almost two decades ago.
But in a country where a large proportion of the population associates conventional burials with witchcraft, establishing her company, Funeral Services Ltd (UFS), was not easy.
“I met with a lot of resistance, people were talking about being haunted by ghosts,” Mugongo, who has overseen thousands of burials, including many for state, religious, royal and diplomatic figures, tells IPS.
“They said ‘Oh what’s this? It is taboo, how can you bring in such a service?’ People were fighting against me,” says Mugongo.
Initially, she left a 15-year career with the former Uganda Commercial Bank to start a travel company with her late brother Freddie.
It was during their travels that they saw the services offered by established western funeral companies and the siblings realised there was a gap in the Ugandan market. They set up UFS in 1997 but Freddie passed away a year after starting the company. Mugongo has run it on her own ever since.
She now employs 35 staff members and has five branches across Uganda. And UFS is also the sole local company with membership in the organisation of funeral directors in the Great Lakes region.
Three trophies sit on a shelf behind her desk at the UFS offices. Last year, she won the Uganda Women Entrepreneurs Associated Limited (UWEAL) Business Achievers Awards.
This October she was given the 2013 Phenomenal Women Trailblazers funeral services award by the US-based 100 Black Women of Funeral Service.
UFS imports caskets from the US–about 125 annually– and also makes “dignified” coffins and caskets locally in its carpentry workshop.
“The demand [for locally-made coffins] is higher since they are more affordable. We decorate them with imported ornaments and interior linen.”
Mugongo was fortunate in obtaining a $176,000 loan from a local bank to start UFS. Both her good track record as a banker and her diploma in business studies played a role in her accessing the funds and she paid it off six years later.
But in Uganda, other women are not as fortunate. UWEAL, which has 750 registered members in 10 districts across the country, claim up to 48 per cent of the country’s businesses could be female-owned.
According to Monica Malega, the body’s policy and advocacy officer, 60 per cent of UWEAL’s members work in agriculture.
She says that while women are quicker at making a decision to start a business than the opposite sex, they face more struggles, with a lack of ownership of land being their number one challenge.
“For example, you can get some land for a year but you may not be sure if you can use it the year after because probably your husband will say he needs it but you’ve planned an investment of five years,” Malega tells IPS.
“And when you are a woman and you go to the bank to ask for a loan … they ask you where is your husband to sign the document too.”
From her time as a banker, Mugongo has come to the conclusion that women are better at handling money than men.
“Men might be willing to service the loans but they have many problems, they find themselves diverting the money for other purposes,” says Mugongo.
“We women don’t own properties, so we get power of attorney from our husbands or friends. We mortgage other people’s properties. So you feel that conviction, that once I fail to fulfill my obligation someone’s property will be taken. Women fear misusing bank loans,” she says.
However, the Uganda Investment Authority (UIA), a semi-autonomous government agency, is currently in the process of trying to change this.
“The UIA is finalising establishing a desk at Uganda Development Bank (UDB) to help groups of women have access to finance,” UIA senior investment executive Stephen Byaruhanga Rwaheru tells IPS.
“The barrier is that our commercial bank’s lending rates are still high [25 to 30 per cent] and it is difficult for women’s associations to borrow money from such banks,” he says, adding that lending rates should be below 10 per cent per annum.
Meanwhile, Mugongo is optimistic about the future of Uganda’s female entrepreneurs.
“I believe we can all be successful when we are innovators.”
Education is the key to success, so they say. However, there are extraordinary cases where people excel in whatever they do and become successful without a distinguished background in education.
Maida Waziri, 42, the managing director of Ibra Building Contractors and General Supplies in Tanzania, is among these self-made few.
The successful entrepreneur has never seen the inside of a university lecture room. However, the secondary school leaver is doing very well in the male-dominated construction business, as well as other ventures she has interests in.
Ms Waziri decided to follow her heart and involve herself in business after completing her O-Level studies in 1991. Her parents could have managed to send her to high school, but that was not where her heart was. Her passion was in business.
“I dreamt of living a good life. I dreamt of employing others so they could earn a living through me. Am glad this has happened already,” says a proud Maida who runs several businesses.
“My parents could have managed to send me to high school, but I decided to go for business. My mind was much more into business than in studies. I had this feeling of doing better in business than studying,” says the mother of three.
Maida had many business ideas that she wished to give a try. She saw her life in business. But it was hard to convince her parents that this was her choice. The fact that she wanted to engage in business immediately after she completed her ordinary secondary education made matters worse.
It took Maida a lot of effort to convince her parents to let her follow her dream. In 1992, she started a clothes vending business with $12 (at current exchange rate) capital. She would buy clothes and walk in the streets to find customers.
Maida would sell clothes by the roadside from her bag without knowing who would buy them and which street she should go to. “I used to walk with an open mind hoping that people would love the clothes and buy them,” says Maida.
Since hawking is mainly done by men, people would be surprised to see a young girl walking around the streets selling clothes. Today we have more women street vendors.
Apart from having to walk long distances to find customers, business was not always rosy. There are days when she would sell nothing at all. But this did not deter the determined girl. This is the path she had chosen and so she was ready to face the challenges.
“I raised enough money in one year and enrolled for a tailoring course in 1993. After training for one year, I opened a tailoring mart in Buguruni (Dar es Salaam). Business was good but no matter how much money I earned, my parents were still unhappy with the decision I made.”
Because her tailoring job involved working late at times, Maida had to shift her office from Buguruni to her parents’ home in Tandika (a Dar es Salaam suburb) where she also set up her used clothes shop.
Tracking every cent
They had been complaining about her getting home late. That was way back in 1994. She worked from home until she got married two years later.
“Being successful in business goes with risk taking and being confident in decisions that you make. I trusted people but they took advantage and ruined my business.
I had to make tough decisions. I closed the business,” she says. According to her, being an employer is very challenging. Employees are first clients, since they can contribute a lot to the business success or failure.
She says one has to treat their workers with respect and create a conducive working environment.
Another challenge in business management is the fact that it is not easy to track every single cent. But Maida says it is important to maintain people in the company to avoid introducing new people who might be hard to manage.
Talking about maintaining employees, Maida says the employer has to motivate and promote the employees to make them feel valued and accepted. Giving them salaries on time is the most important thing to consider if one needs to maintain their employees.
Since her new home had bigger space, Maida decided to venture into dairy farming. Both the milk cattle and ventures were easy to manage as they were in the same place.
“I had enough time to supervise both businesses. I even got a new idea to start making seat covers for government and private vehicles in 1997. I also made uniforms for drivers for different offices,” says Maida.
She would visit different offices to look for customers. Maida proves that hard work pays for she managed to get orders from different clients. She made sure she delivered on time.
In the same year, Maida started selling fish from Dar es Salaam to Mafia Island. She used to hire a boat to transport the fish from Dar es Salaam the island.
The business was paying but it was not easy to track every movement. She was unable to travel with the boat all the time due to family responsibilities and this forced her to quite the business.
Having learnt about the four P’s in business, which are price, promotion, place and production, Maida was also looking for new opportunities as she supplied seat covers in different offices.
She learnt that most offices lacked stationery and in 1998, she started a general supplies company called Ibra Enterprises.
The company supplied stationeries, office furniture, carpeting services, seat covers etc. As part of Ibra Enterprises, Maida also owned a furniture workshop.
“I would see open opportunities everyday. As I went about my work, I would see many old buildings that needed renovation. This is when I thought of starting a construction company.
In 2000, I learned the ABCs of the business and what it takes to start a construction company. I opened one and managed to keep it up and running,” she says.
Her company was inspected by Tanzania's contractors regulatory agency and was given a go ahead after meeting all the requirements.
Maida proudly mentions some of the buildings built by her company as including the People’s Bank of Zanzibar, National Microfinance Bank, and the Sinza District Court.
In 2011, Ibra Building Contractors and General Supplies was named as the best Female Owned/Managed Construction Firm. This was during the opening ceremony of the country's annual gathering for engineers and contractors.
When you ask Maida the secret behind her success, she tells you it’s hard work. According to her, one could have the capital to start a business, but if one does not put a lot of effort in it, the business would fail.
Go the extra mile
“Many people believe money is everything when starting a business. Well, one has to have money yes, but to become a successful entrepreneur, one needs to go an extra mile. You really have to be talented in business,” she says.
Being as successful as she is, one would think Maida is satisfied and would just be sitting back to enjoy the fruits of her labour. But as it seems, to her only the sky is the limit. She has a lot of plans for the future.
Her priority at the moment is completing her own building to be known as Ibra House; Maida also plans to build a three star hotel.
Commenting on how some women lack the confidence to hold managerial positions, she says women go through a lot of challenges that cannot be easily told.
To help women on this, the multi-tasking woman plans to start an initiative that will bring women together to share the challenges and hardships they go through.
This will help them release the burden from their hearts. She believes by sharing, “we might come up with solutions to our problems.”
There is silent barrier to educational rights of girls in Africa. This is the menstrual period, which is still a taboo subject that restricts access to education for many girls.
This means the normal biological process has not only turned out to be a huge burden but also another contributor to gender disparity since they lack quality and affordable products to help them cope with the situation.
According to UNESCO, one in ten adolescent girls in Africa miss school during menses and eventually drops out as they cannot afford sanitary towels, which are expensive usually retailing above $1 in local shops and supermarkets. This is more than many families live on daily.
An African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC) 2010 report points out that limited access to safe, affordable, convenient and culturally appropriate methods for dealing with menstruation has far reaching implications for rights and physical, social and mental well-being of many women and adolescent girls.
Reports have shown that more than three million girls in Kenya do not have access to sanitary towels forcing them to miss between 3-5 days from school.
They often feel embarrassed due to teasing over stained clothes and hygiene, and also the discomfort that affects their self-esteem.
If we take four days in the normal 28-day cycle per semester, it translates into losing 13 days. In a year, it becomes 39 days of absenteeism from class. This is mirrored in other African countries like Uganda and many others.
Some girls are forced to use leaky materials, leaves, rags and even newspapers, which are not only unhygienic but also detrimental to their health. The materials they use at times result into bodily odour that may lead to discrimination especially in school.
For this reason, a Ugandan has decided to come up with an alternative from a product, which is readily available in the country. Richard Bbaale is making use of banana psuedostem wastes, which are usually left to rot after harvesting, to make sanitary towels.
It is estimated that 16.5 million tonnes of bananas are produced in Uganda each year, resulting in over 30 million tonnes of stems left to rot annually.
He is not only making sanitary towels from banana pulp but also offering job and training opportunity to 60 young women in the production of the pads, sales and collection activities.
The Banapads initiative, which started in 2011, is currently registered in Uganda, Tanzania and Burundi and brings around 3,300 girls in rural areas back to school.
''We decided to come up with an alternative for girls since the washable models some organisations initiated were not environmental friendly and hygienic,'' Mr Bbaale told Africa Review.
“We wanted to give girls something that they can use even when they cannot access water. Rural women also contaminated water upstream whenever they would go to the rivers to clean these washable models,” he added.
Tailored for comfort
Banapads is also tailor made for the comfort of girls since it comes in wings, non-wings and even panty liners.
Mr Bbaale and his colleagues have produced 396,000 packets and have managed to sell around 26,000 packs to 4,380 girls generating $ 19,751.
“We create alternative livelihoods through the distribution model allowing women to create sustainable business that benefits the whole community.”
The young rural women use door-to-door distribution model to help in revenue generation.
The pads are not only cheap since they retail at $0.75 cents for a packet of 10 but also collected to be used as manure.
This means 30 million tonnes of waste that goes to local landfill will be reduced since the banana pseudo-stem is a recyclable product.
“We are actually improving the conservation through recycling and environmental education. Some of the other pads in the market are not recyclable,” he pointed out.
There are already two production centres in Mpigi District and Rakai with a production capacity of 526,700 units per shift.
Mr Bbaale says he plans to scale up Banapad activities by establishing a new production centre and implement a plan to open five new ones in the next five years.
Apart from that, there is also a robust financial plan of developing micro-loan system for young women in the rural areas to help them start up entrepreneurial activities like buying up machines that can produce the sanitary towels even in sub district levels.
"At the moment, the annual cash turnover is $50,000 in one factory that operates in full capacity. We at times realize $90,000 in product sales.
"Menstruation is a major public health issue which needs to be taken seriously by those in authority to ensure girls don’t drop out of school,” Mr Bbaale said.
APHRC points out that lack of sanitary towels not only undermine sexual and reproductive health and well-being of women and adolescent girls but also restrict access to education.
So even as governments do little to address the menstrual burden of poor girls, people like Bbaale have taken it upon themselves to find solutions to this to ensure women in Uganda, Burundi and Tanzania cope with the menstrual flow.
I am Siragi Kayondo from Sheema District in western Uganda and I earn my livelihood from growing coffee.
I grow organic coffee because it fetches a lot more money and is easier to manage compared to that grown using chemicals and fertilisers.
My choice of coffee as my main source of income was informed by my informal study on why the educated people in my area were more prosperous, despite their peasant backgrounds.
The answer was simply coffee.
Their parents were able to pay school fees because of income generated from coffee and from their membership of a the crop growers union in the district.
I started growing coffee 10 years ago and I have no regrets, because I have been able to sustain myself.
The start was not easy because I had a small piece of land, which I was also using to produce food for my family.
However, with my $120 savings, I purchased seedlings for half an acre.
With time, I bought more land and continued to expand up to the current five acres, where the yield is about 50 bags per annum.
I always open up the land during the rainy seasons of March-May and September–December to avoid it drying up during the dry season. I am now planting about 300 seedlings.
To preserve the water in the soils during the dry period, I mulch my garden using cut grass, banana leaves and sawdust, among other vegetative materials.
Mulching has helped to reduce soil erosion, and also improves the fertility by enriching it with nutrients upon decomposition.
It also slows down the runoff, improves rainwater penetration and suppresses weeds.
All these have helped to add the weight and quality of my coffee beans. I usually apply the mulch at the beginning of a rainy season for better results.
I use compost manure to conserve soil fertility and also water retention during the dry season as this increases organic matter content and improves the structure of the soil.
Since the holding capacity of water in the soil helps maintain it, I make sure there is proper decomposition before the manure is applied.
To do this, I dig three pits to rotate the waste materials by giving it adequate time; the 45 days of a composting cycle.
I pass the composting material from one pit to the other. From the third pit, I start applying it on the gardens.
Some of the matter that I use in the compost are cow dung, chicken and goat dropping, kitchen waste and green leaves.
I use manure because I do not have the money to buy inorganic fertiliser and besides, I am skeptical about its effect on soils and the coffee trees.
I have heard some of my friends complaining that once you start using chemicals, you have do so perpetually.
To control pests and diseases, I use a mixture of human urine, ash and red pepper to spray the trees. And I have not experienced any major coffee disease.
During harvesting, I pick the ripe berries to avoid producing poor quality beans when they are dried and to allow the green ones the time to ripen.
Although it is laborious, it pays at the end of the day because I will have maintained the quality. Further, I dry up the ripe beans on tarpaulins to avoid contamination with soil.
At the beginning, yields were not as expected, however with time there has been marked improvement.
I used to harvest just a few bags, but I now get 50 bags when the rains are good and 45 when the season is not favourable.
A kilogramme of unshelled coffee will go for $0.8. My earnings come up to between $3,500 and $3,900 per annum.
This money has enabled me to live a good life; I am able to meet my financial obligations like paying school fees for my children (two have graduated from university), build a house and I am buying more land for expansion.
Some of the constraints I face are lack of access to information, extension services and group marketing.
Majority of us peasant farmers do not know where to get the information on various aspects of coffee farming.
We hear there is an organisation that oversees coffee production, but they have never trickled down to us.
Mulching materials are scarce as most of the land has been cleared for farming.
During the dry season, the newly planted seedlings need to be watered yet we do not have irrigation materials.
Value addition is a big problem as there are few coffee processing facilities in the area, hence we sell our coffee to the middlemen.
If we processed our coffee before selling, it would fetch double the amount of money offered when it is unshelled.
While living in Swaziland as a foreign student, Harvey Kadyanji experienced communication challenges in the outreach programmes that he was participating in. Such challenges were worsened by his lack of understanding of Swazi cultural values.
Swaziland has a lot of foreign volunteers and migrant workers who come to assist the nation in combating the HIV/Aids scourge. But cultural bottlenecks frustrate most volunteers, like Harvey.
It is for this reason that the young Tanzanian teamed up with Timothy McDermott, his colleague with Australian and Swaziland origin, to create SiSwApp, an application to bridge the language gap.
This is the tool that has earned the two young innovators a $5,000 grant and a chance to travel to Thailand.
The two were recently announced winners of the 2013 International Telecommunications Union (ITU) World Young Innovators Competition.
They entered the contest early this year, after seeing it advertised in a Swazi newspaper.
“The judges were looking for talented young social entrepreneurs aged between 18 and 26 who could provide ICT-based solutions to developmental challenges,” says the 20 year old Tanzanian.
Over 600 applicants from 88 countries applied for the competition, including Harvey and Timothy.
In July 2013, Harvey says they were told that they had made it into the list of the top 15 semi-finalists. They then had to submit a 5,000-word business proposal and emerged among the top 10 winners.
“This was good news to us. It gave us the urge to work even harder to come up with the application,” he says.
Harvey describes the SiSwApp as a smartphone app, which is aimed primarily at iOS and Android mobile platforms.
According to him, it promises to help users by offering contemporary features such as translation (English to SiSwati and vice versa) with an integrated audio database.
First software at 15
Other features include a comprehensive learning tool with topics and themes specific to Swazi culture; links to tourist hot spots in Swaziland and an advertisement platform for local entrepreneurs.
Interestingly, the young Tanzanian innovator has never received any kind of formal education with regards to programming or computer science.
But it is his curiosity and passion that drove him to the world of computers.
“By reading articles and following online tutorials I was able to create my first software at the age of 15, and my first App at 19,” he says.
Harvey finished his O-level studies in 2010. In 2011 he was one of the four candidates nominated by the Tanzania United World College (UWC) for a full study scholarship at any one of the UWC schools in the world.
Last year, he left the country for Swaziland where he enrolled for an international baccalaureate diploma at the Waterford Kamhlaba UWC of Southern Africa.
The college, which started in the sixties was the brainchild of an enterprising Englishman named Michael Stern. Revolted by neighbouring South Africa’s apartheid regime, Stern decided to set up a school to which all races would be admitted as equals.
“I look forward to graduating from the college this year,” says Harvey.
The course he is studying is similar to the Tanzanian A-level qualification, except that Harvey gets to do seven subjects, including sports, creative arts and community service.
He describes Timothy as his dorm mate. The two share interests in soccer, squash, physics and outreach programmes.
No silver spoon
The last born in a family of four, Harvey was not brought up with a silver spoon in his mouth.
“I had a modest upbringing,” he says. “But my parents were very supportive of my educational dreams. So, they only provided me with all the basic items they thought could help me in school.”
His parents also ensured that young Harvey gets exposed to computers. That helped him understand and appreciate the power of computers in changing communities.
Growing up, Harvey has drawn his inspiration from Sir Jonathan Ive, the designer of the iPhone, iPad, iPod and was the lead designer of iOS 7.
“What intrigues me about him is the way he pays attention to details and how he tries to provide a very simplistic way of doing things. He is among the first people to reveal the secret of designing consumer goods,” he says.
While still in Swaziland, Harvey is also involved in a number of student-led projects, such as 30 Seconds of Change, an initiative, which aims to improving the lives of disadvantaged youths, like those living in refugee camps.
But far away from home, Harvey still has big plans for his country. One of the things he is currently doing is exploring the importance of Kiswahili and culture.
“I have joined hands with several partners to work on an application that not only will present content on any given topic, but one that also supports local enterprises whose existence revolves around the Swahili language and culture,” he says.
But back home, the young man feels a lot more still needs to be done to support creativity in a world that has increasingly become technology-driven.
“I am of the opinion that the government needs to expose people to computers at a very tender age when their imagination is still running wild,” he says.
Live your dreams
Harvey’s advice to young Tanzanians is simple: “Live your dreams and be patient. All I did was give myself one reason why this would work, and in the process ignoring a million reasons why my dreams won’t work.”
Harvey’s first successful app was the Waterford Kamhlaba UWC app for Android and iPhone, which is found in the Google Play and iTunes Store, respectively. The project aimed at helping fellow students and visitors to explore the school.
“It helped me meet the head of corporate banking at Barclays Africa in South Africa,” he says.
Harvey was the founder of Young Coders Tanzania www.youngcoders.co.nf. Last year he conducted a web designing workshop for small children at his former primary school.
Next month, Harvey and Timothy will travel to Bangkok, Thailand, where they will showcase their idea and engage with mentors, leaders in the technology field and other young innovators.
They will also collect their prize money, which will be used to develop their project.
Harvey and Tim hope to progress from concept to a start-up soon and launch the application in February 2014.