Suzanne and I are just back from an epic journey to Uganda. Among many high points while there was a visit to AFRIpads, a washable padmaking venture started in 2009 by Sophia Klumpp and Paul Grindvals, then recently graduated university students eager to make a difference in the developing world. The story of how this all came to pass has a magical quality to it, in the way that truth can so often be stranger than fiction.
Try this for a story: Carrie-Jane Williams, a young Canadian woman, traveled to Uganda in 2008 as part of a group of students from the University of British Columbia researching education for girls in the area. Being a Lunapads customer and aware of the lack of sanitary products for girls, she fundraised and purchased some Pads4Girls Kits to bring with her. On her last day of her trip, she met Paul and Sophia and showed them the products.
Intrigued and inspired, they contacted us to see whether we were OK with them essentially copying the Lunapads design and business idea. We said yes, little imagining that 4 years later we would be meeting them in person, touring their factory and exploring ways to support one another’s business growth.
The emotional impact of doing that very thing just last week cannot be overstated. Having been working on the Lunapads project for close to 20 years, witnessing a room full of women cutting and sewing washable pads inspired by them halfway across the world literally brought me to tears. Most astonishing of all was the degree of credit that Sophia and Paul give Suzanne and I for their success. To tell the truth, what they have accomplished in a mere 4 years completely dwarfs Lunapads in terms of employment created and pad production output: these folks are superstars. And (sit down for this one) they accomplish all of this without electricity! (Yes, there is such a thing as a treadle serger, who knew?)
Their team of managers, cutters and sewers proudly showed us their sophisticated process, from raw materials through final quality control. They even showed me how to use a treadle sewing machine and I had a go at it myself!
Finally and most movingly, they presented us with a beautiful scrapbook with a photo of each of the staff members, as well as personal notes describing the change that employment with AFRIpads has brought to their lives. Which brings me to another amazing fact we learned: of the 18 Ugandan girls in the original UBC study, 3 of them are now employed by AFRIpads!
From marketing dilemmas to fabric and sewing issues, the similarities between our respective enterprises are startling, and kept us in solid conversation for hours on end. It was like looking in a mirror: seeing two other people and their amazing team, equally dedicated and with the same end goal, all shuffled up and rearranged far, far away.
Weebale (Luganda for Thank You), you wonderful people: we are deeply touched and inspired – keep up the good work!