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Empowering Vanuatu women to educate youth about menstrual health

Belinda Roselli's Nelson home is filled with hundreds of metres of bright cotton fabric.

Earlier in the year she bought all the flannelette she could when it was on sale at Spotlight, by calling every store in New Zealand.

Nelson Mail reports Roselli is not collecting the fabric to make clothes, she sends it in bulk to Vanuatu, where a group of women use it to sew washable sanitary pads.

She was in Vanuatu for work after Cyclone Pam hit when she realised how much menstruation affected women's lives in the developing nation.

Many of them used rags while they were menstruating, and it was quite common for them not to go to school during that time. In some communities they were kept separate from others.

Roselli said she was concerned at how many young women were missing out on their education.

"If you want your communities to thrive then you make sure your girls are educated, that is not just my thoughts, that is proven."

She helped to start the "micro-enterprise" over a year ago. Run by six Ni-Vanuatu women and one man it provides women with the option to buy affordable, re-usable sanitary pads.

The women chose to call themselves "Mamma's Laef", which means women's life in bislama.

The washable sanitary pads are an economical and environmentally friendly alternative to disposable sanitary products. They have a three year life span if cared for properly.

Roselli's aim for the project was two fold, to provide an income stream for women so they could pay to educate their children and to keep girls in school while they were menstruating.​

The programme has since grown and now the "mammas" deliver education about menstrual health and reproduction in schools.

"If we want developing nations to develop further we have to look at the basics," Roselli said.

She invested $12,500 into the business and provides ongoing support to the "mammas" in Vanuatu, giving them business advice and helping to teach them financial literacy.

The project has become bigger than she ever imagined it would and its profile is growing in Vanuatu.

"I thought we would make a few kits and sell them locally," she said. "It's grown a life of its own."

So far, Mamma's Laef have made over 800 reusable sanitary pad kits and taught over 80 girls in Vanuatu about menstruation, reproduction and how to chart their cycle.

Humanitarian aid company Care International heard about the project and the organisations have joined forces to deliver sanitary pad kits and education on the islands Tanna and Erromango.

During her last visit to Vanuatu, Roselli met with 22 non-government organisations to talk about how Mamma's Laef could partner with them to deliver kits and education to more communities across more of Vanuatu's 83 islands.

She often gets asked if she has a medical background but Roselli said she is "just a mum".

A mum for whom the topic of menstruation resonates, who is passionate about empowering women.

Nelson Mail

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