Every time she mentions Makueni, her face brightens. She has fond memories, not of her childhood at Masokani in Makueni, but of her going back to her home village to help tackle a problem that disturbed her in childhood, and that is still affecting many girls.
Catherine Mumbua says she did not have sanitary pads as a young girl growing up. It is this reason that has made her and he husband, Chege Wanjoya, develop machines that can help girls cross a hurdle she was, during a troubled childhood, unable to.
“I went back to Makueni to help these girls get sanitary pads. Many shops do not stock the pads because the locals wouldn’t afford them in packs. We distributed pads but realised that it was not sustainable in the long term. That is when we came up with this,” she points at a dispenser, a metal fabrication standing alongside neater, branded counterparts.
The first dispenser they made was heavy, thus cumbersome to move about and operate, and perhaps a little unappealing as well. They advanced to the second prototype, a fibreglass dispenser.
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The founders of Genesis Care, which offers end to end menstrual hygiene solutions, then made a coin-operated dispenser. With a Sh10 or Sh20 coin, the dispenser will release a sanitary pad.
“This one has a capacity of 40 sanitary pads. It is mechanical - we have to load the pads from one side through the spaces to the other,” she says, opening the door of the machine.
They gave out the machines to schools and churches in Makueni.
“The University of Nairobi has also taken up the machine. They already have four.”
Some girls also get the dispensers to help them make a shilling. The girls operating the dispensers then buy products to restock from Genesis Care, the company taking half of the ten shillings from every pad as the girl gets the other five shillings.
Another one with a capacity of 50 sanitary towels has been completed and is already branded. This is a mobile based machine and uses 2G connectivity, the idea being to help students where mobile network reach is poor, use it.
“The intention is to account for every sanitary pad released by donors. Most of these pads end up missing on the way to the girls they were intended to reach,” she says.
Each girl is expected to have a unique pin and, in a keypad where they can enter their credentials, will enter the pin alongside the school code. As such, the machine picks data such as how many pads each girl picks in what period of time.
“This can help monitor their menstrual behavior and address issues in their health.” If pads are expired, the dispenser cannot release them.
A fourth one, that awaits launch, will use Wi-Fi connection, and can show the names of the buyers of the pads and the number of pads bought upon confirmation of payment via M-Pesa.
These are awaiting certification before they hit the market.
Catherine, whose Genesis Care dispensers got patented in 2018, would later realise that she had created a problem through her humanitarian act.
“Now there were so many pads littering the environment. We wondered how we were going to control the waste.”
Unsurprisingly, and not one to give up, she sought, and found, the answer. Alongside the prototypical dispensers for display is an incinerator, which has been tested and is awaiting certification to hit the market.
It has an opening through which one can dispose of their used sanitary pads. Once full, it will burn them into sterile ash, each pad producing a gram of ash.
“This one can work for a school of about 300 students. It would cost Sh75,000,” she says.
The company exhibited in a meeting of secondary school heads in Mombasa in 2018 and were given a nod to create the machines. These incinerators vary in sizes.
The company also has incinerator for used masks and diapers. “The high temperatures make the ash sterile. The machine is well padded and insulated the heat doesn’t escape.”
Genesis Care, owned by the parent company Silmak Agencies, a family business co-started by Catherine and Chege in 1988, also manufactures sanitary pads and adult diapers, although the production is not done in the country.
Why adult diapers?
“My dad, who had been unwell and was bedridden since 2011, needed the diapers. We used to buy a pack at Sh1,500, which couldn’t last three days. Then one day in 2015, I asked myself, why not see what makes them this expensive? Why not try making them?”
She did research on Google and realised that in China, the diapers were way cheaper. She got the specifications for the diapers and decided to start manufacturing them from outside the country where the technical expertise was already developed.
She chose her own specifications and soon, the first shipment docked.
The mother of three (two boys and a girl) who has a degree in Entrepreneurship and a Masters in Strategic Management, has seen her company win numerous grants and recognised during International Women’s day for their contribution in Sexual Reproductive health 2019 by United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Graca Matchel Trust Fund and the Global Fund.