Giving girls gift of dignity 'sanitary pads'
By Sylvia Wakhisi | July 6th 2013
Growing up, Lucy Kapkirwok, CEO Sanpad, lived in humbling poverty, basics like pads were a luxury. This is what inspired her to develop disposable pads that are a lifeline for poor women.
Armed with a bubbly personality, Lucy Kapkirwok, seems to have made it in life. But it hasn’t been plain sailing.
One can be forgiven for thinking that her journey of self-discovery has been a one-way ticket to the sunny side of life, but according to her, there is more to it than meets the eye.
Born in a simple village in Nandi County, Lucy, 45, who cuts across as down-to-earth and easy to talk to, describes her childhood life as challenging. However, it’s her steely determination that has shaped her into the successful woman she is today.
“I used to walk for about ten kilometres to school barefooted. During the lunch break, I would run home and back to school and ensured that I made it on time. It was a routine that I had gotten used to for seven years,” says Lucy.
On completion of her primary school, Lucy enrolled at St Joseph Chepterit High School in Nandi County for her O-levels in 1982, and completed in 1985. She cites one precious memory from those years.
“This is when I got my first pair of shoes. It’s a luxury that I had never thought about since I was young,” she says with a radiant smile.
After a short stint at the National Youth Service, she was admitted to Moi University in 1989, where she pursued a degree in Bachelor of Education.
After completing her studies, Lucy got married. She secured a job as a teacher at Parklands Arya High School where she taught for a year and left for the United States where her husband got a posting.
“While in the US, I decided to change my career and pursued a course in Information Technology since I had become interested in computing,” she says.
Due to her husband’s job nature, they later moved back to Kenya where she landed several offers as an IT expert in several firms including Kenya Airports Authority. At some point in 1999, they had to relocate again to Zambia where she still worked as an IT expert and later came back home before leaving for the US again.
“The second time I went to the US, I worked in a hospital as an IT expert and was really amazed with their operations. They are automated and different from Kenya.”
They moved back home in 2003, again and during this time, Lucy enrolled at Moi University for her Master’s degree in Entrepreneurship.
“My dream of becoming a successful entrepreneur began as soon as I cleared college. While teaching at Parklands, I could make and sell handbags and mandazi. This shaped my entrepreneurial skills,” she says.
She taught at Parklands for one year before moving to the US in 1993. While residing and working in the US, the idea of coming up with a disposable sanitary product for women had struck her mind. And as she thought of what business to venture in, she decided to try it out.
She says: “I thought it was a fantastic idea that would enable me realise my dream. One morning, I woke up and drew a sketch illustration of a disposable pad that has a panty. I knew this is what I wanted to do. The zeal to go for it was coupled with an experience I had while still in primary school — one evening as I headed home from school with one of my friends, she stopped along a river and started washing her panty. She had her menses then, although I could not at that time, understand what she was going through. As I grew up, I came to understand her dilemma and that picture has always stuck in my mind.”
Panty Cum-Pad Panties
After scouting around for a factory that could manufacture the product she wanted, she settled for one in China. Armed with such powerful affirmation and a love for business, Lucy is now the Chief Executive Officer of Sanpad Ltd, a company that deals with sanitary products for women like trendy, disposable panty cum-pad panties (pant’pad) among others.
According to her, the product is an alternative to pads and tampons. It has a thin pad blended in the panty, is disposable and no washing is required. It offers a lifeline for poor women living in areas with a water shortage.
According to her, in her community, it was a taboo to talk about menses. “As I was growing up, my mother never talked about it. I was lucky enough that I began my menstrual process when I was in high school where I had friends who guided me on how to go about it. However, things have now changed and I have teamed up with a few of my friends and we normally visit schools to sensitise and educate girls about menstruation, so that they do not develop mistaken ideas about it.”
Her greatest source of inspiration is her mother. “She has kept me going. She never went to school but she was a strong woman with great entrepreneurial skills. She sold vegetables and bread just to take care of us.”
She hopes to expand her company and come up with other products for women that are easy to use.
“This is my first serious business venture. I do not feel I have reached where I want to be. The journey has just began. I still have a lot to do and grow my business into a top brand,” says Lucy.
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