MIT and SHE, Sustainable Health Enterprises worked together to produce Kormea, a machine that produces low-cost banana leaf-based sanitary pads for women in the developing world.
Women in the developing world often cannot afford the more expensive European produced pads. Without pads, women miss a total of five years of school or work, which noticeably reduces their earned income. Moreover, some women are forced to resort to bark with mud or rags as substitutes for sanitary pads. In Rwanda during 2010, 36 percent of women missed 50 days of school or work annually.
In 2007, Elizabeth Scarp created SHE to fix this issue. Scharpf was first introduced to the issue in graduate school when she worked in Mozambique and learned that women who worked in factories could not come to work due to their menstrual periods.
In the U.S., SHE is a nonprofit, but in Africa it is a business. SHE receives donations, but also has a factory in Rwanda where local women are hired to produce and sell banana leaf-based pads at 30 percent of the current market price of the regular European produced pads which are highly taxed in Rwanda. SHE’s system of hiring locally removes middlemen who otherwise take up to 20 percent of the profit.
Initially, Scharpf consulted both MIT and the University of North Carolina to develop ways to best work with the banana fluff. In 2010, Scharpf approached MIT and 16 members of the senior class of 2009 were responsible for the concept generation, design and fabrication. The group created sanitary pads with gauze, bananas, pulp and polyethylene.
Currently, Katie Smyth, a recent graduate of MIT along with other members of the Kormea team are developing Kormea, a machine that will produce banana-based sanitary pads.
Smyth intends to build the final machine with easily accessible materials like wood and metals so that the machines can be built in Rwandan workshops. Smyth estimates that the machines will cost approximately $1,000 and require electricity. For the electricity, they will be placed in on-grid training centers that are located throughout Rwanda.
Women who wish to produce banana sanitary pads with Kormea can buy the machine with the help of micro-loans, and start producing low-cost banana-based sanitary pads.
– Kasey Beduhn
Source: Vitamin W, Fast Company, Popular Mechanics, Engineering for Change LLC,