Our journey so far
February – October 2014
• Amy was sitting in a doctor’s surgery and saw a truly appalling picture of a Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus. There were 20,000 people queuing for food in a bombed out street; total destruction. Being a woman, it made her wonder how on earth do these women cope once a month?
• Her research found that although aid agencies sometimes supplied sanitary pads, supply is the problem. It is possible to buy them in the refugee camps but they are so ‘expensive’ compared to the little amount of money they receive from the World Food Program and UN that they are forced to buy food rather sanitary towels. As a result they use unhygienic rags that lead to infections.
• Her husband Tom told her about an amazing Indian man called Mr Muruga who has invented a really cheap sanitary towel making machine, in the process hugely benefitting Indian society. In October 2014 he met with Bill Gates. bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-26260978
• This sparked Amy’s vision of installing Mr Muruga’s amazing machines in the refugee camps in Jordan, and then Turkey and Lebanon, so that the women could make their own sanitary pads at a massively reduced price and make a life-changing income at the same time.
• On 7th November 2014 Amy flew to Jordan. She met with a woman called Catherine Ashcroft, who does amazing work for the refugees there, and delivered forty kilos of baby grows which local mothers here had donated to her.
• Catherine introduced Amy to contacts at MercyCorps, a wonderful humanitarian organisation. Following the meeting MercyCorps decided to support the project.
• MercyCorps organised a pass for Amy to visit Za’atari refugee camp where she had a wonderful meeting with some of the women refugees to discuss the project. They explained that they wanted to use these towels for a variety of reasons. Firstly for their own needs and for their daughters, but also they want to be able to alter the composition of the pads to make babies’ nappies which they do not have enough of. They also need nighttime protection for older children who have started bed-wetting as a result of fear and the cold in the desert at night.
• Before leaving Jordan Amy used the opportunity to shop for winter clothes for the refugees, with £3,000 she had raised from friends and family. This bought 700 winter coats, 85 blankets and loads of underwear for the women, as well as three kerosene heaters for a school, which previously had no heating.
• On 27th November Amy flew to India to meet Mr Muruga to find out more about the machines and discuss the logistics of shipping them to Jordan. Mr Muruga taught Amy how to use and mend the machines, and he allowed her to film everything so that when the machines arrive in Jordan it will be easy to teach the women.
January – April 2015
• Since Amy’s return to the UK she has been untangling the bureaucracy around getting the machines to Jordan!
• The Jordanian royal family’s shipping company has agreed to ship the machines, thus reducing import taxes and time spent in customs. This agreement was given on the condition that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) agree to the machines.
• UNHCR is very excited about the project not only for the sake of the women and children that we can help but also because we can alter the composition again to make nappies and incontinence pads, benefiting even more of the refugees.
• We are waiting for official sign-off from UNHCR that it will back the project.
• Despite Mr Muruga’s initial generosity of spirit, buying the raw product from him made the project financially unviable and it was decided to investigate other options.
• On 27th September Amy flew back to India to meet Swati and Shyam Bedekar in Gujarat and Afzal Shaik in Mumbai. It was a hugely successful trip, with both parties offering machines that could cater to different needs of the project and be economically viable.
October / November 2015
• On 31st October Amy returned to Za’atari refugee camp to spend a week working alongside the UNHCR.
• Many focus groups were held with various age groups of women to ascertain their requirements and desires. As a result of these meetings we will now be making one smaller and one larger sanitary towel, plus one much larger incontinence pad.
• Following a meeting with the UNHCR and the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) they have agreed to run a pilot project in the camp overseen by the NRC. We will be buying a configuration of machines belonging to Swati.
• As a result of the generosity of Little Lamb Nappies, a UK company, we will also be making and supplying reusable nappies to help with the incontinence problem in the camp.
• Amy’s story was covered by the BBC BBC Magazine
• Listen to the report of Amy’s trip to Jordan on BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour
• Listen to the report of Amy’s trip to India on BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour
• Amy flew to Turkey to meet the manufacturer of all the materials necessary to make high quality reusable nappies.
• We bought a container full of these materials / a factory in a box enough to make up to 20,000 nappies.
• This container arrived in the camp in April.
• Amy returned to the camp for the first time working with the Norwegian Refugee Council. Our first sample nappy was made with the help of a tailor in the camp.
• Amy returned to India to check on the sanitary towel machine order and work out a way to speed up the manufacturing and supply process. As a result Loving Humanity now pays for two engineers and a personal assistant.
• The sanitary towel machines have arrived in Jordan and we are dealing with tax exemption challenges.
• With UNHCR funding, NRC are about to build a factory to house both projects.
• Loving Humanity is in the process of signing an agreement with NRC so that they manage all projects on the ground.
• The workshop was completed by the NRC and opened on 18th December. There are fifteen Syrian women making sanitary pads, incontinence pads and reusable nappies. They were chosen specifically by UNHCR due to their vulnerable status as women who are heads of their household.
After my story was aired the world gave me so much money that it enabled me to create something far bigger and more beautiful than I had imagined. I flew to Turkey to meet a man who manufacturers all the materials to make washable nappies and bought from him everything that we needed to make nappies, in effect a factory in a box. And in April 2016 the container arrived in Zaatari refugee camp. In Jordan I bought 8 sewing machines and 4 over-lockers to make the nappies. In July 2016 UNHCR chose 14 of the most vulnerable women in the camp to teach them to sew. This factory is the first UNHCR protection program for women. These first workers were financially responsible for 86 people. They were paid the equivalent of £1 per hour. In Zaatari the Syrian people only get £20 per month to live on and in a day our women can earn £9 so the impact on their welfare has been life changing. I have seen human beings flourish before my eyes which has been the most wonderful thing to behold.
In November 2016 the sanitary towel machines and raw material from India arrived. We planned on making 2 sizes but despite all my research having bought some machinery to make a standard western pad (20cm in length) the women said there was no point in making them as they were simply too small. So some machinery was still good but we needed to develop and redesign parts again to make an extra large pad (35cm x12cm). So I asked the Bedekars in India to help with new molds and new sealing machines. This is when life started getting challenging as from a technical point of view India was unable to help quickly. So I came back to the UK and sourced companies that could help. I have since sent new molds made up North, presses made in Cornwall and sealing machines made in Germany to Zaatari.
Another major hiccup along the way was that when the pads were given to the women to try in the camp it turned out that the top material caused discomfort. It turned out that the raw material although correct in its appearance was not treated correctly so that as opposed to the blood / urine being quickly absorbed it sat on the top of the pad for a few seconds. It was hydrophobic instead of hydrophilic, which allows liquid to be absorbed instantly. So with the help of a commercial manufacturer who I visited in Sweden, I got to hear about Edana; an organisation looking after many manufacturers of the raw materials for disposable nappies, feminine care and incontinence. I went to a trade show in Geneva to find a new supplier of nonwoven. I bought and shipped a batch of material from Turkey to the camp and frustratingly it is being held by the Jordanian authorities.
It has been my unswerving commitment to set up the factory to the best of my ability in terms of the machinery and raw material. I was initially immensely frustrated with UNHCR wanting to test our products before distributing them to the Syrian people. However in hindsight I do see the value in this testing period. My knowledge has had to grow in terms of manufacturing all of our products. I even went on a professional manufacturing course in Brussels in October this year to really understand everything to the utmost level. I have been helped hugely by Littlelamb nappies in Wales who have shared their business know-how with me and who introduced me to their Turkish supplier. Also Vicky Blanken at Snugglebanks, in the North of England, shared not only her patterns with me but her knowledge again of manufacturing. Without these two businesses the nappy factory simply would not have come to life and I owe a huge debt of gratitude to them.
Different Groups for nappies
Initially I wanted to help the traumatised children who, UNHCR made so clear to me, needed help. However, as it turns out any child over the age of 5 who wets themselves still at night are put on a form of psychosomatic treatment. And to reinforce this treatment apparently they are not allowed to have a nappy at night time. I do not fully understand this decision on their part and no explanations have been given so any conjecture on my part is just an incorrect assumption. I find this very upsetting.
The other people I wanted to help were the disabled. And in a sense I have had a huge impact here already. When I started working alongside UNHCR they were not supplying nappies to the disabled or elderly in the camp at all. Hence the desperate need for our factory. I was so upset to see the conditions that the elderly and disabled were living in and the difficulties their carers were facing. It really was so shocking. And so I said to UNHCR, ‘you tell me how much money you need to give these people nappies and I will go back to the UK and get you the money.’ I think before I got on the plane UNHCR had found the money to supply these much needed items. The same happened in terms of sanitary pads. When I first arrived in Zaatari only women from the age of 14-40 received pads which again was very upsetting. I asked them if they needed a biology lesson – the next thing is the age range is increased to 12-49.
To return to the nappies, so the new aim was to allow some financial relief for the refugees. If we could supply the elderly and disabled with nappies to bridge the gap between the distributions then they could save their precious money. The carers of the children said they would welcome this. Sadly at present this is not happening.
In July I was in the camp and it looked like finally our nappies would be given to the refugees. The first group to receive them would be 2-3 year olds who were not yet potty trained. I left with all the necessary parties agreeing to do this. A month later I was told I needed to be more sensitive to the work load of other organisations, i.e., IRD, despite them agreeing to help. All they needed to act was an email from UNHC to authorise it. It did not come but maybe now finally I think the UN are playing ball as distribution to this group is happening this week.
The problem with the testing that the UN has been doing on our nappies in the camp has not been without a conflict of interest. I say this because after further research the adult disabled and elderly, now with their disposable nappies, said that they would not use our nappies as the mess was too great. On top of that if they said they would use them, then they would most likely lose their distributed disposable nappies and that was never my intention. My intention was always to supplement what they received. I know this was the intention of the UN because back in 2015 UNHCR wanted to replace the disposable nappies given to the disabled children with our nappies. I was heartbroken at this stage as it looked like our nappies would make life more difficult. Thankfully this idea seems to have been dropped. Such a relief! So to revert to the feedback being collected in the camp, it was primarily being taken from the elderly and disabled who needed disposable nappies and who had already told us they would not use our nappies! The best feedback we have always received has been from the children and we have not been allowed to supply them until now.
To me if someone needs a nappy then it is urgent and that is not how UNHCR have approached this. However they do have a huge camp to run and hopefully now my dreams will come true and our nappies will get to those who need them. Not before time!!!
To bring you up to date with the distribution of the sanitary pads, we can only supply those not currently receiving any from NRC. So our intention is to help those under the age of 12 and those over the age of 49. During my last visit in November this year at last we have been given the names of the schools in the camp we can help. There seem to be approx. 100 girls in each school, there are 9 schools, who need our help. They may already receive pads through the distribution in the camp but they are most likely caught out at school or young girls in school need assistance. So as soon as we receive our material currently held by the authorities we can start to help them. This excites me as I am passionate about keeping girls in education. After we have proved to UNHCR that we can manage this group of people then hopefully we will be able to help the large number of women who also suffer from stress incontinence due to the large number of children they have and age.
The Global Picture
After the BBC told my story, many people in over 22 different countries got in touch asking me to help them do what I do in Jordan in their own countries. There are over 100 million girls who do not go to school due to the lack of sanitary pads. So initially I created a Dropbox to share with them all the information and knowledge I had gained. I connected them with Swati and Shyam Bedekar. Sadly Swati and Shyam were simply not able to handle this, despite me paying for a PA for them and another engineer. A woman in South Africa did not hear from them for months having paid for her order. It has been a challenge for us all. India has an enormous problem of its own. Only 12% of women in India use a pad! So understandably they have their hands full.
It became obvious that this issue of keeping girls in education is of paramount importance. Not only for the sake of the girls and stopping the cycle of poverty and pregnancy but also for the evolution of the human race. Equality can not exist in countries where girls can’t go to school due to the lack of a pad. This issue is not only about education but liberation too.
I am coming to the end of a long process of learning and despite the lack of speed with which the UN and NRC have moved this process has been invaluable. The lives of many women and their families have been impacted already. It is the first UNHCR protection program for women in the world. And the elderly and disabled now have disposable nappies supplied by the UN. And girls from a younger age and women of an older age now get pads. The awareness of these issues have been highlighted as a result of me being ‘annoying.’ So on one level I am pleased and as you can imagine on another level it has been hugely frustrating and heart-breaking that the UN haven’t moved quicker to alleviate both physical and financial suffering by giving these nappies to those in need. I would have preferred to manufacture and perfect as we went along however this is not how the UN works. If everything stopped today I would feel frustrated on one level and excited on another as my attention is drawn to other places.
There have also been visits from delegations from UNHCR HQ in Geneva. They have been blown away by the factory and everyone who sees it is so impressed by this bubble of creativity, hope and camaraderie in a such depressing place. UNHCR have asked me to help them understand better how they could do this else where and I have said they will have to wait as that is what I’m working on now. However my vision of this going to all refugee camps is still very much on the cards. That is if I can work out a way of working with UNHCR that keeps me sane!
I have now found and developed machinery and am finalising the suppliers of the raw materials in Europe. I am about to start buying container loads of all the different materials and shipping them to Southampton where I have found a bonded warehouse. There we shall repack and create factories in containers. I am creating a hub from where I can ship all over the world. Kenya and South Africa will be first plus other projects in the Middle East. I am talking to people in Mosul and organisations functioning inside Syria. Fingers crossed!
The sanitary pad manufacture is halted due to a cockroach infestation in the wood pulp. The huge cardboard boxes sent from India could not be sealed once opened. This steep learning curve has enabled me to ensure the same issues are avoided in the future. UNHCR agree to allow us to distribute nappies to 2-3 year olds in the camp.
Still no distribution of nappies to 2-3 year olds despite the agreement of UNHCR in November 2017.
We were given two weeks’ notice by the Norwegian Refugee Council that the factory will be closing at the end of the month due to the inaction of UNHCR. The only explanation that we have been given by UNHCR is that they didn’t want our nappies to cause harm. Nappies do not cause harm unless they are not changed on a regular basis.
All nappies made in the camp were distributed to the Syrians in Zaatari by the Norwegian Refugee Council. In a monitoring and evaluation report following the distribution, over 60% of those who chose to continue using our nappies told us that they saved 25% of their monthly income.
We take on a unit outside Bath to set up our own sanitary towel micro factory. Tony Feierabend comes on board to help set up and analysis the manufacturing process.
We sell our first two micro factories to projects in Kenya.
We are finalising paperwork to ship our first two micro factories to Kenya.
Amy returned to Jordan to find a new location for the nappy factory. Having visited several churches she was offered a large space in the compound of a Roman Catholic Church in Amman by a very generous priest called Abouna Khalil.
The women who were working with me in Zaatari are going to travel to Amman on a daily basis in the New Year to train the next lot of workers. This makes the task less daunting for me as we will be passing on our skills and lessons.
The nappies will be distributed to the refugees, both Iraqi and Syrian, through the other churches; one of which distributes 1000 hygiene kits per month to families. Again we are facing the challenges of helping bedwetting children, the elderly and disabled.
The machinery and materials were transported by lorry from Zaatari refugee camp to the church in Amman.
Amy went back to Amman to help set up the factory with the new team from Mosul. We picked up two of the ladies who worked for us in Zaatari to come to the church in Marka to teach the new ladies how to make nappies.
We met an American organisation called Collateral Repair Project which supports 10,000 refugee families living in Amman. In August 2019 we hope to employ a menstrual hygiene co-ordinator through CRP to help find the most desperate families in need of nappies for the young, the old and those living with disabilities.