Celeste Carter-Board Member, PridePads Africa
Period poverty is rampant in Africa. There is a stigma surrounding menstruation, and too often girls and women don’t have access to menstrual products. They are forced to use old cloths, paper, cotton and even leaves to manage their menstrual bleeding.
Celeste Carter was 15 years old when she learned this, and was moved to tears. She knew she had to help.
Four years later, Celeste sits on the Board of PridePads Africa, the non-profit she was instrumental in founding. PridePads Africa provides menstrual health education and access to sanitary pads to the girls and women of Cameroon.
This is Celeste’s story.
I was a sophomore in High School when my mother and I met Dr. Ajume Wingo in a Boulder coffee shop and he told me a story that forever changed me.
Ajume was traveling by bus in his homeland of Cameroon, Africa, when he saw a young girl being humiliated by fellow travelers. She had just gotten her first period and was terrified. There is very little menstruation education in Africa, and the young girl had no idea what was happening to her. There was blood on the bus seat, and women were calling her disgraceful. Ajume wrapped his shirt around her, got her to safety and vowed that he would never let that happen to another girl again.
After I heard his story, I knew I had no option. I turned to my Mom and said, “We HAVE to do something for these girls.”
Ajume told us he wanted to bring menstrual education and hygiene products to the women of Cameroon, and my mother and I started meeting with him regularly to help find a solution. We wanted to develop a facility that produces sanitary pads in Cameroon. We wanted to empower the women of Cameroon and create economic opportunities for them. We wanted them to run the facility.
We all knew we had to locally produce menstrual products that were 100% biodegradable. We also knew that proper menstrual education was pretty much non-existent in Africa. I wanted to teach girls that this is a really pivotal moment in their life, and they should appreciate the beauty of it and not be ashamed by it.
The summer of my junior year in high school, I travelled to Ghana, Africa with Ajume, my mom, my grandparents, Mary Shackleton, (another co-founder) and her daughter, Ruby. We spent two weeks driving throughout Ghana, visiting villages and schools to educate girls AND boys about menstruation.
Ajume, who is a Prince from the Nso Kingdom in Cameroon, was able to secure meetings for us with Kings and Government Officials in Ghana. We were met with tremendous support and we returned from Ghana determined to get PridePads Africa up and running in Cameroon.
We did not want to be viewed as saviors – it wasn’t about that. We wanted to create a program that allowed access to hygiene products IF the women wanted it. We wanted to de-stigmatize menstruation. We wanted to shift the paradigm away from the stigma that exists and empower the girls and women to complete their education and obtain economic empowerment.
PridePads Africa really began to take shape at the beginning of my senior year. Over Thanksgiving break, I traveled to Mumbai, India with my mom and Ajume to research machinery that could produce sanitary pads from banana and plantain fibers, materials prevalent in Africa. We found the machinery, and I learned hands-on how to make sanitary pads. It was during that trip that I realized -- we were going to be able to help these women.
PridePads Africa purchased the machinery – and in January of 2019 we settled upon Ngaoundere, Cameroon for the location of our production facility. This is in the far Northern region of Cameroon where there is a lot of poverty. The need for menstrual hygiene education and supplies is great.
I started at American University in the fall of 2019, and on Thanksgiving break I once again traveled to Africa with Ajume and my mom – this time to Cameroon. We travelled by train for seventeen hours to get to Ngaoundere, the Cameroonian village that is home to PridePads.
It was during this trip that I saw the facility for the first time and met the women who were going to be manufacturing the pads. It was magnificent. WE DID IT! Pride Pads is truly the most inspirational project I have ever been privileged to be a part of, and these experiences changed my life forever. I am humbled and honored to a part of PridePads Africa.
The future of PridePads is bright. We had to temporarily curtail production in March 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but we will be resuming pad production soon.
In August 2020, we hired Mrs. Salamatu Yinyuy, a local Cameroonian woman who is a community organizer, educator and entrepreneur, as the Director of PridePads Africa. In early October, Sala held a meeting for local women who wanted to become involved with PridePads. We expected twenty women to attend but more than 100 Cameroonian women came to that meeting. This speaks to the impact we will be able to have on this community and we want to ensure that we have enough funding to provide employment, education, and entrepreneurial training for all of them.
PridePads are produced by and for women. Cameroonian girls and women are fully engaged in the distribution chain of the finished product as well as in the supply of banana and plantain fiber (an agricultural byproduct) for the manufacturing of the pads.
Every girl and woman deserves access to proper menstrual education and sanitary hygiene supplies, and PridePads can make that happen.
Thank you for reading my story, and I encourage you all to learn more about our mission at www.pridepads.org and consider making a donation to PridePads Africa. We cannot do this important work alone and we are stronger when we come together to support and empower others around the globe.