Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Lyon and Paris, Days 1-3, February 9-11, 2011

Dear Friends,

When you fly to Niger from the east coast of the U.S., you need to build some flexibility into your schedule. There are no direct flights, so John routed us through Paris. But the flights from Paris don't fly every day. If we had been delayed by weather in Newark and missed our connection in Paris, we might have missed several days in Niger. That would have been a disaster, because there is a very important Farmers of the Future meeting scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday. So we decided to stay a few days in France, visiting with our niece Claire and celebrating my 60th.

It's been very good to be here recuperating from jet lag, and getting to spend time with Claire and see where she lives. Her friend Lara is studying here also, and we're enjoying spending time with her, too. Claire's French is amazing, and she's been an enormous help running interference for me in the restaurants. Which means that I'm eating way too much, but enjoying it.

Poor Claire, though. She wants to help by translating everything for me. Unfortunately, she's not able to save me from embarrassing myself, since I enjoy making a fool of myself in a foreign language. Come to think of it, she's probably trying to protect the locals from me, but I like to think I provide comic relief.

It seems that John alerted all of France that I was turning 60. So in Lyon we were "guests of the day" at the hotel, which meant: being upgraded to a beautiful suite overlooking the river, a sweets platter, a bag of candy-coated almonds, two free cocktails, and an invitation to a big celebration of a peculiar French holiday honoring the crepe. We were able to partake of everything except the cocktails. In Paris they have offered us free champagne, so hopefully we'll be able to enjoy that today.

You might have gleaned from my last post that the two areas we know we'll be working on over the next three weeks are Farmers of the Future and Pads for Peace.

As we travel, I'll be giving you the background for these initiatives. Let's start with Pads for Peace.

You know the basics. One of our top priorities is secondary education for girls. Here's why:

The payoffs of educating a girl are enormous.

There are various reason girls in sub-Saharan Africa don’t finish secondary school. But one challenge is that many girls are not able to keep themselves clean when they menstruate. Many if not most girls in sub-Saharan Africa lack access to quality feminine hygiene products. Girls resort to castoff blue jeans, mud, cow dung – and sometimes just squatting over a hole. The humiliation of their situation leads many to miss school a week every month. A girl who is absent 25% of the time often becomes a dropout.

There are essentially three current models of delivering sanitary pads:

  • donations of (typically) imported disposable pads
  • donations of (usually) locally produced reusable cloth pads with some associated sale
  • development of a market for locally produced, biodegradable disposable pads

Eliminate Poverty Now is engaged in all three models. We want to support whatever helps girls and women gain access to sanitary pads.

In 2009, our Pads for Peace initiative helped facilitate Procter & Gamble's gift of 850,000 Always pads to the girls of the Sauri Millennium Village cluster.

On this trip, we anticipate beginning to manufacture reusable sanitary pads in two of the three women’s sewing centers we support. Initially, this too will be a donor-funded project; our hope is that there will be some associated sales with this project.

Finally, we are exploring ways to partner with people who are developing disposable sanitary pads that will be attractive, effective and at a price people can afford. Before we left the U.S., we met with Elizabeth Scharpf, who is developing banana fiber pads in Rwanda - be sure to check out Sustainable Health Enterprises (www.sheinnovates.com). In Uganda, we'll meet with Moses Musaazi, whose Makapads of papyrus and paper are being distributed by the UN Refugee Agency there. You can learn more about him at www.t4tafrica.com. And in Kenya we'll meet with Megan White Mukuria (www.zanaa.org), and learn more about the pads she is developing.

As we move forward, we're very excited that a team of executive MBAs from St. Mary's College (www.stmarys-ca.edu) will be helping us develop a business plan.

With so much welcome attention being focused on the importance of secondary education for girls, it seems like good things are bound to happen.


  1. You're not making a fool of yourself at all! Your French is really good! I just want to make things easy for you here so you can relax before going off to do all your good work in Africa. Thanks again so much for everything!

  2. Hello Judy--- what a wonderful way to bring in 60! And, from what I know of you, you could never make a fool of yourself.
    I realized today that I had yet to see a blog from you...so I checked you site. Apparently I did something wrong when I established myself to follow you...but it should be resolved. I will follow and see how I might augment/ assist your good works! You inspire!!
    Safe travels to you and John,