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Dying Fabric for Cloth Menstrual Pads

Batiki iliyotengenezwa kwa kipande cha nguo ya pamba na dawa ya blichi. Tie dye made using a pink cotton fabric and bleach. cloth menstrual pads

Mya and I have done a few little planning sessions in the past couple of days here in Tabora and went through the supplies I brought. She’d done some research for us into batiki dyes so we can create custom colourway batches that will help hide blood stains on the pads. The local shop sells powdered dyes and chemicals, and we’re trying to look for the best We want to take reds, browns and greens, purples and black/grey and try tie dye, batiki (batik dying) and “barafu” where we can use ice to make beautiful watercolour style patterns on cheap plain white cotton fabric.

Tie Dying Fabric for Cloth Menstrual Pads

We found some inexpensive pink cotton in the city centre and decided to buy a few metres.
pink cotton fabric for making cloth menstrual pads in Tanzania

Then we used the tie dye techniques I’d printed out in the UK to fold and tie it. Using a reverse-dye technique with bleach seemed like a great idea until we tried to buy bleach in the market! In the end we found a couple of bottles and tried it out. The first batch we watered down the bleach and the result was pretty (on the right), then the second piece was done with pure thin bleach and was more eye-catching even just half an hour later (left).

Batiki iliyotengenezwa kwa kipande cha nguo ya pamba na dawa ya blichi. Tie dye made using a pink cotton fabric and bleach. cloth menstrual pads
Batiki iliyotengenezwa kwa kipande cha nguo ya pamba na dawa ya blichi. Tie dye made using a pink cotton fabric and bleach. cloth menstrual pads

Next time we’ll try the bleach watered down a little to save it but we were really happy with the results. Next to try is the actual fabric dye, which we hope will work out even more cost-effective with undyed cotton. Perfect for tote bags and maybe even the pads.

Ice Dye Technique

A really great way to dye fabric is by laying ice over it and putting the dye on top. As the ice melts, the dye disperses across the fabric in different concentrations, giving beautiful results especially with two or more colours.

I wasn’t sure that we could get ice here in Tabora but Mya knows a few people with freezers and we could ask nicely at the hotels (there isn’t an awful lot of snow unless we want to hike up Kilimanjaro and I think that’s a bit of a stretch to dye some fabric!) I brought some plain white Minky style fabric too which we’ll test for wicking and absorbency to make sure it’s a good topper fabric for the pads and hopefully it will accept the dyes too. We have even discussed trying vegetable dyes which would be the most sustainable, least harmful alternative to chemicals and a great plastic-free, zero waste method. So in our small amount of internet time, drinking sodas at The Orion Hotel, I’ll be searching the web for vegetable dye techniques. If you have a little bit of experience with small batch fabric dying and would like a trip to help some of the teens in Tanzania make the most of their education and help the community here to generate an income and learn skills, and you’d love a few weeks in the sunshine then please get in touch – we’d love to host you!

To donate towards some fabrics to make washable cloth menstrual pads in Tanzania, please visit www.paypal.me/projectkidogo and give what you can. You can write “for buying fabric” and every penny you donate will be spent on cotton and towels to create pads, which we’ll distribute free of charge to schools and sell to generate income for some of Tabora’s most vulnerable residents. We don’t have any admin costs at the time of writing, as these are currently covered by our trustees.

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Preparing A Sewing Workshop in Tanzania

Fundi doing the Project Kidogo sewing machine setup, Mya watching Tanzania Tabora

Preparing a sewing workshop in Tanzania was one of our first goals on reaching Tabora on Wednesday. We landed after a short hop from Dar Es Salaam on a little Air Tanzania plane with ten bits of luggage (having lost my own suitcase). Hakun, myself and two small children meeting up with Mya and Deus. The kids were excited to meet our their new friends, Deus’s children, that afternoon at the lodge where we’re staying and Hakun and I were keen to unpack.

Our Luggage

Right now we have four suitcases piled in the corner of our lodge with a thousand pairs of knickers for the school kits, armfuls of fabric, fleece, cotton, ripstop nylon and towels and ten maroon overlocker thread cones. We brought with us one pair of pinking shears and a rotary cutter, 100 little binder clips for securing fabric, thousands of KAM snaps and pliars as well as seam rippers for making the most of preloved clothes and towels.

luggage for Tanzania
luggage for Tanzania in our Picasso

Hakun’s suitcase arrived in tact with his 200 bamboo toothbrushes, “zawadi” (gifts) he bought for local children and some of the sunblock we bought for the family and his basic clothes and toiletaries. Our children’s suitcase made it too, with lots of small hats and practical shoes. Mine did not make the journey. So I’m here with just the clothes I was wearing on the internal flight and the laundry from our three nights in Dar Es Salaam, and my hand luggage. We’ve been to the Air Tanzania offices to try to track this suitcase down and, although they were pretty helpful, it looks like we didn’t check mine in despite arriving with it. We’re trying to get in touch with the airport security, but I’m sure it’s mostly replaceable (apart from the sunblock). If living here before has taught me one thing, it’s the art of adapting to living with less and in preparing a sewing workship in Tanzania means being flexible. We managed to get sim cards at the airport and Hakun’s is working ok, mine took a little pursuading and a new cable. So here we have a few photos!

Preparing a Sewing Worskhip in Tanzania

Although we’re a secular/non-religeous NGO we’ve been very welcomed by the Anglican Church and we’re grateful for the accommodation here. Yesterday afternoon we bought two sewing machines – a heavy manual Butterfly which are very popular and well-loved here in Tanzania, and a new electric overlocker imported to Tabora from India. We’ve set the machines up in my bedroom for the time being so Mya and I can practice. With the maroon overlocker thread cones and any polyester thread we can get here, we’re going to set up initially making some fabric bags.

In June 2019 the Tanzanian government put an immediate ban on plastic bags throughout the country! Vendors, “duka” (shops) and every business and person in the country had to hand over all plastic bags immediately and invest in reusable bags. This has had a great impact already on the amount of plastic waste in Tanzania although sadly, the fabric reusable alternatives are nylon fabric slightly more durable than the fabric of disposable nappies, and I can’t imagine will last all that well. We visited a fish market in Dar Es Salaam as part of a tour of the city and I could see sellers these flimsy plastic-fabric bags and large manilla envelopes being used for wet things and I hope the people here start to develop some waterproof plant-based alternatives like the corn “plastic” bags we use to line food bins in the UK. There’s a huge opportunity for investment there that would do so much for the environment and the Tanzanian people. Our plan is to use some inexpensive cotton vitenge fabric to start producing some cotton totes which will help Mya to hone her sewing skills and start to generate a little income for Project Kidogo.

Using the sewing machine and overlocker to make fabric totes will be really helpful for our future sewing interns and apprentices. With the help of volunteers we’ll provide them with the marketable skills to be able to generate an income and contribute to the local economy. We’re going to create a sewing workshop with lots of natural light, electricity and good security where the workers can come and feel safe and comfortable. As each sewer’s ability improves they can start to make pads which they can sell locally using subsidised fabric, and we can purchase pads from them for the menstrual kits we will distribute to the teens in schools in the district. We hope to view workshops in the next few weeks so that we can prepare the space ready to move in before I leave. If you might be able to help with a regular monthly donation for the workshop or to help with a few months’ rent then please email info@projectkidogo.org.uk and we’ll be very grateful. One-off donations towards fabrics, as well as soap and bowls for the kits are also desperately needed and you can send us money on PayPal here

If you want to be involved in any way with the charity, whether it’s by holding a cloth menstrual pad sewing workshop, other fundraising events such as bake sales or even climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, please let us know here or on our Facebook page or DM us on Instagram

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Why Tanzania?

Tanzanian flag charity work for Project Kidogo menstrual pads

In 2009 my dad passed away from a stroke, leaving everything he had in the world to my sister Anna and I. We sold his car, vintage Scalextric and put his Buckingham house on the market, the most important of his belongings was the workshop full of his beloved carpentry equipment. Our dad was an avid amateur carpenter and had made the most stunning wood carvings, intricate inlaid boxes and beautiful creations with different woods. Dad’s workshop was full of love and care so the small amounts we were offered for the contents made us sad, not because of the low monetary value but because the contents had had such a high value to our dad. We didn’t have room to keep them ourselves so we had to do something.

My half sister’s mum gave us the idea of Tools for Life and we found a charity based in Chesham called Workaid. We got in touch and they were so grateful for the tools and machines we donated. They had to send the van back to refil and lots of volunteers chipped in to clear the workshop, kindly giving Anna and myself some beautiful pieces he’d been partway through making. I told the volunteers I wanted to go to Africa to volunteer and they gave me their leaflet. I called up and asked Workaid if I could help them in some way, to see where these precious tools would end up and arranged a tour of their premises. A few months later I travelled over from Wales and watched in awe as retirees and voluneers worked to carefully recondition the tools and machinery.

In the Workaid office they gave me some of the most important information of my life. I’d researched countries in Africa and East Africa had shined brightly out at me. Workaid asked me lots of questions and I realised I wanted to visit a country that has a lot of hope. Tanzania is one of the world’s most peaceful countries (according to the Institute of Economics and Peace) . In 2018 they were just 17th of 163 countries measured in low militarisation. They told me how friendly the Tanzanians are, how helpful the government are when it comes to aid, how easy the Swahili language is and how stunning people find the countryside. I fell in love with the country and realised I’d grown up with it – Africa by Toto, Disney’s The Lion King, elephants and lions, Kilimajaro and Lake Victoria, the Maasai and giraffes, tanzanite Swahili words and lush verdant grasses – these were all Tanzania. Of course there are countries in Africa I’d love to visit such as Ghana where my sister in law’s from, South Africa, Zambia and of course Kenya to name just a few! I’ve travelled to Morocco and Lanzarote but hopefully next time I’m in Tanzania I’ll get the change to travel to its nearby countries.

Workaid put me in touch with an Oxford-based charity which provides meals and sponsorship to OVC’s (orphans and vulnerable children) in Tabora, Tanzania. I travelled there to the centre of the country in January 2012 with one of their trustees and his wife and immediately felt at home. There was an ease and relaxed attitude from the moment I walked out of arrivals in Dar Es Salaam and the drivers around the airport are so helpful without the pushiness I’d felt in other destinations. When we arrived in Tabora, I made some of the most important friendships of my life including Deus, our Tanzanian director and trustee.

I’m so glad I picked Tanzania as my destination all those years ago and just hope that as a charity we can support the people who need help the most. Just a little (kidogo) help, from Project Kidogo.

To donate, visit paypal.me/projectkidogo or you can set up a monthly donation to info@projectkidogo.org.uk