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MANA Care: Menstrual products made in Samoa

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(SAMOA) — Affordable, enviro-friendly feminine hygiene products made in Samoa are now a reality with the launch of MANA, its moniker carefully selected to empower women of the Pacific region to talk about their monthly periods.

"Mana is power, to empower, we chose this name as a means of empowerment, to give women the power to speak about it," said MANA Care Products Co-Creator Angelica Salele-Sefo.

"Our logo is a red aute (hibiscus). It's bold, often associated with royalty in the Pacific. It also represents beautiful Samoa. Mana is a word recognized all across the Pacific. We've been thinking about doing this for years. Why don't we talk about it? Fertility is a beautiful thing! I want it to be a conversation starter."

During an April interview at her home in Vaitele, Salele-Sefo beams, enthusiastic about the project which received a very nice boost, US$10,000 (T$25,000) in the form of a United Nations Environment grant award.

The idea, which won the Asia Pacific Low Carbon Lifestyles Challenge in the Plastic Waste category, is the brainchild of Salele-Sefo and her close friend Isabell Rasch. Both local women work at the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (S.P.R.E.P.).

The concept of reusable, washable cotton feminine napkins, more commonly called "pads" lessens plastics and wastes destined for already burgeoning landfills.

It is also an economic solution for low-income women who can find themselves spending up to T$200 a year on menstrual care products, explains Salele-Sefo

"Many women have to decide between buying pads or food. It adds up," she told tautalatala. "Those prices contribute to the marginalization of low income women and girls."

Many local women use fasi 'ie'ie. In English — cloth rags.

Salele-Sefo learned from local medical practitioners that the improper use and sterilization of these cloths have resulted in high numbers of staph infections.

Partly, it stems from the tendency to shamefully hide washed rags when drying them as opposed to placing them in the sun as one does with regular laundry, for natural sterilization by the sun.

"And there's no research on this topic in Samoa," Salele-Sefo said. "Nothing."

MANA's work includes public awareness pop-up tents to educate women on menstrual hygiene and some research.

Rasch, Salele-Sefo's business partner who is studying Environmental Science at the National University of Samoa part-time, will conduct the research to give policymakers and others a 'before' picture of MANA — and 'after'.

Placing the sensitive topic into the public discourse is a means to highlight the challenges low income women face in managing their periods.

Even Actress and Humanitarian Meghan Markle, now known as the Duchess of Sussex, has lent her voice to the menstrual health management (MHM) cause, which affects women in developing nations like Samoa and neighboring Pacific Islands.

In Markle's 2017 pre-Duchess piece: "How Periods Affect Potential", she writes, "the stigma surrounding menstruation and lack of access to proper sanitation directly inhibit young women from pursuing an education."

"Based on societal ignominy in the developing world, shame surrounding menstruation and its direct barrier to girls education remains a hushed conversation," said Markle.

"As a result, both household dialogue and policy making discussions often leave Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) off the table."

The U.N. grant has allowed MANA to hire staff and they will soon be recruiting seamstresses to join their team.

Pads, sewn by the MANA team in Vaitele, are available in a range of different colours, pretty floral prints, packages containing various sizes for various flows. One package holds three items: a liner, a medium flow pad and an overnighter.

Each is available in moderate or heavy absorbancy. Customers can either mix or match their MANA set.

The company launches their products, pads and silicone 'Masina' menstrual cups with an online marketing campaign via the MANA Care Products Facebook page on Monday, May 28, World Menstrual Hygiene Day. Prices will be published on their business page on launch day.

"Our online shop will cater to our middle to high income women," said Salele-Sefo. "We will also begin having pop-up shops that will focus on low income women. For our education component, we will have doctors to discuss menstrual hygiene...the first period...it is for everyone, even the men."

Plans include expansion to provide MANA Care Products to other Pacific Island nations. Reusable diapers for babies will soon be added to their line of products.

When MANA hits store shelves, the easily identifiable brand will undoubtedly ease the daunting task faced by significant others, the men who often find themselves lost in the feminine hygiene section.

Samoa now has feminine products that literally speak our language.

Happy World Menstrual Hygiene Day!