A 24- year- old Welling­to­nian is work­ing hard to help the girls

SIX MONTHS’ VOL­UN­TEER­ING ABROAD IN­SPIRED A 24-YEAR-OLD WELLING­TO­NIAN TO LOOK FOR A SUS­TAIN­ABLE AND ECO­NOM­I­CAL SO­LU­TION TO A WORLD­WIDE PROB­LEM – AND TO IM­PLE­MENT IT ON HER UNI­VER­SITY CAM­PUS

NZ Life & Leisure - - Contents - WORDS MIKAE LA WILKES

WHEN HER FIRST year of re­li­gious stud­ies at Otago Uni­ver­sity left then 19-year-old Olie Body burned out, she joined Lat­ti­tude Global Vol­un­teer­ing to teach in a tiny vil­lage in the foothills of the Hi­malayas for six months.

Be­fore de­part­ing for In­dia, Olie was shocked to learn that many girls in the area of­ten left school be­cause they lacked ac­cess to men­strual prod­ucts. So she took with her a large num­ber of re­us­able pads (made by the non-profit Days For Girls). “There were tears when the girls in my vil­lage re­al­ized what those kits of soft-flan­nel, wash­able and re­us­able un­der­wear lin­ers meant to them. Be­fore, many girls’ op­tions were to use rags, card­board or dried leaves or noth­ing.”

In­ter­na­tional char­ity Days for Girls es­ti­mates that 113 mil­lion girls in In­dia miss school every month be­cause they don’t have men­strual prod­ucts, and oth­ers drop out.

While this opened Olie’s eyes to the ef­fects of pe­riod poverty in In­dia, on her re­turn to New Zealand (be­gin­ning a com­mu­ni­ca­tions de­gree at Massey Uni­ver­sity Welling­ton), she re­al­ized it is also hap­pen­ing here.

The reg­u­lar dis­tri­bu­tion of free con­doms on cam­pus made her think: “Hang on. Why isn’t there a bowl of free tam­pons? Sex is a choice, but hav­ing a pe­riod isn’t.” She sur­veyed Welling­ton’s fe­male uni­ver­sity stu­dents and found one-third had missed classes be­cause they didn’t have ac­cess to men­strual prod­ucts.

In ad­di­tion to the high mon­e­tary cost, Olie was con­cerned at the en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact of the 367 mil­lion tam­pons and pads head­ing to lo­cal land­fills each year. “Every dis­pos­able costs money to pro­duce, costs the user to pur­chase, lasts four to eight hours and ends up at the land­fill where they don’t de­com­pose for up to 500 years.” Ini­tially, Olie tried to get sub­si­dies for stu­dents’ tam­pons and pads (es­ti­mated to cost $80 to $300 per woman each year).

In her re­search, she dis­cov­ered an al­ter­na­tive — a men­strual cup. The ver­sion Olie and Wā Col­lec­tive man­u­fac­tur­ers have de­vel­oped, called the Wā Cup, is worn in­ter­nally and pro­duced from med­i­cal-grade sil­i­cone. It is eth­i­cally made, zero-waste pro­duced (there are no byprod­ucts af­ter cre­ation), has com­plete ma­te­rial trace­abil­ity and lasts for about 10 years. Over its life­time, it will save its user $2000 and prevent 2500 dis­pos­ables from go­ing to land­fill. The Wā Cup’s pack­ag­ing is New Zealand-de­signed and sourced and is com­postable. The cup, which went through 15 de­sign it­er­a­tions, is man­u­fac­tured in the United States.

Olie laughs about con­cerns they might be dif­fi­cult to use. “It’s sim­ple. The cup folds to the same size as a tam­pon, pops right in and holds three times more than a tam­pon. They are ef­fec­tive for 12 hours.” A 2011 study (re­ported in Cana­dian

Fam­ily Physi­cian) showed 91 per cent of women who tri­aled cups con­tin­ued to use and rec­om­mended them.

How­ever, at $50 to $80 each, a cup can be too ex­pen­sive for most stu­dents. The Wā Col­lec­tive was born as a so­cial en­ter­prise to help sub­si­dize stu­dents into a cup. “It is an op­er­a­tion with the heart of a char­ity, but the mind of a busi­ness,” says Olie. “Prof­its go into de­liv­er­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal and so­cial good – sub­si­dized cups for stu­dents in need.” Non-stu­dents buy­ing the Wā Cups pay $49, stu­dents $15. Nine uni­ver­sity stu­dent as­so­ci­a­tions and two health col­lec­tives dis­trib­ute them na­tion­wide.

Olie, a farm girl from Can­ter­bury, grad­u­ated last year and now is run­ning Wā full-time with five vol­un­teers. “I never ex­pected that my pas­sion project would turn into run­ning my own so­cial en­ter­prise right out of uni­ver­sity.” In May 2017 the busi­ness was of­fi­cially regis­tered and, af­ter just eight months of fully fledged op­er­a­tion, has sold enough cups to prevent 530,000 dis­pos­able prod­ucts from en­ter­ing land­fills and in the next year will save users a com­bined $180,000.

Wā Col­lec­tive has been nom­i­nated as a fi­nal­ist in the Sus­tain­able Busi­ness Awards, as a Deloitte Fast 50 Ris­ing Star and Olie has also been nom­i­nated as a So­cial Change fi­nal­ist in the Mis­sFQ 2018 In­flu­encer Awards. “To be rec­og­nized for both key as­pects of what we’re do­ing in such a short space of time is hum­bling.” Wā Col­lec­tive is pre­sent­ing to in­ter­me­di­ate and sec­ondary schools next. “If we can nor­mal­ize a cup at a young age, be­havioural change can hap­pen. Then we have a sus­tain­able so­lu­tion.”

There’s noth­ing new about men­strual cups. They were first patented in the 1930s by Amer­i­can movie ac­tress Leona Chalmers who wanted to avoid wear­ing bulky, and ob­vi­ous pads when work­ing in white, body-hug­ging dresses. How­ever, a wartime rub­ber short­age meant they were never man­u­fac­tured.To find out more, or to join the Wā Col­lec­tive move­ment, visit wa­col­lec­tive.org.nz or help Days for Girls by do­nat­ing at daysfor­girls.org/ new-zealand

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