Accessible and Affordable Sanitation for Women (AASW) was founded in mid 2017 by Ziyaan Virji. AASW‘s goal is to provide reusable pads for females in East Africa who don’t have access to this basic necessity, empowering women to fight for equity in the society today that limits their potential due to natural phenomenons they cannot control, namely the menstrual cycle. Read more about this social enterprise here. Vijana FM asked Ziyaan five questions…
1. How do you define change, and why do you care for it?
To me change is something that everyone has right to, it is in each individual’s hands to take charge of their life and shape it to for the best. Imagine being born in a family under the poverty line, not having proper access to basic needs and living your whole life like that controlled by your financial status. I care for change because I think that these people totally deserve having access to proper access to these fundamental basic needs, they are not privileges but needs. When I say this, I refer to the girls, who don’t have access to menstrual hygiene, they are disregarded in their society and the social stigma that they face has become a custom in the societies that they live in. They have minimal opportunities to make a change in their life and I think that I, being so fortunate to have this opportunity to change the lives of my fellow sisters, it would make a huge difference in the long term.
2. Accessible and Affordable Sanitation for Women does not work alone in the market. How do you differentiate from the competition?
Firstly, AASW is an initiative that was started and that is running by teenagers between the ages of 14 – 17, the individuals in our team in specific is what is unique about us in the market, it is very rare to see a group of youth voluntarily working at such a massive scale to help the community that they live in.
Secondly, the new packages that AASW have recently launched with Tunaweza Women with Disabilities in Mombasa is very unique, hygienic, cost effective and environemental friendly. The package is tested out and consists of essential sanitary materials apart from the reusable pads, including; pairs of underwear, a bar soap and a hand towel. This package costs at an average of 15,000 tsh and could last upto 3 years if maintained well. Our packages are very unique because they are reusable and they could give a girl access to sanitation for the next 3 years, excluding them from serious diseases and allowing them to go to school and carry out their daily activities.
Thirdly, AASW has a very a sustainable model of approach that considers a wide range of factors from a girl’s perspective. When we reach out to our target group, we don’t only distribute our packages, but we also apply a 4 session program. This approach has an education program and a stitching program in which we give our target group a basic reproductive health education (since it’s not part of their curriculum) as well as teaching our target group on how to stitch their own reusable pads. Since this is knowledge, this approach could build a chain of knowledge in which our target group could teach their community and with the spread of knowledge, in the future, AASW could reach its goal to give girl’s throughout in East Africa, access to menstrual hygiene.
Lastly, what differentiates AASW from the market, is the fact that it was founded by a boy, it has a lot of boy’s in the group and it involves the make gender in it’s approach. Females face a lot of social stigma when it comes to menstruation, menstruation in seen as such a taboo in our orthodox society. But who creates all this? It is the male gender. So as we educate boys and inspire the male gender about the menstruation struggle, AASW would gradually cut the social stigma and taboo that surrounds this issue.
3. Where do you see AASW products and services making the most impact in 5 years?
In the next 5 years, I see AASW’s products and services making most impact in the social industry as a cause that gives girl’s access to menstrual hygiene throughout East Africa. My short term goals are mostly focused on our work to be a charity and less as a social entrepreneur mainly by giving these girl’s a short term access as well as teaching them the skill of stitching and reproductive health education and lastly, empowering them to put their skills to work for them to produce more pads, make them get a living out of it which will allow them to have a say and stand head high in the societies that they live in. I see most of the impact happening in Tanzania (especially Mwanza and Dar es Salaam) as well as in Mombasa, Kenya.
4. Most students avoid entrepreneurial activity to focus on their studies. How do you balance your educational and entrepreneurial responsibilities?
A skill that I’ve acquired in my time in school, especially when living away from my family is time management, priority setting as well as the IB Learner profile of being balanced. I set deadlines for myself and give out equitable amount of time for everything. My parents froma very early age thought me the skill f setting priorities and understanding what’s most important in life, I write down my goals, have a timetable and I really try my best to stay principled to them. At this point of time in the world, I don’t think students should use their studies as an excuse to avoid entrepreneurial activities. With the fast moving world, I agree that it’s important to focus on your studies and get a degree, however I think that was sets you apart from other candidates when applying for universities and jobs is what you do on the side. I’m very fortunate that for me, what I do on the side is something I’ve become very passionate about as well as it’s serving the community I live in.
5. What would you recommend to young East Africans?
I would like to advice my fellow East Africans to use their time very effectively, be productive, be grateful for what they have and always give back to the community.
With the rapidly moving change in the world, it is very important to engage in skill- enriching activities apart from schooling. At this point in time, a degree is just a certificate, what sets you apart from others and make you the best candidate for something, is the things that you do on the the side, so be productive and always make most of your time.
My family and my values always teach me to be grateful of the things we have in life. It is the tendency of our generation to keep on complaining and ask for the best of things in life. We are so overwhelmed by all these “new” and “cool” things, but we don’t appreciate the very small things in life, the fact that our parents work so hard to get what we have, the fact that there are people in this world who don’t even have a roof to sleep in and food on their tables. We should be grateful for what we have and appreciate the very small things in life.
Lastly, I’d like to emphasise on the idea of giving back to your community. My school and His Highness the Aga Khan has taught me that it is very important to use the knowledge and the resources that we are individually gifted with and transfer the skills and resources to uplift our fellow brother and sisters in our community that don’t have access to such privileges.
Thanks for your time, Ziyaan! And all the best with AASW.