Haiti: Sanitary Napkin Project, microenterprise 2013-2016

Editor’s note -This project was conceived originally in 2013. Fund raising and developing the concept took much of 2014 and 2015.  A paper was produced in September, 2014 – key parts are below. The machine was purchased in May, 2016 and was sent to Haiti.


September 16, 2014


Emily O. Smith Kimm, MPH Haiti Mission Co-Leader
St. George’s Episcopal Church Fredericksburg, VA 22401 emilyosmith@gmail.com


In 2011, St. George’s Episcopal Church in Fredericksburg, VA entered into a partnership with the parish Eglise Notre Dame Annonciation in Bolosse, in Port au Prince, Haiti. This partnership is based on a formal agreement between the Dioceses of Virginia and Haiti. The partnership forged between St. George’s and Notre Dame was the first of its kind for both churches and has yielded mutual benefits for both congregations, both tangible and intangible. Among the tangible improvements at Notre Dame: Scholarships for students to Notre Dame’s primary school which includes students’ uniforms and teachers’ salaries, sanitation facility improvement, and a twice yearly medical mission that includes worm prevention/deworming treatment for students and general medical care for the surrounding community. We have a warm and welcoming relationship, both in Haiti as well as the United States. The Notre Dame priest has visited us in the US twice. In the future, we hope to invite women and girls from the church to join us at an upcoming UN Commission for the Status of Women and Girls meeting. It was at this meeting in March 2013 where we first heard of sanitary napkin machines as a means for public health improvement and economic development in developing countries. Our partner’s goals are to establish an enterprise that is compatible to local needs for improving health, expanding employment and economic growth opportunities, and is beneficial to the women in the community. This opportunity seems compatible to these goals.


In partnership with Virginia Tech’s innovATE Program in the Office and International Research, Education and Development and their College of Natural Resources and Environment, St. George’s and, most importantly, Notre Dame, we seek to establish a locally operated sanitary napkin production enterprise. We have found successful examples elsewhere that utilize these easily-stored, easily-operated, and easily-maintained machines. Once we have properly established the viability of the project, we would procure the machines from the manufacturer in India, Jayashree Industriesi.

Once procured, we would provide training on the machines and our Haitian partners would operate the entire business. We have plans to support this enterprise throughout its establishment and afterward as needed. Our goal—and theirs—is to hire women from the area around Notre Dame to operate the machines and run the business, and to sell sanitary napkins to local women and girls. These products would be cheaper than those they have to import from the Dominican Republic and healthier to use than many other makeshift alternatives. Having the church women run the business—a plan heartily supported by the church’s men—will help ensure that the money earned will go to help the woman’s entire family—versus benefitting the male head of the family. There are several examples where donor investment in women yields greater return than investing in their male counterparts.ii

The first step will be to systematically determine the viability of the project before procuring the sanitary napkin machines. This would include developing a master site plan, developing capability in the parish to produce raw materials, training the staff to operate the machinery, conduct the business of the enterprise, and develop long range plans for sustainably obtaining raw materials, marketing the products, and replicating this small scale production in other parts of Haiti. We plan to begin at a modest scale and then expand as milestones of success are achieved. Of immediate interest to the viability of the project is the procurement of raw materials: 1) the machine uses fluff pulp—not wood itself, 2) Haiti may not produce fluff pulp in- country, and 3) Haiti is massively deforested and we are loathe to add to the environmental damage. Our partnership with Virginia Tech will help ensure an environmentally sound approach to procuring fluff pulp for these machines. Their knowledge and expertise can help during the feasibility phase, and will support making this project possible.

Update 2016 Emily Smith

Our original vision was to get the machines to Haiti right away and we have returned to that plan. The challenge was to find a good source of fluff pulp–the raw material the machines use to create the sanitary napkins. Through our consultations with a retired paper company executive (Nan), an agriculture specialist we met through Fanfan (Andrew) and our teams at Virginia Tech, we have researched several options for fluff pulp sourcing and/or production. 

We looked at producing fluff pulp from pine, hemp and sugar cane (this last option at the suggestion of USAID in Port au Prince). We determined that while it is in fact cost prohibitive to produce fluff pulp in-country–and it is not manufactured in Haiti as far as we can tell–we have found a source in the US that is willing to provide it. The company is called McAirlaids. They are located in Virginia and one of our teams went to meet with them. They were very eager to help and even offered to donate the first shipment for free. 

I expressed concern over importing an agricultural good into Haiti and Nan, our expert replied:

“wood products, paper and pulp products are shipped all over the world and generally accepted easily and readily by most nations. …Fluff pulp (in the quantities) you would be needed would not weigh that much, so again I don’t think it is prohibitive to bring it in from other countries. When you are talking about wood products — they range from baseball bats, to brooms to lumber that is needed for building — this is coming in to them I am sure on a daily basis.”

So, the fluff pulp challenge has been solved. 

The concept paper outlined FIRST setting up a viable growth operation (of trees/hemp/sugar cane to make our own fluff pulp) in-country and THEN buying the machines to set up shop. We would have applied to USAID for grant money for the operation and the machines, asking for $100,000. Through all of the above efforts, we now know that such a growth operation isn’t viable, so all the scale up prior to buying the machines has been rendered unnecessary. Now we are free to simply buy the machines, a mere (by comparison) $5,000 which, as you know, we have raised, negating the need for grant money.

The machine was bought by two sources –

St. Peter’s Morristown $3,645.

St. George’s had 2 donations from 2014-2015 of $2,000

Total wire to Jayaashree Industries for $5,645 was done in May, 2016

Notre Dame has earmarked space to run the business on their property and the machines are easily-operated. The in-kind assistance refers to hiring local women to run the machines and the business. The “experienced group” to assist them is us and the resources we can marshal to help provide assistance. The last thing we plan to do is set them up and then back away without continued guidance. (The UN and other agencies have funded countless micro-finance programs and there is a wealth of information out there for how to successfully create and maintain these kinds of businesses. I attended a day-long online meeting coordinated by the UN and Columbia University dedicated to menstrual health projects abroad. It was educational and lead to many ideas and contacts in this growing field.)

Our research–as mentioned above–obviates the need for further feasibility studies. I have been in contact with a Haitian woman who lives in New Jersey about connecting Notre Dame with Haitian organizations to help support our work. She is affiliated with Midwives for Haiti–a group who may be able to provide menstrual education to Notre Dame. (We want a health education piece and this group can provide it in culturally appropriate, accurate terms.) Other training is addressed above.

Lastly, we have conducted studies of market demand already. We surveyed 100+ women and older girls on the May 2015 trip. We found out that the majority of women use sanitary napkins versus other menstrual products. We also learned that these products are extraordinarily expensive. So, there is demand and we can provide a cheaper supply. We also conducted a focus group on the most recent trip (Feb 2016) and got a deeper sense of women’s experience with their menstruation, hygiene habits and interest in learning more. Among other things, they reported re-using disposable products multiple times to save money (an unhealthy practice that can lead to infection) and wanting reproductive health education for themselves as well as girls and boys (yay!). They also wanted more focus groups in the future (works for me!). This conversation further underscores our belief that there is indeed a demand for these products and for helping empower women through education and employment opportunities.