Sunday, July 10, 2011

East Africa Day 57 (Sat July 9): Tour of Kampala Houses of Worship Part 2 & AFRIpads

I woke up this AM to find that the electricity was still out. I caught up with my journal, and then caught up with Sophia by phone. We made plans to meet at Nakumaatt at 1pm for lunch. I then headed to the city center again on a matatu. The matatu let me out near the Gadaffi (SPELLING????) National Mosque. I had brought clothing to cover my head and pants, and was able to enter the mosque for a few minutes. I don’t know the last time I was in a mosque. It was really interesting. I walked around the grounds for a few minutes – it was very quiet. Then left and hopped on a boda headed to Nakumatt.

I found Sophia at a different coffee shop, where I got to meet AFRIpads’ new hire, Helen who had arrived in Uganda about two weeks ago to handle Sales. Sophia’s partner Pauls was there, too – working on a presentation in preparation for their upcoming trip to Nairobi.

Sophia and I had vegetarian sandwiches and talked about how we both wound up in East Africa, what we are doing, and generally just had a really nice time talking. I have been a fan of AFRIpads since November 2009 when I discovered the venture while researching for another blog post. So it was SO EXCITING to get to meet Sophia, and to hear her story. She is even more amazing than I thought – I was so impressed.
In sum, she’s from Connecticut and went to McGill in Canada. While at McGill studying environmental issues, she spent six months in East Africa with a McGill program. She spent a little bit of that time in Uganda. After college she and Pauls traveled a lot, and then decided to spend a year in Uganda. Through a childhood friend of Pauls', they found a volunteer placement in Masaka, the community AFRIpads currently operates in. Towards the end of the six months, they met another McGill alum who was about to leave Uganda. The woman gave Sophia and Pauls twelve reusable menstrual pads, to distribute to the girls in their community. They started to see the impact that this product was having on the community, and decided to spend their next six months in Uganda developing AFRIpads!

I learned a lot about their business plan, aspirations for AFRIpads, and the challenges that they’ve faced and the ways that they’ve innovated their ways past those challenges. In addition I learned that students who have their periods during exam periods cannot take their exams, meaning that they have to repeat the grade in some cases in order to wait to take the exam again! Currently, AFRIpads seems to distribute most of their pads via NGO’s. They sell the pads in bulk to NGO’s all over Africa, who then provide the pads to African women through the orgs’ own programs. One of those NGO partners is BRAC Uganda, which has many sites all over the country. Each BRAC Uganda office has women from the community who act as door-to-door educators and saleswomen. They visit the homes in their communities and talk to their neighbors about things like AFRIpads. This is obviously a very different way of getting the product out into the marketplace. It reminds me of a video I saw within the last year or so, of D.Light working with Indians who go door-to-door selling the company’s solar lanterns. I think I read that D.Light didn’t always do their sales this way, but that this method is working very well. I’m excited that AFRIpads is following this model, too – I love watching other people innovate for purposes like this! Sophia said that our lunch was one of the first times that she had met someone in person that she had first connected with via social media. LOVE IT! I’m still so amazed that I actually got to meet her – she’s so inspiring! Who would’ve thought that I’d actually get to have lunch with her in Kampala, when I first learned about AFRIpads in November 2009:) We realized that we might be staying at the same Nairobi hotel this coming week, so maybe I’ll get to see them again this summer:)

After lunch I took a boda to the Baha’I Temple on the outskirts of Kampala. I’d heard that the grounds are beautiful, and that it’s one of four Baha’I Temples in the world. How could I miss it?!? It was in a suburban location with a lot of green, perched on the top of a hill. Very beautiful. When I arrived a few wedding parties were leaving the grounds. A caretaker allowed me to enter the Temple. It was very pretty and also beautifully constructed. I then circled the building, looking at the gardens and views.

Fortunately I ran into some other interns who are staying at the hostel, who had hired a matatu to take them to the Temple. They let me jump into the matatu with them. They were so nice, and I had a great time riding back to the hostel with them. Half of the interns are working on their Masters in Public Health in the USA. The other half are med students at Brown and U Mich, working on a HIV-related research project in partnership with the Ministry of Health. Towards the end of our trip, the driver got a little lost. Amazingly I knew where we were, and was able to direct the driver back to the hostel.

Got back to the hostel and found the electricity working, but the internet is intermittent. Caught up on the blog posts. Tomorrow is my last full day in Uganda. So sad – hasn’t set in, yet. I’m going back to Jinja to go White Water Rafting, will catch up with Charlie, Annette and Nikki at Backpackers in Jinja tomorrow night, and then Monday I head back to Nairobi.


  1. Ow i love it i will be there very soon in the Bahai temple specially :) :)

    1. Have a great time, Aly. The temple is quite a bit outside of the city center, and it took a while for the boda boda driver who took me out there, and I to find it. I would try to get a clear description of where it is, before you look for a ride so that you can help with directions if need be.


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