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Published on April 11 2023
Written by: yourafricansafari.com
Vunja Ukimya means break the silence in Swahili
Vunja Ukimya works with girls at primary schools in northern Tanzania
The project helps educate young women on menstruation and it provides reusable pads
Vunja Ukimya is a new Tanzanian nonprofit that was created to educate young women about menstruation and to provide primary schools with reusable pads, so that no girl has to stay home because of her period. It was founded by husband and wife duo, Charles and Leo, who fund the project from profits from their safari company—Safari by Leo. They are committed to working with local schools to help break the stigma and silence regarding menstruation and to help give young women a better chance at attaining a good education. Your African Safari interviewed the couple to learn more about them and about this initiative.
Leokadia Nyangai Bambe, a Tanzanian native, grew up in a rural village not far from Lake Victoria. She is a driven woman who has been challenging conventional standards since her youth. She goes by Leo, a name that is predominantly masculine. As a young lady, like many of her peers, she began working in the tourism industry.
Unlike her female peers, she worked as a safari driver and guide. According to a 2015 report compiled for a UN Conference on Trade and Development, out of 2000 Tanzanian safari guides, 10 were women. Leo worked as a safari guide for some leading adventure brands, which is where she met her husband, Charles, who focused on administration and operations.
In February 2020 Leo and Charles welcomed their first child into the world. In March Covid hit, grinding the entire tourism industry to a screeching halt. The new family soon found themselves without any livelihood. With a new baby to care for and no income, they began thinking of their future. Collectively, they bring over 20 years of experience in the travel and tourism industry and their skillsets are complementary. It was an opportunity to start their own safari company. In 2021, as tourists were slowly but surely making their way back to Tanzania, Safari by Leo was founded.
Charles oversees the cultural excursions, from village tours to exploring the nightlife of Moshi. He also organizes and leads bike tours, which are a great way to interact with locals while getting some exercise. Leo is head safari guide and driver; guests can book her months in advance. As their new venture grew, Leo never forgot about her roots and about the future generations of young women facing the same challenges that she did growing up.
Period poverty is defined as lack of access to menstrual products, hygiene facilities, waste disposal and education (1). More than 70% of the population in eastern and southern Africa lack access to basic sanitation (2). In many countries, including Tanzania, menstruation is surrounded by silence and regarded as a taboo subject. This silence results in a lack of education and resources for women, many of whom know very little about their bodies and what happens to them during menstruation. There is a severe lack of access to proper sanitary materials. Available resources are often too costly, which forces women to use unsanitary options such as leaves, pieces of mattress or used cloth. A study in Kenya revealed that 65% of Kenya women cannot afford the price of sanitary products (3). Due to the shame associated with menstruation, girls often isolate themselves at home during menstruation, missing out on valuable education. As a young women of modest means, Leo experienced first-hand the challenges related to period poverty. For many girls in her class, female hygiene products were not accessible, at home or in public schools. The lack of sanitary napkins meant classes often went unattended during their cycles. Leo was fortunate to have a schoolteacher for a mother. Her mother knew the value of an education and ensured Leo had the sanitary protection needed to ensure she did not have to miss school. Even then, they did not discuss menstruation and Leo had to glean what she could from friends.
Leo is not just a safari driver guide. She is a woman, a daughter, a wife and a mother. She understands the challenges today’s young women are facing and wants to be a driving force in changing how menstruation is currently perceived and handled.
This is why, in 2022, she founded project Vunja Ukimya, which means ‘break the silence’ in Swahili. Leo believes that by providing education on menstruation and the changes that occur during puberty, young women will understand their bodies better and help them to grow healthy and increase their chances of pursuing and realizing their dreams.
Vunja Ukimya is focused on breaking silence and stigma associated with menstruation. The organization works with public primary schools in villages to promote safe menstruation awareness to adolescent girls. They do this by educating them about menstruation and by sharing engaging stories that can be used in peer to peer education. To start the project, they formed girls clubs with a matron teacher. The teacher is provided learning materials by the program and also reusable sanitary pads for the girls. Once educated, the club members can educate other students outside of the club.
The reusable pads are made in Kampala, Uganda by a company called Afripads. The napkins are made from a high tech polyester fabric that allows them to be super absorbent and quick to dry. They offer protection for over 12 months, resulting in significantly less waste than disposable feminine hygiene products.
As of now, the menstrual hygiene management project is underway in three girls’ clubs in northern Tanzania. A primary school in Kilimanjaro Hai district, in the foothills of Mt. Kilimanjaro,a primary school in a Maasai community in Manyara Karatu District, and a primary school in a Hadzabe hunter-gather community in Lake Eyasi. Each club consists of 12 members and one matron teacher. Leo has started with schools that are on or near where the northern safari circuit passes.
Leo and Charles believe the project is part of their social responsibility. It is funded by profits from Safari by Leo, with a portion of every safari booked going towards the project. Safari guests also have the option to visit one of the schools. Depending on the time of the visit, they can meet with one of the girl clubs and get hands-on experience about the project. They can also purchase and donate reusable pads, which are priced at $8 US. To date, Vunja Ukimja has provided 48 pads to three different schools and are aiming to provide 300 by the end of the year.
Charles: I prefer late evening with golden sunset over the horizon
Charles: Honey badger
Leo: Lilac-breasted roller
Charles: Red-eyed dove. Love their call.
Leo: Lion roar
Charles: Elephant trumpeting
We both love to toast another lovely African sunset with non-alcoholic sparkling wine.
Leo: Gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park
Charles: Okavango Delta
Has been on: 15 safaris
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