A Mombasa student is among hundreds of youth globally who have been nominated for this year’s Diana Awards, one of the highest accolades for social action or humanitarian efforts a young person can receive.
Ziyaan Virji, a 17-year-old student at the Aga Khan Academy in Mombasa, was awarded for his project of distributing reusable sanitary towels and creating awareness to end menstrual poverty in different parts of the world.
Speaking during an interview in Mombasa office, Ziyaan said he was honored to be a recipient of this prestigious international award and attributed his success to his family, close friends, mentors and the school.
“It is such an honor for my work to be recognized in the legacy of Princess Diana. I would like to thank everyone who was involved for their continuous support. It shows credibility of my work,”Ziyaan said.
He added that it will give him more exposure and also help him build more network.
The Diana Awards will be celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.
Through an initiative called Affordable and Accessible Sanitation for Women (AASW), Ziyaan aims to create entrepreneurial opportunities to empower girls to access menstrual hygiene.
“In 2017 when I was working on my school personal project I was taken aback to learn that over 500 million girls across the world do not have access to the necessary menstrual health resources they require. Through AASW, I want to change the narrative,” Ziyaan said.
Working with his fellow students aged 13 to 18, Ziyaan has also closely collaborated with a group of women with disabilities called Tunaweza to produce and distribute sanitary packages that are reusable, cost effective and environmentally friendly.
“We produce and distribute reusable sanitary packages and equip girls with the necessary skills to give themselves and their communities access to menstrual hygiene. These packages last for up to three years. They are 100 percent biodegradable and cost between three to five dollars,” Ziyaan added.
The reusable sanitary towels are made from Kitenge (African fabric). A full package comprises of two wings/covers, eight cotton liners, two pairs of underwear, antiseptic soap, hand towel, waterproof bag, a booklet that talks about menstrual health and a calendar. All these come in a small bag.
“So far, we have helped more than 300 girls to acquire access to menstrual hygiene in Kenya, Tanzania, Pakistan, India, Nigeria and the UAE. My aim is to reach out to many girls as possible because periods are a natural phenomenon and the stigma surrounding it should be stopped,” Ziyaan said.
Ziyaan has also taken time to start a conversation with boys about menstrual hygiene which has borne positive results in his school.
“More boys are volunteering in this project. We should be part of the conversation because we have sisters. Also, later in life we will be fathers and our daughters will need us,” he added.
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