Aga Khan Academy Mombasa has over the years been receiving accolades for developing positive changes and curriculum that supports community sensitive change. This has over the years been recognized by the local and international organization especially with its students being change-makers in different organizations across the globe.
Recently, Ziyaan Virji, 17, a student at the Aga Khan Academy in Mombasa, was rewarded with The Diana Award for going above and beyond his everyday life to create and sustain positive change. The Diana Award, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, is considered one of the highest accolades for social action or humanitarian efforts that a young person can receive.
In 2017, whilst working on his ”Personal Project” – an in-depth research-based project – for his International Baccalaureate studies at the Academy, Ziyaan was surprised to learn that 500 million girls across the world do not have access to the necessary menstrual health resources they require. To ensure the sustainability of this project beyond academics, he launched Affordable and Accessible Sanitation for Women (AASW).
AASW is a voluntary youth initiative that is comprised of high school students between the ages of 13-18 and runs with support from staff at the Academy. They work with local organizations to produce and distribute reusable sanitary packages and equip girls with the necessary skills to give themselves and their communities access to menstrual hygiene.
AASW has been working in close collaboration with community partners Tunaweza Women with Disabilities, to produce and distribute sanitary packages that are washable (therefore reusable), cost-effective, environmentally friendly and embarrassment-free. These packages last for up to 3 years, are 100% biodegradable and cost between $3 to $5.
Additionally, the pads are made from colorful African fabric (leso/kitenge) with a removable felt lining, so they don’t look like a typical menstruation product. In the longer term, AASW aims to create entrepreneurial opportunities to empower girls to take themselves out of the vicious poverty and help the rest of their community to access menstrual hygiene.
Ziyaan believes that “period poverty” should be a fight that all of humanity takes on because as he articulated, “no one would be alive if not for the reproductive cycle”. The initiative also provides educational sessions for both boys and girls in order to break the social stigma surrounding menstruation.
They have been hosting such events both at the Academy and at Unity School in Bombolulu, which is their main partner school. AASW also hosts sessions between the women at Tunaweza and the girls at Unity School so they can learn how to stitch their own reusable pads so that they can be empowered to support other young women and girls in the community, while also providing an entrepreneurial avenue.
Since its inception, AASW has helped almost 300 girls to acquire access to menstrual hygiene across six different countries, namely; Kenya, Tanzania, Pakistan, India, Nigeria, and the UAE. In the next 12 months, AASW aims to continue expanding to provide over 1,000 girls with access to sanitation. This reach is due to ongoing fundraising and events.
Upon receiving the award, Ziyaan said, “I am truly honored to be a recipient of this prestigious International Award and to be recognized for my work in the legacy of Princess Diana. I would like to thank my family, my close friends, my mentors and most importantly my school for their continuous support and guidance in helping me find and achieve my purpose: to help give girls access to menstrual hygiene around the world.”
Ziyaan is a student of the Aga Khan Academy Mombasa, where he is now in his final year of the International Baccalaureate Diploma program.
Pluralism, Ethics and Civil Society are some of the unique elements woven into the Academies’ curriculum, which is designed to develop the skills and dispositions necessary for students to become the leaders of tomorrow. Through this enhanced curriculum, students develop an attitude of global citizenship and a desire to improve the quality of life of people amongst whom they live.
The Aga Khan Academy, Mombasa, a programme of the Aga Khan Development Network, is the first of a network of 18 planned academies to be established across Africa, Europe, South and Central Asia, and the Middle East. Each is designed to provide a world-class education to exceptional students who possess strong leadership potential.