What began with a kitchen blender in a suitcase en route to Rwanda has turned weaving banana fibers into feminine products enabling African women to stay at work and at school. The success of Sustainable Health Enterprises, or SHE, has provided thousands of women and girls with affordable menstrual pads by spinning banana fibers into humanitarian gold.
And, to support the international cause, Bend High School senior Bella Wiener is climbing for this humanitarian effort next summer in an effort to generate awareness and promote SHE by climbing the world's largest freestanding, dormant volcano, Mount Kilimanjaro. And. . .to generate funds and interest in that climb, founder of SHE Elizabeth Scharpf will speak with Wiener this Thursday at 7:30 pm at the Patagonia Store in downtown Bend.
"Bella reached out to us a couple of months ago," says Scharpf. "We've had folks from many states and countries—including the North Pole—support us, but never has someone climbed a mountain," she adds. "We've had roller skating parties, birthday parties thrown on behalf of SHE. People can see their actions making a difference around the world."
It will be the 17-year-old's second visit to Tanzania where the mountain stands stoic in the northeastern part of the country. And the apple does not fall far from the tree—Wiener's mother, Sara, brought her on that first trip while raising money with Bend's nonprofit Nomad Charities to help build an orphanage in Kenya via a similar climbing and trekking feat. The younger Wiener, an avid swimmer, hiker and skier, was only a fifth grader on her first trip and made it three-quarters of the way on the expedition up Kilimanjaro. This trip, she plans to summit.
Wiener first researched SHE through a global health leadership program at Brown University. And through the advice of a friend from Kenya, she learned of the dire necessity for women to have access to feminine products. SHE reports that globally women and girls lose five years of time at work and school due to the lack of access to affordable menstrual pads.
"We picked an issue—your passion—and I knew I wanted to climb Kilimanjaro and I knew I wanted to do a fundraising charity," says Wiener. "I really appreciated [SHE's] work because they really are involved in the communities."
SHE works not only to provide feminine products but to educate, empower and train. Thus far, SHE has taught 600 farmers to extract banana fibers, created 1,200 jobs, and has reached more than 250,000 girls and women.
Scharpf says SHE works as a holistic model incorporating all parts of sustainable health solutions for women. "We cover the system," she says, adding that it is the educational component that really inspires. "Because of our advocacy campaigns and education workshops, we've gotten great response from all different types of stakeholders—moms, dads, teachers, girls, etc."
At 19,340 feet (5,895 meters), summiting Mount Kilimanjaro is no small feat. But Wiener is humble about taking on the trek. "Most people can be successful but you definitely need experience with backpacking and handling altitude," she says. Six others are on board to summit the projected eight-day expedition in mid-June.
"Can a 3-cent maxi pad help change the world?" the organization asks.
The answer: "SHE thinks so."