Published May 28, 2019
UB students Isabel Hall, Danielle Vasquez and Kelley Mosher expected to win the global finals of the 2018 World’s Challenge Challenge (WCC), an international competition where the winning pitch, which tackles a major global issue, is provided with funding to move forward.
The trio’s idea, dubbed the Flow Project, is a curriculum designed to educate children in low-resource countries on the proper disposal of menstrual waste. With funding obtained from winning the WCC, the students thought the project would not only provide communities in developing countries with menstrual health and waste education, but it would be on the fast track to becoming a non-profit as well.
“The Flow Project is about planning ahead and thinking about the future,” says Hall, who graduated this spring with a bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering. “It’s a waste management curriculum for girls and boys to begin learning about waste infrastructure.”
“There’s plenty of products or organizations that help or donate to girls in developing countries, but people don’t think of where these items go after use,” adds Vasquez, who graduated this spring with master’s degrees in business administration and public health. “These low-developing countries just don’t have the infrastructure in place to accommodate all of these new products, so they get tossed into different open waste sources, get incinerated or contaminate their water systems.
“Our overarching goal is to reduce waste, but we’re specifically targeting girls’ menstrual items because we can also target girls’ education and equity in these developing countries.”
Unfortunately, things didn’t go as planned for the UB team: WCC judges didn’t select the Flow Project as the winner because the team didn’t have any data supporting the effectiveness of the curriculum. The trio also didn’t have enough experience in implementing a curriculum, further hampering their case for the project’s potential success.
The Flow Project was put on the backburner that summer because there wasn’t any funding to move it forward. Mosher had also graduated from UB with her master of urban planning degree, adding to the unlikelihood the project would continue.
Despite the bleak outlook, the project finally caught a break because of its original plan to pilot the curriculum at the Bawaleshie Primary School in Ghana. The school was specifically chosen because Vasquez learned about it during a study abroad program offered by the School of Management.
“I studied abroad in Ghana during my second year of my MBA and that’s where I was introduced to the Bawaleshie Primary School,” Vasquez says. “It’s a very rural and underserved school, and the teachers communicated with me that there isn’t a lot of knowledge surrounding menstrual health.
“Going back to that school in Ghana to pilot this project just made sense and was an easy connection, so I talked to professor Dorothy Siaw-Asamoah, who is actually from Ghana, and she was all for it.”
Coincidentally, Siaw-Asamoah, a clinical assistant professor in the School of Management, had received a generous donation of 200 sustainable menstrual-health kits in fall 2018 from Days for Girls, a non-profit that prepares and distributes sustainable menstrual-health solutions to girls who would otherwise miss school during their monthly periods. This prompted Siaw-Asamoah to reach out to Vasquez and ask if she and her fellow team members wanted to pilot the Flow Project in Ghana during the upcoming winter.
Although Hall and Mosher already had prior commitments and couldn’t go to Ghana, they worked with Vasquez throughout last fall on a pilot curriculum that Vasquez would deliver in Ghana. Hall says they left no stone unturned in the development of the curriculum, and made sure it was as comprehensive as possible.
“There’s a lot of issues that go into this overall problem of menstrual waste,” she says. “We try to break it down into the most comprehensive way for kids to understand this and have the program make an impact. Before they can understand waste, they need to understand materials and how they biodegrade; but before they can understand materials, they need to understand why they’re using these materials and what menstruation is.”
With a curriculum ready to go and plenty of menstrual-health kits to aid in its successful implementation, Vasquez used funding available to her as a Western New York Prosperity Fellow and made the trip to Ghana in January. Over the course of two days, students at Bawaleshie Primary School learned all about menstruation and menstrual waste. Vasquez calls the trip a tremendous success, citing how enthusiastic students were in learning the material and how grateful they were for the menstrual-health kits.
Even though Hall and Vasquez graduated from UB this spring, the Flow Project is here to stay. The School of Management is committed to keeping it alive, and will deliver the curriculum in Ghana again next year with the help of other students. The focus this time around will be gathering data on the project’s effectiveness so that Vasquez, Hall and Mosher — who all will take backseat administrative roles in the project — can continue working toward a goal of someday turning the project into a viable non-profit.
Hall and Vasquez say the entire experience has been a rewarding one because, as Vasquez notes, it will allow more UB students to make an impact in the future.
“The fact that the Flow Project is here to stay is rewarding because more students will be able to contribute to the global good of the world and do something that’s bigger than themselves,” she says.
I am thrilled this project will continue. It will improve the lives of many women and girls in the future!
Sharlynn K Daun-Barnett
Thanks for publishing this story of this great project and the dedicated young women working to solve a serious problem that impacts many girls around the world, as well as the environment we all share. Issues of women's health and quality of life are so often ignored or underrated. I want to applaud and encourage all involved, including the School of Management professor. Thanks and good luck!
Thank you for taking on this very important initiative! So often people are wonderful with helping and giving, but forget about all of the other aspects that are involved. I believe in the power of "each one, reach one" but we need to add "teach one" to the scenario and we will be able to effectively reach so many more. "Each one, reach one and teach one."
Great job and keep moving forward!