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Period Story Podcast, Episode 19: Amy Peake, I Want More Girls and Women To Rise Up And Realise Their Power

On today’s episode of Period Story podcast, I’m so pleased to share my conversation with Amy Peake, the founder of the charity Loving Humanity, which she founded in 2014 with the aim of helping women in war zones by alleviating the health problems associated with a lack of good quality and affordable menstrual pads. Since then, her work has helped to restore dignity and create social uplift for thousands of women in some of the most war-ravaged parts of the world. And crucially, allowed thousands of menstruating girls who would not normally have access to school to receive an education.

Amy and I had a wonderful conversation about the cultural impact of menstruation, disposable vs reusable menstrual pads, how Amy has been educating herself about her menstrual cycle and hormones and of course, Amy also shared the story of her first period.

Amy shares what made her decide to come off the pill and the changes she’s seen in her body. She says having a period without any pain was a revelation!

Amy talks about the importance of menstrual health education and awareness and the impact this is having on her 3 daughters and also how this extends to Loving Humanity.

We talked about Amy’s charity Loving Humanity and the powerful work it is doing in Iraq, Jordan, Kenya, Uganda and Zimbabwe to make and distribute menstrual pads and nappies to women and girls. Amy shares the story of what inspired her to start this charity and shares some of ways the charity has been able to empower women through employment, menstrual health education and support.

We had a very candid discussion about the impact access to menstrual pads can have on girls and their ability to stay in education. Amy also talked about disposable vs reusable menstrual pads and how access to water and lack of privacy makes reusables mostly a non-starter.

Amy says that she feels passionate about what she does because she wants women and girls to rise up and realise their power

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AMY’S BIO

Amy founded her charity, Loving Humanity in 2014 with the aim of helping women in war zones by alleviating the health problems associated with the lack of good quality and affordable sanitary pads.  Since then, her work has helped to restore dignity and create social uplift for thousands of women in some of the most war ravaged parts of the world, and crucially, allowed thousands of menstruating girls, who would not normally have access to school, to receive an education.

A pilates teacher and mother of three girls, Amy’s mission began when she flew from her home in the UK to the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, 8 km south of the Syrian border, with the plan to provide practical help to the women and children, in the form of babygros, coats, blankets and heaters for schools.

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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Le’Nise: On today’s episode, we have Amy Peake. Amy founded her charity Loving Humanity in 2014 with the aim of helping women in war zones by alleviating the health problems associated with a lack of good quality and affordable sanitary pads. Since then, her work has helped to restore dignity and create social uplift for thousands of women in some of the most war-ravaged parts of the world. And crucially, allowed thousands of menstruating girls who would not normally have access to school to receive an education. Welcome to the show. So, this is a question I start each episode off with, the story of your first period. Can you share with us what happened?

Amy: Yes. I was 12 and I was on holiday with my best friend and I just remember going to the loo and pulling down my pants and seeing a brown stain thinking, oh, my gosh, this is the beginning. But sort of mildly panicked because I was nowhere near my own mother at the time. And I had that embarrassing moment of having to go and speak to her mother, oh, I got her I think, to go and speak to her mother. And she gave me the most enormous sanitary pads you’ve ever seen in your life. And I sort of had to waddle around with this, like, table between my legs. And I had to ring my mother and dad and tell them it was just one of those moments in life you never forget.

Le’Nise: Well, how did your parents react when you phoned them and told them?

Amy: Mum was sweet. She was like, oh, that’s such great news. But that was about it. It wasn’t sort of anything greater than that. And then I had this awful mild panic of, oh, my God, she’s going to tell my dad. And as much as I loved my dad, I felt very private about my body. And I immediately rang her back and said, “Please don’t tell Dad because I feel so embarrassed.” And of course, she went, “Well, I’ve already told him.: I kind of died thinking, oh, my God, everybody knows about my body. Yeah, that was it. That was my memory really, was kind of like excitement and joy to have kind of join the rest of my friends who had already started menstruating. And at the same time, that sort of sudden realisation of embarrassment and not wanting anybody to know and having to sort of talk about big girl stuff when you’re still quite small.

Le’Nise: And so, had you already known about periods? Did you have any education about what was to come when you got your first period?

Amy: Yes, I had two brothers. I didn’t have a sister which didn’t make it any easier. But I was actually at a girls boarding school. So, by the time I got my period, lots of my friends had already got theirs. So, its kind of made it easier. And there was this kind of, you know, a bit of mystery around pads and tampons and stuff like that that I kind of wanted to join in with, I suppose. So, I knew what was coming. I’m sure I had biology lessons around it, but it was more from just being with friends.

Le’Nise: And so, you got your first period and you were on holiday and then when you go went back to boarding school, did you feel like you were part of the club now?

Amy: Totally. Yeah. Like, I was one of the gang and I’d grown up, you know. My middle daughter has, you know, just got her period and it is that whole thing of wanting to be part of something when everybody else is doing it. You want to be, especially when you’re young. And I forget that now, but you know. Yes, definitely.

Le’Nise: If you think back to when you got your period and how much you knew. Do you feel like your daughters are in a different place?

Amy: Yes, I mean, they have so much better education, I think they call it PSHE and they sort of learn about stuff that I learned about now. I’m like, ‘Really? You’re learning about that?!’ And it slightly shocks me. And I sort of think they’re innocent and then I realise that they’re absolutely not. But yeah, I mean, I think life’s just changed so much. I mean, I was talking about this with my husband the other day. I’m gonna be 46 in a couple of weeks. And I mean, in the last 40 years since we were kids, I mean, you know, the Internet, you know, we had calculators but they were, you know, they were relatively kind of new things and they were quite cool and expensive. So, you know, to go from that stage to having the Internet and being able to Google and find out anything, it’s just quite extraordinary.

Le’Nise: When you got your first period and the education that you had going back to school and being part of this club, did you feel equipped to deal with any issues that may have come up? So painful periods or heavy periods?

Amy: I didn’t. It’s difficult, isn’t it? You don’t know how you’re going to be before you get it. We had a like a medical centre we could go to or house mistresses. I, too, had incredibly painful periods. And eventually, at the age of, I think, 17, they put me on a massive, great pain killer and then quite soon after that, they put me on the pill. Knowing what I know now, it wasn’t great. They weren’t great choices. They weren’t the best solutions. But that’s what was available. And there were people there to help. Definitely.

Le’Nise: So, what? When you say knowing what you know now it wasn’t the best solution. What do you mean by that?

Amy: Well, actually, this is only my second month of coming off the pill. I mean, I’ve had three children, so I obviously came off the pills to do those things. But I started not feeling particularly well or something was off. It was my daughters, they started getting really bad period pains and were saying, “Mum, can I go on the pill?’ And they’re like 15, 16, I’m like, no, there has to be a better way. And when I was in my 20s, I love learning. So, I literally remember going to the library in Putney. Going there have to be books out here to explain how I could manage pain without going on the pill. There was not one book. And I felt so sort of surprised that there was such a massive lack of knowledge. And then I found an acupuncturist in Bath where I live. And this gorgeous person said, Oh, well have you read this book? And this is what you need. So, the girls and I have all had acupuncture, which has helped enormously. And then I read Period Repair Manual.

Le’Nise: Yeah, that’s a great book.

Amy: Amazing book. I mean, I’m reading all of this stuff around magnesium and zinc and turmeric and B6 and all this stuff. I used to take B6 and evening primrose, but I swear, last month I had a period without any period pain. I nearly fell off my chair. I was like, ‘why did someone not tell you this 20 years ago?’ And that’s what I mean when you know what I know now, I would not have gotten the pill at the age of 17 if I’d known that I was just short of a few things. I played hockey all the time. So, my body was probably dying for magnesium. And although as much as I was on B6, I wasn’t on zinc, I wasn’t on turmeric, I just wasn’t aware that my body was lacking stuff and there was a way of healing it without taking Western medicine. So, I mean, I feel like I’ve sort of woken up into a new world at the age of 46 just before I go into my menopause which is great, better late than never.

Le’Nise: Was this just two months ago you went to see the acupuncturist and then came off a pill?

Amy: Yeah, I mean, literally it’s all just happening now.

Le’Nise: Oh, wow.

Amy: And what’s really exciting for me is that I wanted to experience Amy without steroids in my body and the fact that when we’re on the pill, we don’t actually bleed. I was on a pill that allowed me to have a withdrawal bleed, but we don’t actually ovulate. I did have a cycle, it was definitely something that I could still feel, but it wasn’t properly me and I wanted to know me before I became older. And that is fascinating.

Le’Nise: What have you discovered about yourself?

Amy: I like myself more. I don’t suffer horrendous sugar cravings that I used to get when I came off the pill or as I was coming off the pill ready to bleed. I just crave sugar like nobody’s business, and I don’t have that. I thought I was some monster. And I realised that it was all just induced by hormones and whatever, you know. And I’m a massive believer in healing and education. And therefore, to be in this age and there not be better solutions, you know, is beyond me.

But the other thing which I’m really passionate about. So, where we are now, I find fascinating and sad in that we’re in a very male dominated or not male, just a masculine energy. This isn’t about men and women. There’s a very masculine energy, very patriarchal society we’re living in. And women, we expect ourselves to be able to keep up with that same energy as men all the time. And so, what I’m really learning by coming off the pill and by practicing menstrual cycle awareness is that if we can allow this feminine energy to rise and for the world to realise that we work in cycles, not at 100 miles an hour all time. I think that when that happens in the world, which won’t be for a while, but when it does happen, I think that the world will come back into balance and that we will actually have a healing of the planet and a transformation which we don’t currently have or even perceive that we could possibly have, apart from a few people who are a little bit more enlightened. But I think that’s what’s wrong. I think that’s what’s missing. Is that this feminine energy isn’t even allowed to rise because women don’t know that we have it. We just sit on it going gosh, we’ve got a period, how annoying, I feel dreadful, blah, blah, blah. Instead of going, oh, oh, thank goodness, I’m going to go off into my little cave and snuggle myself and stay under my duvet and nurture myself and be in touch with the divine and then come out again. And that’s where the magic is and we’re missing it. You know, for me, we’re missing and denying ourselves the power of the feminine. That’s what I’m really loving learning about and realise that in learning about myself more, that that’s the missing ingredient in the planet, in the world, how we’re functioning.

Le’Nise: And you had all of these realisations in the last two months? I just think it’s amazing that you’ve discovered it so quickly.

Amy: Not so much the last two months as in around the feminine energy rising, definitely around the education of the vitamins and minerals that I can take to support myself more than I have been. I suppose, given what I do, I’m a massive champion of women and equality. I suppose more than that reading, I’ve also just read Wild Power, which is a phenomenal book. I think coupled with learning that there are other women out there who have been studying this stuff and have written such eloquent books, kind of goes hand in hand with what I do, which is, for goodness sake, let’s lift women up globally. And so, to get that I’m not actually out on a limb completely by myself and there are actually millions of women who believe the same thing. I’m like, oh thank goodness, I’m quite normal. You know, it’s something around that. Yes, over the last few months, there’s been this huge focusing of that and the focus of goodness me, if women didn’t deny ourselves our cycles and if the whole culture was revolved around acknowledging women and the power and the wisdom that come through menstruating, I mean, crikey, the world would be a different place.

Le’Nise: All of the realisations that you’ve had and the learning that you’ve had around the menstrual cycle, awareness and energy, have you passed that on to your daughters? And are they kind of trying to live that way as well?

Amy: Well, the middle one, who has to have everything really beautiful. So, we have a circle, you know, with a cut out of 30 days and we have to fill in every day how we feel. And so, we can get at this feeling of the winter, the spring and the summer and autumn and that sort of thing. And she likes it to be so beautiful and so she hasn’t put enough time aside for it to be beautiful enough. So, I’m just putting it in front of her and doing it. The old one just doesn’t want to know. She thinks I’m completely cuckoo and I need to get back in my box. But I’m working on it! Having said that, when I took them both to the acupuncturist, you know, when you start understanding that there’s another world of healing and transformations, empowerment, all of that stuff that’s out there. You know, Lily, who’s 16, was listening with open ears going, “Oh, my gosh, Mum, I didn’t know you knew this stuff” and I’m like, well, you know, I’m 46, maybe I know some stuff. I think it was exciting for her and mind opening, you know, to hear about a different way of looking after yourself and the energy exists. And it’s not just put a pill in your mouth and the problem will go away. It’s how do we best live with ourselves and evolve. And that was really exciting to share with her, really exciting. 

Le’Nise: And what sort of changes have you made to the way that you eat in order to facilitate all of the coming off of the pill and the reduction of the period pains?

Amy: Well, this one’s been a bit of a kind of a struggle for the last 20 odd years. I used to be a personal trainer and a Pilates teacher. So very early on I understood I couldn’t drink alcohol and get up very early in the morning and run with people. So that was just tough. But as I got older and sort of supposedly grown up and you go out to dinner parties or you go out with your friends, I just realised, and I learned the hard way that alcohol kills me, and it makes my cycle worse. It sends me on a binge cycle of eating loads of bad food. And so, since January, I haven’t had a drop of alcohol. I didn’t drink that much anyway, but it was kind of like, how can I live my best life? And it would definitely without alcohol. And equally, I have the same relationship with sugar. So, I really try not to eat it. When I do, I’m afraid it’s my Achilles heel, it’s just like my drug. So, I try not to go there and when I do, I just forgive myself. You know, going off around the mountains, up and down the hills.

The other thing that’s happened, which is really funny and amazing, is that my middle daughter, Amber, has just declared that she’s vegan. She watched one of these films about animal treatment and just went, that’s it, never again. And she was a complete chicken fajita fan so for this girl to say she’s going vegan is like almost like an earthquake. And so, as a result, we’ve all just embraced cooking vegan food. And so, we just live on a huge amount of vegetables and pulses and all the really, really good stuff. And we’re all feeling amazing. And even my husband, who’s longing for that kind of food as well, has embraced it. I mean, not totally, I have a third daughter and she still eat meat. So, yeah, I really, I’m totally aware of how food and my body either makes it or breaks it every month, without question.

Le’Nise: You’ve learned so much and you’ve done so much in the past, we’re only in April. It’s like we’re only April, it feels like so much in like globally has happened in 2020 already. And you’ve had so many amazing changes happen to you. You have three daughters and they’re kind of slowly learning this stuff in their own way, some are embracing it, some aren’t. I wonder how does all of this translate into the work that you do? So, your charity. Can you talk a little bit about the charity and then perhaps how all of the learning that you’ve done have has changed the work that you’ve done or changed maybe any perspective on your work?

Amy: Wow. So, in a nutshell, if I talk about Loving Humanity so everybody understands. In 2014, I was sitting in my doctor’s surgery and saw the most horrific photograph of 18,000 people queuing for bread in Damascus. And in the foreground of the picture was a woman. And I thought, ‘oh, my goodness me what if that was me? And how do women cope? Being mothers, carers, women in war zones. I mean, how do you cope?’ In this picture the street was completely bombed out. There were no shops. I mean after you’ve had a baby, you’ve just got to know where the nearest toilet is. And I was like, oh, my God. When I go to the loo, you know, it was kind of basic. And that’s when I started on this journey of trying to import a local sanitary pad machine from India into Jordan, and we set up a sanitary pad factory and a washable nappy factory in the camp because I learned about a huge problem of incontinence with traumatised kids who were bedwetting.

So, we set up this factory. We employed 30 of the most vulnerable women in the camp. And it was absolutely the most incredible thing ever and really inspiring for me to be so uplifted by women who had lost everything and to see how they coped with life. You know, I was thinking this thing is going to last forever, and as it turned out, due to politics, we had to close that factory and move out to the capital city, Amman. And now we have a factory there that makes washable nappies and basically, we make them for the new-borns but also primarily for people suffering with disability and or old age. And we employ eight Iraqis who fled from Mosul from ISIS. And we also, in the meantime, developed our own machine because the Indian solution wasn’t quite an off the peg solution. And we set up our first factory with partners in Kibera, the largest slum in Nairobi. And there our partners give away the pads there for free and they help out a thousand girls every month to stay in school. And it’s you know, I’m constantly amazed and uplifted by meeting these incredible people who have nothing. And, you know, here we have everything and not very much spiritually, you know, on another level.

So how does my learning affect my work now? I think I feel even more passionate about helping women to stay in education. I don’t see how this transformation; this shift can happen on our planet until women are educated. And it is so shocking to me that these poor girls and women are unable to just go to school. And part of that problem is the lack of access to pads. And on top of that, they have their domestic chores that they have to be kept at home with, their whole culture’s different. But to have that right taken away from you, to have the possibility or that potential taken away from you as a young person? I mean, UNICEF apparently wrote an article saying that 65% of girls in Kenya traded sex for pads. And someone called them on it saying, well, can you prove that? Well, no, we can’t prove that. So, they said, well, actually, 10%. But the point is that there’s a huge practice in trading sex for sanitary pads in the slums and in poor cultures. And that’s just unacceptable. And so when I have the good grace to recognise how unbelievably fortunate I am and to have all this knowledge at my fingertips and the money to then act on it, I just you know, it makes my heart bleed that other people, other girls, other women, even in my own country can’t access or have this opportunity to learn and to grow and that’s where the planet’s going to change. I feel more passionate about what I do because I want more girls and more women to rise up and to realise their power. And for men to recognise it in their societies and in our society. I mean, even now, we don’t have equal pay and I work with a fabulous woman who’s constantly quoting Invisible Women, saying, well, you know, women aren’t recognised in data collection, so how on earth can we have a world that’s designed for us? So, yeah, I feel more passionate as time goes by about helping and lifting up more women.

Le’Nise: What countries do operate in? You mentioned Jordan. You mentioned Kenya.

Amy: So, we’re in Jordan and Kenya right now. We have a factory which is just crossing the Iraqi border now. And we’re going into an internally displaced camp in Iraq where there are 5,000 people and currently there’s no distribution of pads. So, we’re doing a project there with Oxfam. Basically, I was due to go to Iraq at the end of March but because of the virus that was stopped. We’ve also got work in Uganda and Zimbabwe, but we’re really working on trying to make connections with governments to facilitate tax exemptions because as soon as we have to pay tax and it starts making the whole thing financially not viable and tricky.

Le’Nise: So, when you started the project in these countries, have you had to overcome any cultural assumptions or barriers regarding the importance of menstruation and the importance of getting the sanitary products to these women?

Amy: That’s a good question. The answer is no. It’s really strange. In the Middle East, you know, men and women are very separate, and they live their lives very separately. You know, even at weddings, women dance together, and the men aren’t there, and the men are elsewhere, it’s a very unusual society for us, a very unusual culture for us. And even though there’s a lot of shame around menstruation, shame as in it’s not talked about. There is a massive recognition by men that women menstruate, and men know that it exists. And actually, they facilitated the opening of the factory in the refugee camp because the men were in charge. The fact that they had a white British woman walking around saying, I want to open a sanitary pad factory, they just went, oh, OK. They were amazing, the men were amazing. I suppose when I come along and say, well, you know, this is an issue and we need to sort this out. They go, ‘Yeah, of course we do.’ And since working in Jordan, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees who run the camp and who I worked with, they then started going on courses around menstruation, you know, so it’s kind of like just from a little beginning, lots of things happen.

And the same in Kenya. You know, everybody knows it happens. The fact that it’s not on the curriculum, but it’s against the law to talk about it I think even in schools, you know, it’s kind of crazy, like how can that not be on the curriculum? Everybody knows what goes on, no one’s ever blocked it. And now we’re talking with the Ministry of Health in Kenya, they support our work. And we’ve just partnered with Wash Alliance Kenya. And these are men. You know, these aren’t women. These are men and they’re wonderful. They’re doing great, great work. So, it has to be recognised, a lot of the time, women presume that men are an obstacle in this journey and it’s so not the case. It’s very, very touching that men want to provide for women. The fact that it’s not talked about and culturally not accepted is a different thing. So, I’ve been very uplifted by the support that I’ve had. Obviously, it would be you know, I wouldn’t be doing what I do if it wasn’t a problem and if it wasn’t, except to say it’s kind of a weird one, but it’s kind of everybody knows what’s going on, no one is just talking about it.

Le’Nise: And are the pads that you make, are they reusable or are they disposable pads?

Amy: Well, in Jordan and in Kenya, when we started, they’re disposable, because in certain situations there’s such a massive lack of privacy that a woman would never hang up a pad to dry. She would rather die herself than go, oh, my goodness, I menstruate. You know, they just wouldn’t do that. So, we did research doing washable pads in the camp and the women just went, we won’t use them. And the same in the slum. But having said that, now that the nappy factory moved out of the refugee camp in Jordan into the city, there’s a lot of research saying that 19 out of 20 women would use washable pads because they have more privacy and they also have running water. In the slum, they don’t even have clean water to drink. So, you know, to use water to wash something is sort of a luxury, really, you know. Which is why the virus is posing such a problem in the slum and people are desperately trying to set up handwashing stations and stuff like this.

So, you know, it’s very difficult. And it’s something that I find quite challenging when I talk to people or when people ask me, actually, because sometimes quite aggressively: “Why aren’t your products more environmentally friendly or sustainable? ‘The answer is because some situations it just isn’t appropriate. Or when you have millions and millions and millions of girls needing help, you would have to produce millions and millions of washable pads at great expense and distribute those. So really, my aim is to, first of all, get pads on girls, get them into school, let’s educate everybody and let’s find some fabulous solutions to solve the problems that we’re also creating at the same time environmentally in the world and the way that we live.

I do have quite staggering conversations with usually white middle class women saying, well, that’s absolutely appalling, you know, how can you put something else into the environment which is going to make it worse? Like, well, are you saying that these poor girls shouldn’t have access to education? Because that’s what you’re saying. There isn’t really another alternative which is suitable. I mean, a moon cup, for instance, you know, sounds great and for a lot of girls, they’re very uncomfortable, difficult to insert, they just too much for the mental stage of development. And also, when you go to the toilets in the slum, which are very far and few between, you know, in the school I visited, there’s a hundred kids using three toilets and there’s a pile of poo in each toilet and they flush it with a bucket of water three times a day. Well, if you were to take a cup and empty blood onto that, I mean, you just would not, you just wouldn’t do it. And so, you know, some of the solutions that we have in our culture and our society are fabulous. But we have to remember that when we’re working in places where there’s no running water, where there’s no privacy, you know, then we have to alter what’s possible.

Having said that, when we hopefully one says something to drop a huge pile of gold in our lab, we can actually turn our raw materials over to biodegradable ones. We’re doing a costing exercise at the moment to do that. But it will cost about three times as much to produce a more positive pad than it would do to the one that we have now. So, again, it’s a financial thing. And it’s because the commercial industry in our world hasn’t gone over that tipping point of women absolutely insisting that what we buy is biodegradable.

Le’Nise: Can you talk a little bit about some of the success stories that have come out of the incredible work that you’re doing?

Amy: Gosh, well, on the on the face of it, like just the top line, a thousand girls a month are being helped in the slum which is fabulous. In Jordan last year, we made and distributed over 4,000 nappies. So, the top line is that, you know, the work’s getting done. Eventually we’re really having the impact we want. We, as a result of the factory in the slum, employ five women. In Jordan, we employ eight women. So not only are we helping people with the products, we’re giving jobs and for the people who we give jobs to, they’re able to support their families better. We’re distributing products. We’re creating jobs. I was just saying that I didn’t have any idea that what I set out to do would impact people financially. When we left the refugee camp, the Norwegian Refugee Council, who we were working with, did a monitoring and evaluation report and the people who received and used our nappies saved 25% of their monthly income. Which is huge. So, I had no idea that that would happen. So that was exciting, I mean, you know, 25% is huge amount of money, isn’t it?

And then on the other level, the success for me is in the small things that happens. And I suppose in the camp, one of the lovely things that happened is that in a refugee camp, this may be some kind of presumption that people will just kind of know each other. And that’s not the case, obviously. One day I was working in the factory with the women and I said, “Do you see each other outside of work?” And they said, “You, you know, actually every Saturday night we get together in each other’s tent and we have a coffee and, you know, we’ve become each other’s support network.” And I’m like, oh, how amazing and how touching. And then at another moment, I was working in the church after we moved out of the camp, we were in the compound of a church now. And the women in the refugee camp were Muslim and from Syria. And the women in the church where we work are from Iraq and they’re Christian. So, it was fascinating for me to work with two Middle Eastern cultures, one be Muslim, and one be Christian. And the Muslim ladies were terrified of coming down to the church saying, “Amy, I can’t go into the church, it’s against my beliefs, I’m really terrified,” I said, “Darling, don’t worry, I’ll look after you, the factory is just in a room next door to the church, you don’t have to go to church, everything will be fine.” And so, they come down and we have the Christians and Muslims working together and they were being really funny going, “Oh, I’m better, she’s not very good.” And, you know, ten minutes later, they’re like best mates making nappies and it’s all peace and love. And then it gets to lunchtime. And I suddenly realised that I’m supposed to provide lunch because nobody else is there and whatever. So, I go out with my interpreter. We go and buy some chicken and rice and come back to church. And there’s a cutting table which hasn’t quite made it into the factory sitting in the middle of this compound, this church. And so, there we are, there’s about ten of us standing around this table and one of the ladies lifting up her hijab and eating her chicken and rice very gracefully. And another of the ladies who is Christian turns around me, she says, “Amy, isn’t it crazy that you have to come all the way from the UK to make us friends?” And you’re like, oh, I think I’m, you know, cry ready to get home now. The whole point is that we’re the same and we get so confused by what we look like or by what we believe. And if you have a little magical moment of some people realising in the midst of war, I mean, the interpreter who works for us, his brother was shot by a Muslim in Iraq because he had a cross hanging from his car mirror, you know, he literally walked up to the car window and shot him. And so, these are people who’ve expressed such enormous loss and tragedy and war. So, for me to say, oh, the Christian and Muslim making friends isn’t that lovely, I’m like, it’s amazing when people can set aside what they’ve lost to see the humanity in each other. And that’s just so wonderful and so sad that we can’t see that automatically in each other immediately. Does that make sense?

Le’Nise: Yeah, absolutely. Can you talk a little bit about what’s coming up? I know everything’s on hold at the moment because of Coronavirus, but post Corona, talk about what’s coming up next for you. You said you’re expanding into Zimbabwe and Uganda. What your plans are if you can share any of that?

Amy: Yeah. The first thing will be, I’ll go to Iraq to set up a factory there. The thing that’s going to happen at the same time as that, is that we’re shipping three factories to Kenya, actually two. I beg your pardon. One of them is going to a project north of Nairobi where this amazing Englishman called David Baldwin supports a parish. And the organisation that he runs feeds fifteen hundred kids a day. And they’ve set up the most amazing project, a residential project for girls to go off and spend time for a week with each other instead of being cut. He does amazing work and we’ve really struggled to get tax exemptions into Kenya, but now we’re working alongside the government so it’s all going to happen, so that’s so exciting. Also, at the end of last year, we partnered with the PAD Project, which is an amazing American teacher who made a film about one of these Indian factories, and they filmed the fact that the village before the factory arrived and after and the impact of it and she got an Oscar. Melissa Burton got an Oscar for this. And we’ve partnered because as a result of their work, they’re looking for factories to put into places and ours is very simple and does what it says on the tin. So, we’re working with them, we’re sending them a factory in Kenya and we’re also sending raw materials to resupply the current factory.

I’m also trying to get hold of people in high places in Uganda to get tax exemptions there where we’ve also with the PAD project, got some other factories going in. We’ve got two factories wanting to get into Uganda. And for ages, again, same with Zimbabwe. We’re trying to get tax exemptions into Zimbabwe so we can send a factory there. But basically, the plan from now on is to set up hubs in these countries to send three factories at a time so that the logistical costs of shipping and set up are much, much cheaper for everybody. And we’ll take care of those logistics to enable in-country partners to set up factories more easily without having to deal with that logistics.

Le’Nise: And if someone is listening and they are really connecting with your work, how can people support what you do?

Amy: There’s a few things. One of them would be if you have amazing skills that are transferable to a charity then do get in touch, particularly fundraising, if you have fundraising skills that be cool. The other thing that we set up is called the Heart of Loving Humanity. And the Heart is a group of people who give £5 or more a month and £5 a month translates to keeping 10 girls in school a month. And that’s our lifeline at the moment. And if you’re wealthier than that and you want to give us a lovely big present, then that’s amazing and you can find our details on our website. 

Le’Nise: I think what you’re doing is so amazing and what you said about the cultural perspective around menstruation, but also reusable versus disposable pads and thinking about what these girls and women actually need in the environment they’re in is really important because I think that people do get quite single-minded about, OK, there has to be reusable. We have to think about the environment, but it also has to be practical for these girls and these women, so they don’t put themselves in danger trying to just do the best for their menstrual needs.

Amy: Yeah. And you know what? I’m really passionate about the environment. I mean, it’s so sad what we’ve done collectively. It’s so sad. But our behaviour shouldn’t be translated in not allowing other people who are a lot poorer than us to have access to the things that they need just to maintain their dignity. I mean, in the slum, the girls cut up their mattresses, that’s how they manage their periods. So, you know, it’s kind of like, really, are you going to start stamping your feet about some sanitary pads? You know, one of the things that we’re aiming to do when we’re more in charge of these projects is to put incinerators into the schools so that the girls can automatically take care of their own waste. So at least our bubble of the little world that we’re providing pads to will be sustainable in that sense that we won’t be adding to more, you know, mess everywhere. But, yeah, I mean, we’re so lucky, you know, we’re just so lucky.

And you know, going to Kenya was possibly the most upsetting thing I’ve had to deal with. And the reason we’re working there is because an Australian team of people made a film about an Australian woman who was gang raped in Nairobi, a humanitarian aid worker and instead of going back to Australia, she took her rape case through the courts, and it took her eight years. It was the first rape case that was heard, and they changed the rape law as a result. The filmmakers who made this story when they were filming learned about the girls not going to school because of lack of pads. And they were, Lois Harris, who funded the project. She was having a meeting with the heads of the villages, the women heads of the villages in the slum. So, there were 20 women in the room. And she said, could you please put up your hand if your first sexual experience was consensual? And one woman put up her hand. They are living in such a different world and occasionally I watch films about the girls in Kibera being filmed. And they talk about, you know, we have lots of things to deal with, we have lots of challenges. Oh, my gosh. do they, you know, rape is a normal thing. I mean, how could you possibly say that it’s, you know, physical abuse and threat and, you know, trading sex for pads, these girls are offered 50p for sex regularly by their peers. You know, by boys. And, you know, the violence against women is awful. If you become a widow in Kenya, it’s completely acceptable that you’re gang raped by the rest of the men in the village. You know, these of these are conversations I’ve had with women who go through this. And so, we can’t even begin really to understand. And when I came home, it took me about three weeks to process really the horrible things I’ve seen and the reality of it. So I really wish that women here would just take a moment to fully acknowledge how lucky we are and to realise that the shift in the planet and all the environmental changes, everything that we’re wanting to see will not happen until we lift the whole of the planet up. I believe that, you know, I don’t think I’m crazy. I think we’re not treating each other right. We’re not kind to each other and we don’t respect each other and we’re not kind to the planet and we don’t respect it. And when we do look after each other and love each other, we’ll change overnight.

Le’Nise: If someone listening to this and you want them to take one thing from all of the amazing things you’ve said, what would you want that to be?

Amy: I would love it for women and men to know that they are unbelievably powerful and that they can be the change that they want to see in the world.

Le’Nise: Amazing, how can people get in touch with you?

Amy: My telephone numbers on our website, which is lovinghumanity.org.uk. My email address is there, if I don’t respond, for goodness sake keep at me, I’m best on WhatsApp so if you take that telephone number and put it into WhatsApp, I’m really easy to get a hold of. And if you’re studying, you want to talk about it, you want to know about period poverty, anything, I’m really available. And, you know, I love what I do. And a love the people who I meet through what I do. I actually often say to people, I feel a little bit like I’m in a Harry Potter movie and I’m the person in Hogwarts, because I go around the world meeting people who are changing the planet and who are showing so much love. And so, yeah, you can be absolutely the change you want to see in the world. I think Gandhi hit the nail on the head. Be the change in the world you want to see. And to love each other.

Le’Nise: Thank you so much for coming on the show, it’s been so amazing to speak to you.

Amy: I really enjoyed myself. Thanks for having me.

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