Maydred Siamuzwe, an accountant with Bostik’s UK team, put a donation box in her workplace cafeteria in December 2019, hoping to gather packets of feminine hygiene products for girls in her hometown near Lusaka, Zambia. Siamuzwe planned to deliver whatever she collected to a small charity-run school for girls when she visited her family for the holidays.
Bostik’s product line includes adhesives for the production of disposable hygiene articles. Many of the company’s employees are familiar with the issue of “period poverty,” which holds many women and girls back from work, school, and other activities of daily life.
“I had relatives who would stay home during their period and not go to school,” said Siamuzwe. “When girls miss five days of school a month, they fall behind. So many drop out.”
The box in Bostik’s UK office filled with donations, and coworkers encouraged Siamuzwe to think bigger. They made connections for her, and they offered to leverage Bostik’s global network to help. A few phone calls turned into multiple discussions and hundreds of logistical emails. Martin Langley, a regional director for Bostik’s global hygiene adhesives business, described Siamuzwe’s efforts to Thomas Hooft at Ontex, an international producer of personal hygiene products and a customer of Bostik.
“I expected a few boxes,” said Langley. “Ontex is known for its generosity, yet we had never explored this kind of collaboration with a customer before.”
Ontex responded with overwhelming generosity. Siamuzwe’s original donation box morphed into a shipping container and then two shipping containers, each filled with 507,000 packets of feminine hygiene products.
“It’s not like Ontex just opened a warehouse and donated the product,” Langley said. “They had to gradually set product aside during their regular production, and they were willing to do so.”
In fact, based on its experience, Ontex took care to set aside product that would be well-suited to the preferences in this region of the world. According to Langley, the project has been particularly gratifying because it started with one employee wanting to do good and has grown due to creativity and collaboration. Ontex took extra steps to ensure the right product was available. Then Bostik leveraged its global supply chain network, covered the shipping costs, and ensured the delivery would reach its destination.
That collaboration is critically important, because ensuring donations go through the right channels and actually make it to the destination is critical. Siamuzwe wrote multiple letters validating the shipment and confirming who will receive and distribute the shipment when it arrives in Zambia.
In a few short weeks, the first container will arrive from the Ontex plant in Belgium to Lusaka, where it will need to be verified as a charitable donation and cleared for distribution. Siamuzwe is busy working with her contacts there on a distribution plan. She has partnered with a small foundation in Lusaka, Divine Missions, founded by Margaret Nhlane.
“Many girls in Zambia are so poor they cannot afford even the basics in feminine hygiene,” Siamuzwe said. “They are vibrant and enthusiastic pupils, but they are missing classes simply because they cannot afford sanitary towels and the fear of staining their clothes is keeping them away. We are using the connections and the experience we have to help. I am so very grateful for my colleagues who have made this happen, and I know the girls who have received the packets are grateful, as well.”