Model and entrepreneur Flaviana Matata, who was born and raised in Tanzania, knows firsthand the hardships young women face when it comes to seeking education and understanding about periods in her native country. In an effort to end period poverty on her home turf, the model decided to put her philanthropic spirit to work. She tells The Daily how and why she’s helping young women and raising awareness.
You grew up in a region in Tanzania where only 17% of girls were enrolled in school. What was it like to grow up in an environment where female education was deemed less important?
I understood early on that every girl wasn’t able to attend school as I was. However, because it was the norm in my household and community, it was simply the expectation. To whom much is given, much is required. I continue to take my understanding that everyone isn’t as fortunate and use it to empower women, not only through educational opportunities, but economic ones as well.
What inspired you to launch the Flaviana Matata Foundation (FMF)?
We were raised to see a problem and (if you were in a position to do so), solve it. We were created to bless another with the gifts we have been given. At the heart of the foundation is opportunity through education. Education changed my life. I began the foundation with the desire to help provide other girls in Tanzania the same life-changing opportunity. No one should be denied the basic right to learn in a safe, clean, and proper environment. Youth are the ones who will lead us. That means it’s necessary for us to ensure they are properly prepared for it. To date, we have provided 25 girls with full scholarships. This includes school fees, uniforms, school supplies, and up-keepings, and we continue to support them through college. We have also impacted over 5,000 youth under our school supplies program, and proper educational facilities through the building of latrines, water wells, classrooms, teachers’ housing, and administration facilities. And even through the COVID-19 pandemic, we are still working to ensure they’re equipped with the tools and resources to overcome every challenge.
Your family prioritized education when you were growing up. How did that impact your opportunities and successes?
The future belongs to those who are prepared for it. My siblings and I were raised by my single African father with pride and honor. He gave his all to ensure his children received an education. But, he took it two steps further to be sure the community we lived in and our extended family each had the opportunity to be educated as well. I am educated and trained as an electrical engineer, and my education has afforded me the privilege of choice. To a young woman, education is imperative because it gifts her with the option to choose. My father’s choice to ensure his daughters and his sons were educated have provided me with countless opportunities. The foundation of hard work, kindness, and perseverance ensured my successes were rooted in my ultimate purpose and I’m using my platform to help fulfill my purpose bringing as many women along with me as possible.
How did you come up with the idea to use your personal care product brand, Lavy, to launch sanitary pads to help girls stay in school?
When I established Lavy in Tanzania, men were primarily leading the industry. However, through my research I discovered there were many women who not only wanted to learn, but wanted to own businesses as well in the nail care industry. To date, we’ve trained 29 women; and 12 of these young women started their own nail salons, four are working with us as technicians for our mobile service clinic, and the other 13 are now employed in salons as nail technicians. I looked at the impact we were able to make for these women and looked at how we can impact the lives of girls even deeper. There are millions of girls all across the globe who are denied access to education due to menstruation. I decided my foundation would provide for the necessary resources for the young girls starting in Tanzania. Periods should never be an obstacle for girls to be in school.
Tell us about the #PERIODSDONTSTOP campaign?
The campaign was developed out of a need. We wanted to highlight that need while emphasizing a sense of urgency. Even as we’re doing this interview a girl’s education is impacted simply because she was born female. Through the campaign, we are supporting girls’ education: ensuring they not only go to school, but stay in school and do well. I realized staying in school was directly impacted by something that doesn’t stop—a girl’s period. Imagine you’re a young girl in Tanzania working on your education. You’re motivated, you’re excited, and you love school and learning. You have big dreams! Whether it’s to become a teacher, a doctor, engineer, or even a lawyer [but] there’s something preventable standing in your way—menstruation. The cost? Missing three-five days of school a month due to your period. You’ll be thrown off track and delayed in your studies. These delays have far-reaching effects and result in frustration while decreasing motivation.
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How can people donate to the campaign?
We established a quick and easy way to ‘donate a period’ using our GoFundMe link here. It costs $2.50 a month (or $30 a year) to provide a Tanzanian girl with two packs of pads a month. I’m living proof that investment in a girl’s future returns tenfold. For such a small investment, we can make a huge impact in their lives. Support of our campaign helps to remove one major obstacle on these girls’ journey to receiving an education and achieving their dreams.
What’s the overall goal for this campaign?
We were all born for a greater purpose, each one different from each other, but all interconnected. Our goal is to support 1000 girls in 2021 to help them fulfill their purpose by staying in school.
How are you hoping this campaign will educate people about period poverty?
My hope is to ignite open conversations and dialogue around one of the most pivotal times in a young girl’s life. Currently, there is so much shame around the very process that ensures life continues. The taboos and stigmas around a woman’s period are damaging to a girl’s self-esteem, confidence, and ambition. It does nothing to support sexual health and women don’t decide to have periods—unless extra measures are taken, or one experiences underlying health issues—it’s a natural process of life. Our societal structures must change in order to truly support and prioritize women’s health as a whole. Menstruation can present a girl with a myriad of obstacles. This puts girls at an extreme disadvantage to her male counterparts simply because she doesn’t have resources. My hope is to help eradicate that in Tanzania.