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The Boy Make A Difference. Period

The Boy Make A Difference. Period







Most students have enough on their hands, just coping with growing up and their academics. It’s this endemic youth struggle – completing Higher Education and University, that will not allow them (the youth) to give other concerns more than a cursory glance, let alone take on other commitments. One exception is 17-year old Mombasa lad – Ziyaan Virji. His efforts, above and beyond his everyday life, to help destitute underprivileged girls caught the public’s eye and earned him the prestigious Diana Award. Read on more about his journey.



Hello Ziyaan, tell us about yourself?

I’m a 17 year-old student, studying in my final year of the Diploma Program at The Aga Khan Academy, Mombasa. I am altruistic, a young leader of today and tomorrow and an advocate of what I call ‘The Generation of Change.’


Congratulations on your sterling efforts being recognised enough to merit you the Diana Award, given to worthy recipients to commemorate the legacy of Princess Diana. Ziyaan, what was your reaction to being awarded this

prestigious prize?

Apart from bringing happiness, it was truly an honour to win an award. Princess Diana believed in the power of young people to transform the world. Winning this award, has also given my work credibility, as well as well as creates awareness on menstruation as an issue. I’m motivated to continue to break period poverty and stigma.


In 2017, when you were digging for information for your in-depth research-based ‘Personal Project’ a school assignment, what did you realise?

Back in 2017, during the time of my Personal Project – a requirement of the MYP IB curriculum – I was scrolling through my Facebook feed, and I watched an inspiring documentary on Al Jazeera named “India’s Menstruation Man.” With little knowledge about the menstrual cycle, I had a short conversation with my mum and discovered that when she was a teenager she didn’t have proper access to menstrual hygiene. This really astounded me, I continued doing my research. Which revealed that over 500 million females around the world still don’t have access to menstrual hygiene. These girls use old rags, cloth, leaves, tissues, blankets and other unsanitary material when they are on their period. They also miss school and don’t carry out daily chores during their reproductive cycle. Worse still, there is a taboo associated with this issue and girls face social stigma for something that is a basic necessity. Thus, these poor girls are trapped in a vicious poverty cycle that is passed on from generation to generation. Greatly perturbed, it naturally blended my altruistic character, skills and values leading me to launch Affordable and Accessible Sanitation for Women (AASW).


Tell us about this project in detail?

Affordable and Accessible Sanitation for Women (AASW) in collaboration with Tunaweza Women with Disabilities produces and distributes sanitary packages that are reusable, cost effective, environmentally friendly and embarrassment-free. Lasting for up to three years, they are 100% biodegradable, cost between $3 to $5 and the interesting part is, it doesn’t even resemble a regular sanitary pad. AASW also utilised a unique approach through an Educational and Stitching Workshop that equips girls with the necessary skills and knowledge. Now they not only give themselves, but also their communities, access to menstrual hygiene. AASW aims to create entrepreneurial opportunities to empower these girls to extricate themselves from the vicious poverty too.


Did you get help from any other entities?

I have received major support from various individuals and companies in the form of funding, mentoring and general support. My main partners ‘Tunaweza Women with Disabilities’ are a group of women committed to developing, producing and distributing the sanitary packages we’ve developed. The Aga Khan Academies also assisted by providing me the platform to start my project. They’ve also gifted me with value principles such as ethics and pluralism, empowering me to be an ethical leader in my community and on a global scale.


What challenges have you encountered along the way?

I have faced two main challenges. Still a minor, it has been a challenge to get my project registered as a legal body hence raising unnecessary road blocks to exploit potential opportunities. Secondly, I was challenged with lack of funding. Money received from fundraisers and small sponsorship has not been enough to reach out to our potential numbers and our target audience.

 So, how successful have your efforts been?

To date, AASW has worked with over a total of 350 girls to get them access to menstrual hygiene with seven different teams in six different countries. Namely Kenya, Tanzania, Pakistan, India, Nigeria and UAE. AASW has also had over 50,000 engagements on our social media platform after our various awareness campaigns such as the #myperiodstory and #AASWFactoftheWeek. AASW also holds

various events to spread awareness and educate people such as the ‘AASW Community Circle, 7 Days a Month. Period, Menstrual Talks,’ etc.My work with AASW led to my being selected as ‘We are Family Foundation’s (WAFF) Global Teen Leader 2019,’ winner of the ‘Dragon’s Den for Change at the Global Education and Skills Forum (GESF)’ and the ‘Global Social Leader’s (GSL) Top 5’ projects.


Congratulations on those accolades. As a teenage boy, were you ever apprehensive about taking up such a project? How strong is your belief in your conviction?

Even though I’m your regular teenager, I’ve always had the conviction and have never been apprehensive about taking up this project. I believe my gender and age have conversely been an advantage. I am grateful that as a teenage boy, I’ve been gifted with the voice to start the conversation that brings out the issues that truly matter. Having access to social media, an extremely important tool, has allowed me to connect with change makers and youth from around the world, hence allowing me to drive social impact.

In summary, I truly believe Period Poverty is not a male/female issue, but a human issue. To be tackled by the whole of humanity. After all no matter what age, race or background one hails from, none of us would be here and alive if it wasn’t for the menstrual cycle.


How did the outside world react to your involvement in this?

Surprisingly, I initially received a lot of backlash. Perhaps something expected when a young boy breaks convention to start a revolution. My ire at this response kept on pushing me, in fact motivated to fight. Over time, by taking the correct approaches, using education and spreading awareness, I believe society has been able to understand the magnitude of this issue and eventually been very supportive of my initiative.


After you complete your studies, do you have any other plans to further this worthwhile project?

Yes, I plan on getting registered as a non-profit or social enterprise to continue to upscale the potential to reach out to all the 500 million suffering girls around the world. I also hope to break the societal taboo and stigma that is associated with period, instead to spread awareness and educating for the end goal. Normalising the normal – periods.


In fact, has it altered your original plans for your future profession?

Yes, although I have always wanted to be an actuary, through this project I have found purpose in being altruistic and working towards social impact. Now, I plan to go into social entrepreneurship as a profession in the future.

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