Hygiene, Empowerment, and Research for Social Impact

The Steve Hicks School is represented among seven student-faculty teams that received funding through the inaugural President’s Award for Global Learning program to pursue international projects.

Kate Taylor

Kate Taylor BSW ’19. Photo by Montinique Monroe

Professor Noël Busch-Armendariz and Kathryn Taylor, BSW ’19, worked with an interdisciplinary team of five students and faculty from the College of Natural Sciences, College of Liberal Arts and Cockrell School of Engineering to produce menstrual hygiene products for  people who menstruate in refugee camps in Lebanon.

The project, known as Hygiene, Empowerment, and Research for Social Impact (HERS) led to the creation of a portable machine called Amara, which fabricates disposable menstrual pads on site. Amara, which means moon in Arabic, was named in honor of the song “Amara Ya Amara” by Fairuz, a popular Lebanese artist. 

“When you have an immediate influx of people who have no access to basic needs and have had their entire livelihood taken from them, we often  think of toiletry needs such as toothpaste and deodorant,” Taylor said. “A lot of times menstrual needs are the last thought.” 

Some members of the HERS team learned that the International Federation of the Red Cross needed a machine to create menstrual pads. The team received a $25,000 award and, after doing preparatory work  in Austin for a year, spent 10 weeks in Lebanon this past summer working with the Lebanese American University, Lebanese Red Cross and Arab Institute for Women. 

The Lebanese Red Cross conducted preference and pad feedback surveys with Syrians who were displaced and living in informal, tent settlements. Women in Saida, a city in South Lebanon, were interviewed and surveyed about the quality of the pads. The HERS team also worked with Sanita, a hygiene project manufacture, that agreed to donate leftover materials to manufacture pads. 

HERS Team

The HERS team.

“Squeezing over a year of preparation and work in Texas into a ten-week implementation and testing period in a country I had very little prior knowledge of was immensely challenging,” Taylor said.  “The first few weeks in Lebanon, I found myself particularly grateful for Prof. Busch-Armendariz’s attention and care of our team and project. Her servant leadership and expertise allowed space for grounding and direction.”

The team took Amara through a series of tests: production rate testing, heating consistency, quality assurance and reliability of the pads, usability of the machine by operators, size and cost. Upon completion of their research and testing in Lebanon, the team passed the torch to the Lebanese Red Cross and returned to Texas in August. But the work is not finished.

UT-Austin mechanical engineering teams are developing new versions of Amara while the HERS team continues to research ways to use the machine in Texas – in prisons or detention centers on the border for example. For now, Taylor’s goal is to continue initiating conversations about menstruation.

“Our goal goes beyond just making disposable menstrual pads,” she said. “We hope to bring more light back to what menstruation is in people’s lives and how it affects populations that have been displaced because of a humanitarian crisis.”

By Montinique Monroe. Posted on Oct. 15, 2019.