When Tarsila Mellita was in secondary school, a close friend was on duty to burn sanitary pads. Because she could not leave the fire unattended, this friend was forced to miss an important physics test, which impacted her overall achievement score for the class. In a sciences curriculum where students are continuously assessed and must meet rigorous grading criteria in order to advance to the next level of science classes, this meant that her dreams of becoming an engineer were over.
Girls Are Losing Valuable Time
Girls are responsible for taking shifts to dispose of sanitary pads at school, which typically means burning them, explained Tarsila. In windy or wet weather, it could take hours to get a full incinerator or a fire burning hot enough to completely dispose of every pad. Which means that girls often have to miss or be late to class, lose valuable study time, and give up their own free time in order to hygienically dispose of menstrual products.
ABOVE: A typical incinerator at a Tanzanian school. Photo courtesy Tarsila Mellita.
“In my secondary school where I attended Kisa Project, we used a local incinerator to burn our menstrual hygiene products. But it was really cold because it was close to Kilimanjaro Mountain. Sometimes the machine only grew hot enough to burn the pads on top. You’d have to stay for two hours, three hours, to roll and move the pads to make sure the fire gets in,” said Tarsila, adding that “Sometimes, if you are close to water bodies like a river, air movement could blow some pads into the river. Then the river becomes unhealthy for the people using it.”
“This duty felt like a punishment. Our time was held hostage when we should have been concentrating in our studies or having time to have fun,” said Tarsila. “I wanted girls to have extra time, just like boys have extra time in their days.”
Developing Personal Leadership through Kisa Project
Through Kisa Project, a two-year leadership course led by Daring Girls partner GLAMI that prepares girls in secondary school to attend university and create positive social change, Tarsila learned valuable skills that would help her learn how to set and reach her goals. She was determined to find a way for girls to regain their time and more efficiently and hygienically dispose of their menstrual products each month.
“One of the best things I learned through Kisa was during personal leadership sessions. I learned how to set my goals and then attend to every goal I set. I really wanted to go for my dreams,” she said.
Having access to a GLAMI Mentor was also transformational for Tarsila, who still remains in contact with her Mentors today, tapping them for advice when she needs it. Her Kisa experience also inspired her to mentor other girls, which she does frequently. Through GLAMI’s Kisa Alumnae Network, she and fellow alumnae launched a volunteer initiative to visit a local orphanage to share education on health topics as well as leadership skills with younger girls. She also volunteers with Her Journey to School, a Tanzanian nonprofit founded by former GLAMI Mentor Ellie Kaaya, where Tarsila provides mentorship and menstrual hygiene education and lessons in making reusable sanitary pads to girls in schools.
Tarsila Mellita presents a lesson to girls at a local school for Menstrual Hygiene Day in 2023. Photos courtesy Tarsila Mellita.
“When you have a mentor, I think you are more comfortable because you can communicate when you are very close, and you can ask for critical information and support. Our Mentors act as mirrors. Normally our Mentors have been reaching somewhere a bit higher than us. When we look at them we have more energy to not give up, to go for what we wish to reach,” said Tarsila.
Economics Major with an Engineering Dream
In late 2022, Tarsila graduated from St. Augustine University of Tanzania in Mwanza, with a degree in economics, a new invention under her belt, and several awards recognizing her ambition and achievement in developing the Mellita Machine, an electric incinerator that hygienically disposes of menstrual products in 40-50 minutes, without needed supervision.
But, exactly how does a 22-year-old woman with an economics degree become the inventor of an incinerator that is transforming girls’ access to education?
“I have been in interested since then about the machine, like creating something that will be friendly for disposing of the sanitarys, but I didn’t have a direct way of knowing how can I make my idea successful,” she said.
At her university in Mwanza, Tarsila became involved with AIESEC, where she began volunteering for various activities, including a regional Tanzania Innovation Week event.
“I got to see people with good ideas who were pitching their ideas, and they won some awards. I was inspired, but also I got some connections to people telling them about my idea,” Tarsila explained.
Her connections kept growing, and through mentorship, networking, and pursuing opportunities that crossed her path, Tarsila was accepted into the Open Skies Fellowship Program, designed by OpenMap Development Tanzania. The mentorship and resources she received helped her connect with engineers that could help develop her idea. She learned how to craft and deliver a pitch that resulted in seed funding to prototype the Mellita Machine.
Today, her product is in use in several hospitals in Mwanza. She is also seeing interest from an increasing number of schools and universities who see the value in her product and its potential to increase girls’ ability to fully participate in their education.
The Mellita Machine is an electric incinerator that eliminates the need for girls to waste hours burning their sanitary pads. Tarsila said that her incinerator is designed to burn 5 buckets of waste in just 30 minutes into 2 grams of ashes, as compared to 36 hours for the local incinerator. It is portable and easy to use. Currently, the cost of one machine is 3.5 million Tanzanian Shillings, or $1500 USD, and takes two weeks to make. That’s a price and a timeline she plans to decrease as she attracts new funding toward her invention.
Photos courtesy Tarsila Mellita
A Multi-Award Winning Design
In 2022, she entered the Mellita Machine into competition at the Tanzania Innovation Week event in Mwanza, and earned the first place prize. Later that year, she took home the first place prize from Fiesta Innovation Challenge Lianzishe. In 2023, she added two more wins to her resume, securing the Malkia Wa Nguvu Creative and Innovation Award and a Jasiri Award from the Lightway Initiative in Tanzania for her use of technology to solve community challenges.
Her dream is to one day make the Mellita Machine so affordable that it is in houses, helping women and girls dispose of their menstrual products but also helping mothers dispose of soiled baby diapers.
“I want to make sure every woman could live and have the life that they really wish to have, and making sure it’s very good and healthy. And that the challenges that they are really facing in disposing sanitary towels, they’ll never face again,” she said.
You Can Help Expand Access to the Mellita Machine
Tarsila is looking for a mentor to help her identify new sources of investment in her machine, as well as advice on how to make a good proposal and how to communicate the benefits of her machine in a way that funders and investors will hear.
If you have experience supporting early stage entrepreneurs and would like to share your knowledge and advice with Tarsila or other Kisa Project alumnae, please email email@example.com indicating your interest in connecting, along with your CV or a link to your LinkedIn profile.
Whether you’re interested in a single phone call or a longer mentoring relationship to help Tarsila expand adoption of her product to more schools in Tanzania, we’d love to facilitate an introduction. Together, you can end the wasted time girls spend disposing of menstrual hygiene products and give them precious hours back toward their education and other pursuits.