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Sherie De Wet – keeping girls in school one Palesa Pad at a time

Sherie De Wet – keeping girls in school one Palesa Pad at a time
Sherie De Wet. (Photo: Thom Pierce)

After her ‘Damascus moment’, Sherie De Wet set about creating an affordable, high-quality, reusable sanitary pad – for the environment and for young pupils.

The numbers that Sherie De Wet reels off are staggering, and the pride that she exudes as she does so says everything you need to know about her journey from corporate accountant to social entrepreneur, and founder of Palesa Pads.

  • 780,000 reusable pads sold;
  • 120,000 girls helped;
  • 156,000,000 disposable pads kept out of the environment.

Sherie had her “road to Damascus” moment in 2017 while on a business trip to Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Seeing a young girl on the side of the road, abandoned by her parents because they did not have the means to raise her, and the realisation that this was not an isolated incident, was the motivation she needed to do something with her life that had more purpose.

She read a Facebook post about girls missing out on school because they could not afford sanitary pads, ran the numbers and made a decision.

Sherie’s world changed overnight and an obsession began: to create and produce an affordable, high-quality, reusable sanitary pad – for the environment, for young pupils and for every other person who menstruates.

Over the next six months she researched, created and tested dozens of designs, combining different materials and shapes to find the best combination for the product. She tested every design on herself, every month while she had her period, and made notes on each of the different prototypes. 

“If it isn’t good enough for me, why should it be good enough for anyone else?”

Eventually, she settled on a combination of fabrics and a design that worked and she hasn’t looked back. These days Palesa Pads produces about 400 pads a day from a small factory in Meyerton, Gauteng. Most of these are donated to girls who need them through sponsorship programmes, allowing corporates and individuals to buy the pads at a low price and distribute them.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Healing waters – a Centurion eco warrior’s journey from abuse to a mission to clean rivers

The pads themselves last for five years and are incredibly efficient and hygienic. They come in five different sizes and work out to about 10% of the price of disposable pads, over five years*.

Looking back on the journey, Sherie is clear about the fact that she makes a lot less money now than she did as an accountant, but the impact she is having on the environment and the lives of others is well worth the sacrifice. DM

* Five years’ worth of disposable pads would cost about R3,000, not accounting for inflation, compared with R300 worth of reusable Palesa Pads for the same length of time.

It’s Women’s Month in South Africa and so, throughout August, The Actionists will exclusively be featuring stories of inspiring women who are working to make a positive change in the world around them.

The Actionists was launched in early 2023 by photographer Thom Pierce. It consists of on-the-ground problem solvers, community activists, climate campaigners and human rights defenders who engage in direct action. They are people anyone can turn to in difficult circumstances: a growing community of people who care about the future of South Africa. Through a series of photographic stories, Pierce profiles these people. Through a website, discussion forum and social media, the aim is to provide ways for people to get involved.

Nominate Actionists in your circle at www.theactionists.co.za or email [email protected]

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