This Teen Won One Of The World’s Most Prestigious Awards For Daring To Fix The World With Reusable Sanitary Towels

By  |  August 15, 2019

At just 17 years of age, Ziyaan Virji is putting in work that belies his years. On paper, he is just a kid who wouldn’t exactly spark outrage if he were more interested in video games than changing the world, but the young lad has had his heart set on making the world a better place from the off. And now he’s got some major points on the board.

The kid is a student of Aga Khan Academy in Mombassa, Kenya, and he has just received one of the world’s most prestigious accolades for humanitarian efforts or social action. Ziyaan earned “The Diana Award” for going out of his way to make the world a better place through the creation and sustenance of positive change.

Two years ago, Ziyaan, inspired by the need to alleviate the suffering of the economically-disadvantaged women of society, launched a non-profit known as Affordable and Accessible Sanitation for Women (AASW).

Ziyaan Virji

AASW has since teamed up with community partners, Tunaweza Women with Disabilities, to produce and distribute sanitary towels that are washable, cost-effective, and environmentally friendly. 

In 2017, while feeling his way around a personal project – an in-depth research-based project – for his International Baccalaureate studies at Aga Khan Academy, Ziyaan was both surprised and shocked to learn that an estimated 500 million girls across the world do not have access to the necessary menstrual health resources they require. And that jolted him into action. 

To ensure the project extended beyond academics, Ziyaan launched AASW. The non-profit is a voluntary youth initiative that is comprised of high school students between the ages of 13 and 18 and the organisation is supported by the staff of the Academy.

Currently, AASW produces and distributes reusable sanitary packages and provide females with essential skills that can promote menstrual hygiene in their respective communities. Ziyaan’s organisation is known to work in tandem with local organisations that share a similar vision.

For example, AASW has been working closely with Tunaweza Women with Disabilities, one of its community partners, and the concerted efforts have led to the successful production and distribution of hundreds of sanitary packages that are reusable, environmentally-friendly, leak-proof, and quite affordable. These packages last for up to 3 years, are 100 percent biodegradable and cost between USD 3.00 to USD 5.00.

The sanitary packages also score points for aesthetics as the pads are made from colorful African fabric (leso/kitenge) with a detachable felt lining. This makes them have a much better look than the usual suspects.

Over the long haul, AASW is targeting the creation of entrepreneurial opportunities for young girls, so as to help free them from the shackles of abject poverty in the hopes that the empowered girls would help the rest of their community to access basic welfare products.

It’s been barely two years since AASW came into existence but in such a short time, the young volunteers have helped nearly 300 girls from six different countries to acquire access to menstrual hygiene. Countries like Kenya, Tanzania, Pakistan, India, Nigeria, and the UAE, have been reached. 


In the next one year, AASW would have expanded enough to provide over 1,000 girls with access to sanitation, at least, that’s the target over the next 12 months. Fundraising and sensitisation events are being planned to further their cause and it is also hoped that the recent recognition of the founder’s efforts will spur things on.

“I am truly honoured to be a recipient of this prestigious International Award and to be recognised for my work in the legacy of Princess Diana. I would like to thank my family, my close friends, my mentors, and most importantly, my school for their continuous support and guidance in helping me find and achieve my purpose: to help give girls access to menstrual hygiene around the world,” said Ziyaan upon receiving the award.

The Diana Award was established in 1999 and its recipients are inspirational young people from across the UK and around the world. The award was set up in memory of Diana, Princess of Wales, and inspired by her belief that young people can change the world.

Recipients of the award are judged across four criteria including “vision, social impact, youth-led service journey, and inspiring others.” Potential awardees must be aged between 9 to 25 and should have been championing their respective causes for 12 months, at the very least.

Ziyaan Virji was found worthy of the crown this year and he will be looking to take things several notches up as he attempts to mend some of the broken parts of today’s world.

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