CNN’s ‘Hero of the Year’ has deep university connections

Freweini Mebrahtu
Freweini Mebrahtu is CNN's 2019 "Hero of the Year," seen here at a December award ceremony. (Image: CNN)

Menstruation is considered taboo in Ethiopia, and girls often miss school or drop out because of their periods. Freweini Mebrahtu designed a solution — and, with support from St. Louis-based charity Dignity Period, it has benefited nearly 800,000 girls and women. Mebrahtu was recently named CNN’s “Hero of the Year.

Dignity Period is a nonprofit founded in 2014 by Washington University in St. Louis anthropologist and gynecologist Lewis Wall, MD, DPhil, his wife, Helen, and their friends Mike and Lynn Coatney to support Mebrahtu’s work.

Mebrahtu designed and patented a reusable menstrual hygiene pad for girls and women that is made in her factory in northern Ethiopia. She distributes menstrual hygiene kits and educational materials to schoolgirls (and boys) in the Tigray and Afar regions of her country.

Mebrahtu makes frequent visits to St. Louis and has given lectures on the Danforth Campus and in anthropology classes, including Wall’s course on “The Female Life-Cycle in Cross-Cultural Perspective.” Students from the Center for Experiential Learning at Olin Business School visited Mekelle, Ethiopia, in 2017 as part of a project to improve Mebrahtu’s business model under the direction of Hillary Anger Elfenbein.

The Dignity Period Project is run in partnership with Mekelle University, with which Washington University recently signed a memorandum of understanding to facilitate educational, research and community service collaboration.

Mebrahtu will visit St. Louis again on March 7, when she will speak as part of a Dignity Period gala event. For more information, visit the Dignity Period website.


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