Tonight at a “Freedom for Girls” launch at Prime Bank, I heard a member of Parliament say she was ashamed that it was not her country but America who brought to the forefront a matter of great importance to Kenya. I also heard from a popular TV host (who was raised in a privileged family) that she was entirely ignorant of this matter until she was 30 years old. The matter is that girls miss up to 48 days of school each year because of lack of sanitary pads – so they cannot keep up and they drop out.
The facts are that many that Kenyan girls *do not have money for sanitary pads *do not have bathrooms in their homes *do not have running water so they cannot cleanse themselves well *use cloths or leaves or even dung, if they have cloth, washing the cloth is very problematic *some slums charge for every use of the toilet or shower * girls hold off going to the bathroom
Last night I was privileged to read a speech from a woman named Geeta Meneek who as unable to attend the Freedom For Girls launch of the Lahanna Ladies Circle. She wrote: As ladies – from a somewhat privileged background – take a moment to reflect. Close your eyes for an instance and think about “how would I manage myself during these days of the month, without a sanitary pad, or a tampon or clean water”. And if at all, you had managed some of these items, imagine how would you manage to wash yourself and then dispose of the used sanitary towel. Noting that whilst you are doing all this, you are living in a single room with the parents and siblings – with the toilets out in public access of the dwelling. And every time it costs to go to and use public toilet. It therefore takes a conscious effort to keep asking Mum and Dad for a few shillings, from an already scare kitty. So such choices are made amidst, cutting back on other necessities like food, buying books or simply using the bathroom.
The Lahana Ladies Circle last night provided money for 1000 girls to have pads for one year. And this evening, Prime Bank provided money for another 2000 girls.
This generosity does much more than make the monthly cycle easier for girls. It lights them up, they learn that they are important. They can succeed in school and believe in that there is a bright future. Look at the light in young children’s eyes, do you see their excitment for living and learning? Even in the heart of Kibera I see happy little kids learning, singing, running after us to saying “how are you”. Yet as they begin to enter into puberty, the heaviness of their lives starts to settle in. For a girl, it often means, they cannot clean themselves or their clothes, they have infections, there is embarrassment and they have to hide away. The light diminishes. Yet, this one simple human act of kindness, lifts them up. It elevates them closer to an equal platform of those who are privelidged so that they have a chance in life.
As I compare the last two evenings, I saw this very clearly. Last night, the 10 girls who received the token pads (for the ceremony) never had sanitary pads and nor the confidence-boost they provide. This evening though were a group of 10 girls were from a school in Nairobi whose headmaster was obviously supporting these girls in tangible ways and sanitary pads were given last year. The first group of girls were slow to smile, spoke quietly and uncomfortable with looking you in the face. The second however were full of life. Entering into puberty for them was not a “life-sucker” as it is for so many. These girls new they were valuable and had something to give. The first group, now has the chance. They will use the pads, continue in school and like the first, will have increased confidence. They will in turn empower others to be who they are meant to be.