Allow me to introduce myself...
If you can lend me your ears for but a moment, I can share why I am writing this letter to you today. After all, the grandest adventures start with the smallest idea. And, as we all know, certain ideas carry the power to turn hope into a reality.
On my 21st birthday, I received one of the strangest packages in the mail. Inside the post was a small silicone cup with a pink bag and an instruction booklet. I had no card, no note, and honestly no idea what to do with it or who it came from. A few hours later, a call came in from my best friend, a fellow collegiate runner, who was asking if I had tried out her gift. Her gift being a reusable menstrual cup. Admittedly, I was hesitant. I had no clue that there were other options than pads and tampons for managing menstruation in this day and age. Nonetheless, I gave it a shot. And that small strange birthday present changed my life.
Instead of simply "managing" my period, I developed a new, more positive relationship with my cycle and what it meant to be a woman. My body felt happier that I wasn't using toxic wads of cotton and I enjoyed using a sustainable product that did not contribute to more waste in the landfills. At the time, I was a student-athlete at Cornell University, and suddenly I could study, train, and race at ease instead of worrying about leakage.
But what began as a personal revelation for me quickly transformed into a personal calling. My positive experience with this product led me to do some research about these little cups and how they are distributed across the globe. I discovered that social enterprises like Ruby Life Ltd. donate thousands of cups each year to impoverished nations. I learned that organizations like the UN and the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation believe menstrual health management to be a vital part for improving young girls’ equity and education in the developing world. More than anything else, I realized how lucky I was to be gifted this cup.
Unfortunately, not all women are this lucky. Especially in impoverished countries, menstruation is a poorly managed and taboo subject. Fear and lack of resources can even lead some women to absenteeism, sickness, and prostitution. For example, in sub-Saharan Africa, one in ten girls skip school while on their period. This absenteeism leads to decreased test scores and an increased risk of drop-out. In Kenya, 65% of women are unable to afford even basic feminine hygiene products. Left without a safe choice, these women must rely on feathers, old newspapers, and even mattress stuffing to meet their monthly needs; a tragic and unhygienic practice that can cause infections and sores. The need is so great that in 2015, researchers found that nearly two-thirds of fifteen year old girls in Rural Kenya turn to transactional sex just to afford feminine hygiene products. These shameful inequalities are only made worse by the social stigmas surrounding menstruation, causing women in this region of the world to feel isolated and helpless.
Young girls are especially vulnerable. Because periods and blood are considered taboo in many cultures, menstruation is not discussed within the home and largely skipped over in school. When girls reach menarche, many are left confused and scared about what is happening in their body. According to ZanaAfrica, one million girls in Kenya miss up to six weeks of school each year when on their period. Lack of education on menstrual hygiene management, as well as lack of access to sanitary products, are just two parts of a vicious cycle that negatively affect girls who already face enough barriers to their education and empowerment. These girls deserve the chance to better their lives and break down traditional barriers; a chance that I’m passionate about facilitating.
In January, I will travel to Kenya to lead a three-month long field project in the Rift Valley. I am volunteering as a part of Cross World Africa Inc. (CWA), a not-for-profit foundation dedicated to ending inequality in East Africa. CWA has led dozens of humanitarian projects over the years, but this marks its first endeavor in Menstrual Health Management. Together, we are partnering with Ruby Life Ltd., a socially-minded, menstrual health company that makes 100% food-grade silicone products called Ruby Cups. Last year alone, this company donated 20,000 cups to girls around the world.
As admirable as this project is, it will not be easy. It will require overcoming language barriers, cultural barriers and trust issues. It will demand months long field work, leading and organizing workshops that teach and empower young women to take charge of their bodies. The project will seek to move thousands of dollars of sanitary products, and our partners will expect results in the form of evaluation reports, media, and changed lives.
Needless to say, I cannot do this project alone.
In the beginning of the letter, I asked you to lend me your ears. Now, I ask you to lend me your hearts. Our educational workshops and Ruby Cups will help to change young girls' lives in communities where change is desperately needed. And this change cannot happen without your aid.
To make this project a reality, I have a fund-raising goal of $10,000. Every $50 donated sponsors one girl to take part in our workshops. Every $500 donated ensures that we can conduct a workshop at a local primary school in Western Kenya. At our workshops, each girl will receive her own Ruby Cup, a boiling pot to keep it clean, and a three month long education that will empower and strengthen her life.
If you believe in gender equity; if you believe in educating and empowering girls, I encourage you to donate to this cause. Girls face enough barriers to education in Africa, and being female should not be one of them. After all, little girls with dreams become women with vision.
How many girls can YOU sponsor?