Pads for Primary Students
Robert Kiptoo was one of the first men in Kenya I had the pleasure of meeting. At the start of the year, he was the principal of Kamariny Primary School; one of the three schools participating in Ruby in the Rift. Because he had done such good work over the years at Kamariny, increasing attendance and bringing in development programs to improve the facilities, he was transferred to a more rural, underserved school in Iten that needs his help.
One month ago, he invited Teresa and I to come visit and talk with his students after class. We met with the whole school and offered an impromptu discussion on the importance of discipline, and how if you practice it in one arena of your life, like academics, it will bleed over into other arenas, like athletics, and help you achieve your dreams. Robert then ushered away the male students, and left us with a group of about 70 girls in Class 6, 7, and 8. The main point of our visit? To talk about menstruation. Given the sensitive nature of menses, we made the decision to start our talk with a game to get the giggles going. Teresa and I then delivered a lesson covering changes boy and girls go through during puberty, what exactly is menstruation, and why girls and women bleed every month. At the end, we of course opened the floor to questions. One of them, posed by a female teacher was, “What could girls that couldn’t afford sanitary pads use instead to manage their menses?”
To be honest, I froze. At our other schools participating in Ruby in the Rift, we offer educational workshops and a sanitation solution: a menstrual cup. The reason I am here is to equip girls with knowledge and a sanitation solution. What did I have to give these girls besides a one hour lesson? I didn’t have the heart to tell them to use improper products, like mattress stuffing or old newspaper, but what should I tell them? Rags? Towels? Sew their own reusable pads? Needless to say, that question stuck with me.
Fast forward one month. I slowly made friends with the family that owns the local, and largest, supermarket in Iten. They were so impressed by the project they wanted to contribute to local girls’ menstrual health in Kenya. They told me they wanted to donate pads to girls in need, and that I should pick the school. Because of my established relationship with Robert and that lingering question I was unable to answer satisfactorily, I knew right away which school to choose. Despite the fact the government has a free pad program, not all schools have been stocked, including this one. I knew the students at his school came from poor, rural backgrounds and would benefit from receiving supplies.
Teresa and I met with the 77 girls in classes 6, 7, and 8. We reviewed menstruation, broke down the different parts of the cycle, and talked about how to keep our vagina's happy and healthy. Afterwards, we told the girls we brought them a gift, free sanitary pads, from the Eezee Quickmart in Iten. Shyly, one girl raised her hand and asked "What if we haven't started our periods yet?" I told her not to worry, reassured that one day she will, and she can have a package of pads so she is prepared when her menses does come.
All girls at Mindililwo Primary School received at least one package with 10 pads, and the girls that had started their period received two packages. We left the extra packages with the head female teacher and told the students if they ran out to speak with her. This means almost 1,000 pads were distributed. After class ended, the girls left the classroom with the pads tucked in their skirts and wrapped in their sweaters. I couldn’t help but flashback to when I was that age and turning bright red when my mom handed me a pad in front of my friends (the menstrual audacity!). At least they were open enough to discuss girlhood and womanhood in the class. One taboo at a time, my friends.
What amazed me most about the day was the fact that this was community driven change and support, and Teresa and I were just stewards. A local business identified a need and offered a solution: free sanitary pads for a school in Iten. A local principal recognized the importance of breaking down barriers around a taboo subject and invited menstrual health teachers to come speak. Cross World Africa just connected the dots. While supplying free pads to all girls in Africa isn't a sustainable solution, economically or environmentally, I do believe it is a step in the right direction. We are one school closer to raising a generation of girls who know what menstruation is before it even starts and who do not have to turn to unsafe materials to manage their menses. With that, I offer a special thank you to Robert Kiptoo and the family that owns the Eezee Quickmart. You are all agents of change.