Michelle got real with The Angaza Project recently and shared her experiences and struggles of the past as a young girl in Kibera that got her period. Getting a period may sound like no big deal, but try getting your period as a young girl, in Kibera, with few toilets and little privacy, little water being available, and no access to pads. Michelle shares her journey and experiences with us all to help break the silence and empower girls to manage menstruation with confidence and not shame!
“As a girl child growing up in the slums of Kibera it was a struggle…… and it still is. Girls face a variety of challenges like access to education, equality and being able to hold positions of leadership. There are other challenges too and one is quite personal. One of the great personal challenges is one that many may not talk about – something that may be considered taboo…… menstruation and the hygiene behind it while living in Kibera. When I was younger, I used to watch women and other girls look for rags or other materials to use during this time since pads were not accessible due to the costs. Finding materials that could be used was a task and unhealthy. I knew that women would use newspapers, pieces of mattress or rags that they could find only to realize I would be doing the same thing a few years later. It is really challenging, especially when you have to be creative in making your own.
Using these materials does not allow for good hygiene and I recall being in school and nobody would want to sit next to the girls that smelled badly. It was really hurtful. That is not the only challenge while having your period either. Most people stay in a single room in Kibera, often 8 x 10 space made of either mud or iron. A lack of privacy makes it near impossible to be able to change and clean the materials being used since there is no private toilet or bathroom in living spaces. The toilets or privacy spaces that do exist cost money to use and it is difficult to pay the few shillings to be able to use that public toilet space a few times a day. For me, going through these changes was hard and nobody was there to prepare me for this. It is one of the reasons I am so involved with girls empowerment today so other girls that are at the age I was when I experienced all of this will not be left on their own.
I remember being so worried about having a stain on my school clothes and would ask my friends to always check for me. If I had one, I would continue sitting in the same spot in class until everyone left to avoid embarrassment and the criticism from the boys. I would have to sit home until my period was done to avoid the same thing the next day. I felt behind in the class lessons at times. Sometimes….. I would even see some men offer to provide some girls with pads with expectations afterwards. So many might deny that it happens but I have lived here, I have seen it!
Most of the families struggle to provide a child with education, especially high school fees. There are other needs such as food to eat and shelter that come first. When the need for sanitary towels comes about, the struggles become even greater and often, girls are left to find a solution on their own. To make matters worse, bathing and cleaning one’s self is near impossible during this time since the water the family does collect each day offers no extra.
Much has changed over the years, but the problem of access to pads and menstruation education is not yet resolved. There are a few governmental responses to this such as bills to remove the taxation on pad products and providing pads to the schools for girls. What I want people to remember is that not every school and girl is reached by those governmental responses, so many are not reached in communities…..like mine. There are many amazing non-governmental organizations that have stepped in to assist where it is most needed, among them is The Angaza Project!
I have been working for The Angaza Project for nearly a year now and every Saturday I facilitate the Girls Empowerment workshop. One of the great things about this program is that on a monthly basis, I distribute pads to the girls who attend. I see the difference it makes and the confidence it gives them. The support for The Angaza Project matters, thank you!”
The Angaza Project is beyond thrilled to have Michelle as part of our team and programs in Kenya. We also appreciate her candid responses on real issues in the community for girls and women. The Girls Empowerment workshop and monthly pad distribution are only possible because of YOU- our friends and supporters! We thank you for making a difference! We look forward to May arriving since May has Global Menstruation Hygiene Day- May 28th. Last year, throughout the month of May, The Angaza Project was so grateful for the 5,787 pads that were received! This year, throughout the month of May, we are hoping to reach 6000 pads with you, but we want to do it a bit differently this year. We would like to create a budget line for just pads and use that throughout the year to buy them online from a known warehouse in Nairobi that will deliver to our office location near Kibera where Michelle can pick them up monthly. This allows us to avoid shipping boxes that would be expensive, avoid taking up space in luggage bags during the times we visit ground operations, avoid questions in customs if our bags are searched (it is not always possible to explain having 2000 pads in a way that lets us avoid confiscation or being taxed), and it would allow us to ensure availability monthly since there are often many months in between our visits to the ground.
Stay tuned for our Pad Donation drive from May 1 to May 30, 2019! We will provide a donation link that will be for pads only a few days before May which is exciting…. but it is even more exciting for the girls in our Girls Empowerment workshop! Thank you so much for being a partner in transforming futures!