Combating Period Poverty in Western Kenya
Sarah Martha Anyika is a 30-year-old changemaker committed to mobilising local resources and empowering women in Western Kenya. By providing sanitary towels, she aims to alleviate ‘period poverty’ and keep girls from humble backgrounds in school. She believes that with the right empowerment, these girls can thrive in a world that is rapidly changing.
Having grown up in a children’s home from the age of three, Sarah understands the value of giving. “I lost my parents at a very tender age and it took the effort of well-wishers to see me through school,” she says. “I was very fortunate to receive a scholarship from the Canadian Harambee Education Scholarship (CHES) which helps bright, needy students through high school. Not only did they see me through my secondary education but also through university. I was the exception, which I took as a blessing, as they only sponsored high school students. This is how I found my spark in helping others, especially rural girls who cannot afford sanitary towels to enable them to stay in school. My upbringing nurtured me.”
Many teenage girls lack accurate information surrounding menstrual hygiene. In addition, girls in rural areas often do not have the financial ability to afford quality sanitary products. As a result, some of them end up with information that threatens their well-being. Alternatively, they may be unable to afford quality products, forcing them to settle for substandard alternatives. “Most girls in my village have dropped out of school due to a lack of this essential commodity. They become vulnerable and end up trading sex for pads, resulting in teen pregnancies and early marriages.” She continues, “I know this will sound like a cliché but I will continue asking; why are condoms given out freely yet sanitary towels are expensive?” According to her, sex is a choice but the menstrual cycle is not. Therefore, the government should come up with policies around menstrual health and how vulnerable girls can access sanitary towels at a subsidized price, if not for free.
While in her first year at the Technical University of Mombasa, Sarah mobilised alumnus of the CHES programme. They came together – a total of 237 girls – and formed a Pads for Girls initiative which saw them visit schools in Western Kenya to distribute sanitary towels and do mentorship. “We often fundraise online. At first, it was not easy to convince fellow alumni to contribute since their mentality was that of being helped and not helping.”
Sarah explained to her team why it was time for them to start giving back to the community. “Some left the group but with those who remained, we managed to raise a total of eight thousand shillings in our very first contribution. This enabled us to get a few dozen sanitary towels. Our very first programme was at St. Charles Otimong’ Secondary school in Nambale, Busia County. We distributed sanitary towels, mentored the students, took photos which we shared on our social media platforms and after this first success the group began to grow,” she recalls. The initiative currently has more than 700 members.
Resource mobilisation has been her greatest challenge. “I used to do my fundraising in a very ‘kienyeji’ (traditional) way. Many a time, it was frustrating since I could end up with so little that couldn’t enable me to do much. During my long holiday in 2016, I searched for volunteer opportunities to help me better my program at Pads for Girls. I got a chance to work for Dhamira Moja – a Community-Based Organization (CBO) working in Busia County with programmes targeting youth development, women and the general population for sustainable growth.”
Dhamira Moja is a regional partner organization of the Kenya Community Development Fund (KCDF) which supports community-driven development initiatives. During Sarah’s volunteering period, she got an opportunity from KCDF under the Change the Game Academy to be trained as a local fundraising champion. “This was a lifetime opportunity,” she says. “I undertook nine months of training on local fundraising. With the Pads for Girls initiative as my project, I learned how to do fundraising in a structured manner. I also learned how to involve the community in resource mobilisation, and how to keep a donor database. I managed to approach more local potential donors, and fundraise for both cash and in-kind donations worth 3600 sanitary towels which I distributed to over fifteen schools alongside our mentorship programme.”
This was a resounding success for Sarah and is clear proof local funding is doable. “When locals learn to contribute to projects with the resources they have, even if it is just their time, they become a part of the project and make it successful. Participation increases ownership,” she adds.
Currently, she is the Vice Chairperson of the Busia Civil Society Organization, a budget champion, and a certified consultant in resource mobilisation. Her dream is to see more girls empowered and enabled to take up leadership positions. “I believe that if you are not at the table when decisions are being made, then you are probably on the menu that is being discussed. Seeing more women take leadership positions will give room for more issues affecting girls and women to be given attention. Being in decision-making spaces will help us realize so many dreams of creating a better world for girls and women, especially around menstrual health” she concludes.
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