Giving Girls a Chance in School
by Alice Aluoch, Mfariji Africa
In 2012, Mfariji Africa began as a small project distributing sanitary towels to girls in villages and marginalized areas in Kenya to reduce class absenteeism during menstruation. Over time the vision has expanded to improving the lives of Kenyan girls by helping them to stay in school and complete their education though different programs.
In Kenya, more than 850,000 Girls miss school 5 to 6 days every month during their menstruation because they lack sanitary pads. This means that a girl who is absent from school due to menses for five days per month loses 15 learning days equivalent to 2 weeks of learning in every school term. Today in Kenya menstruation is not only a health concern, but also an educational policy concern, and has become a key factor in the country’s bid to achieve the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of eliminating gender disparity in primary and secondary education. In Goal 6 of the 2015 Sustainable Development goals the United Nations calls for access to sanitation and clean water for all and alludes to the issue of managing menstruation through this line’ paying special attention to the needs of women and girls.
Our key program Sanitary Sanity Campaign (SSC) is designed to deliver sanitary pads and health education to Kenyan girls from poor social and economic backgrounds and ensure that periods do not get in the way of Girls right to Education. Our second program, Mfariji Clubs, was established in the schools we work with to mentor girls to develop their full potential. Through our leadership and training workshops we equip, empower and educate teenage girls to make healthy choices through life skills, relationship and character building education.
When you grow up in Africa, with very limited opportunities, education is one thing that can truly change your life. My whole life is a true testimony of that. The only reason I wasn’t a mother of 3 by age 18 was because of education. The only reason why my parents are different for choosing education over marriage for me is because of the education they received themselves and the only reason I am a voice for others rather than a statistic is because of education. Today, my daughter has a better chance in life because of the power of choice education has given me.
As we celebrate the milestones that different education activists and organizations have made its important to remember that 62 Million Girls in the world do not get the chance to get educated because they cannot afford it. Out of these 62 million girls, 24 million girls are from Sub-Saharan Africa. The few who are able to go to school in rural areas have yet to deal with issues surrounding menstruation and this hinders their chances of excelling and even completing school. We are excited that the narrative on Girls is changing and even more that the first lady Michelle Obama through the #Let Girls Learn initiative and the #62millionGirls is using her platform to raise awareness on why Girls all over the world should get quality universal education.
Over the last 3 years we have reached over 3000 girls in Kenya with sanitary pads, menstrual hygiene training and mentorship. The results are amazing! Girls are more confident and most importantly are getting equal learning hours! This is what one of our girls had to say on our recent last distributions.
" As a standard 7 student at my local primary school, my ambition is to complete my education and become a doctor. I am an orphan and very grateful to my grandmother who struggles a lot to support my education. I had no prior knowledge of menstruation until last year when it occurred to me in class. I was scared and embarrassed. I rushed to my class teacher who locked me in the staffroom and sent someone to buy me sanitary pads. Despite the school curriculum there is still a lot of gaps in girls’ reproductive health which makes it difficult for us to embrace puberty as we should. My grandmother, with the little she makes in farming, cannot afford to buy me sanitary pads, so most days during my menstruation I stay at home or use a piece of cloth and sit in class the whole day afraid of making a mess. Since Mfariji Africa started coming to our school it has been a complete turnaround. The girls in my school and I have received sanitary towels and reproductive health training. I am able to stay in school without fear of soiling myself, and I’m happy that I can get equal reading/study hours with the boys in my class. I now have a better understanding of myself and the normal changes happening to my body. I can play and perform normal activities like all the other girls in my school. I’m working hard to become a beneficiary of Mfariji Scholarship fund because I cannot wait to see what the future holds for me.”
Through the work we do at http://mfarijiafrica.org/ we are raising our voice not just for the girls/boys in the village, community or country we serve but for the millions of children all over the world who are out of school yet deserve an Education. Because no matter where a child is born they deserve to live, thrive, receive an education and reach their full potential. As Nelson Mandela said Education is the most powerful tool we can use to change the world. We too believe in the power of Education and its potential to change lives.
Alice Aluoch is the founder of Mfariji Africa.