Stories and podcasts WBW Stories Sanitation, Education, Empowerment: The Girls of Kenya’s Kibera Slums Few people recall their adolescence without some discomfort: the emotional fluctuations and physical changes that signify great growth can be, frankly put, embarrassing. So imagine being a young girl living in Kenya’s Kibera slums who does not have enough sanitary items to go to school during her monthly period. The stigma of menstruation, and a lack of education and resources around it, expand the education divide between genders drastically in emerging countries. Spur Afrika, a locally-run non-governmental organization, aims to not only provide sanitary pads but also empower and equip girls to take control of their future and live without shame. Spur Afrika runs a program for girls in which 100 teenagers meet with local women fortnightly to discuss topics specific to girls’ development and mental health. A range of holistic skills are taught across a number of subjects, such as career ambitions, women’s health, self-esteem, decision-making, amongst others. Each term, this program also provides each girl with sanitary pads and new underwear to prevent them from missing school. Jane who is 14 years old has been a beneficiary of this program for a number of years, and is proud to share her journey when asked. “Spur Afrika has changed my life,” she says. She smiles shyly as she speaks, but it is not from shame. “When I started my monthly period, I was absent for a long period of time due to headaches and stomach pain. My body felt so weak. “I was helpless, and the teachers were struggling to find pads for us. Every day, I used to go home to search for pads, but I could never find them. I decided to use blankets to substitute for pads, or I would just miss a week of school.” Jane knew the stigma against menstruation in the community; she felt dirty, ashamed, and housebound. When she did go to school, her friends would ignore her as she would carry an unpleasant odor. Her desk-mate would sit at any other desk but theirs. Pupils from the baby class, nursery and pre-units would laugh at her openly, and say that she was peeing in her pants. Out of embarrassment, Jane stopped attending many of her lessons, so when the exams came, she failed. Then Spur Afrika came to the Kibera slums, where they began to supply pads to each and every girl who had their periods. With such a simple santitation tool, Jane’s monthly shame was eradicated: her friends began talking to her again, her desk-mate would sit beside her without saying that she smelled. Small children stopped calling her names that she hated. "Spur Afrika made me clean,” Jane said, beaming a mouth of straight white teeth, “They brought back the last smile to my face. I was very happy. They also made those like me undergoing their periods very happy. We were not ashamed anymore.” Through this program, girls not only receive education and sanitary items, but also attend a girl’s conference in which they can celebrate their identities beyond socio-economic or educational constraints. At the most recent conference, a Kenyan model delivered an address to the girls about chasing their dreams and being confident in their own skin, which was followed up with a long session of fancy dress and a runway show. At Spur Afrika, we believe that even the smallest change can empower girls to see themselves, and their place in the world, far more positively. Through delivery of appropriate tools, resources, and opportunity to simply be children, the girls are empowered, mentored and inspired to achieve their dreams. Despite the challenges the girls living in Kibera face on a daily basis, the simplest of support systems – sanitary products, education, simply being told that they can do anything – can make all the difference between playing truant from school out of shame, to believing that they have the power to run the world. Please consider supporting Spur Afrika https://givematcher.com.au/spur-afrika-australia-ltd www.spurafrika.org Like SPur Afrika on Facebook About the Author.