Empowering girls one kit at a time

Malia Barto volunteered at the Faraja Family Resource Center and For The Good Period during a mission trip to Kenya over winter break.

North of Kenya’s largest city, Nairobi, is Chogoria, home to over 30,000 residents and to the Faraja Family Resource Center. The Faraja Family Resource Center opened in 2003 and provides support, whether that be education, food or shelter, to children and families in need. Faraja ? the word meaning “comfort” in Swahili ? is also a supporter of the organization For The Good Period.

Millicent Garam sews fabric for the reusable menstrual pads in the Faraja Family Resource Center. With her degree in international health, Garam hopes to bring awareness to personal health and hygiene issues to girls throughout Kenya. Photo credit: Lauren Webber

For The Good Period started in 2012 by women for women. The nonprofit supplies washable, reusable menstrual pads to Kenyan schoolgirls who do not have access to common disposable products. The organization reaches around 1,000 girls per year and is partnered in three places in the world: Kenya, Colorado and North Dakota.

Millicent Garam is the Kenyan Programs Director for For The Good Period, as well as the co-founder of the Faraja Family Resource Center with her husband.

“I love the job ? learning from them and them learning from me,” Garam said.

Garam, a life-long Kenyan, holds a master’s degree in international health and learned that it’s “better to prevent than to treat” health issues. Garam works along with four others at Faraja and hopes to expand the program to other communities.

More than just a need

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In addition to giving approximately 1,000 kits to girls, For The Good Period provides education to the girls on topics in health such as puberty, menses, sex and pregnancy, as well as more culture-directed issues such as HIV, AIDS and female genital mutilation.

Kenyan nurse, Josephine Kimemia, said that there is a strong stigma around menses in Kenya as well as a “lack of education” and “ignorance” in being sexually active as a teenager and the spread of HIV.

Not having access to feminine hygiene products can lead to further complications in Kenya. If the Kenyan schoolgirls do not have access to some sort of hygienic products, they will have to skip school. Skipping school will lead the girls to be punished by the teachers, and sometimes the consequences for missing school may result in missing more school. On average, girls in primary school (elementary and middle school) will miss four days of school per month due to menses.

It is critical for girls to finish school because if they cannot finish, or are forced to drop out, it can result in unfavorable events, including a higher risk of teenage pregnancy or being sold into marriage, often to a man three times her age.

Girls often will find an alternative to pads if they do not have them. Garam said she has heard of girls using mattress stuffing, parts of blankets and clothes as supplements. There have been other reported instances of using dried cow manure under a piece of cloth to better absorb blood. Needless to say, these methods are unhygienic and can lead to infection.

The Kenyan government passed a law to supply schoolgirls sanitary pads, for free; however, the need is so great that it cannot reach every girl, especially those in rural areas. The reusable pads For The Good Period supplies can last up to three years if the owner takes good care of her kit and washes the products well.

For The Good Period supplies reusable, hand-sewn pads for girls in Kenya. Photo credit: Lauren Webber

Each kit contains two “holders;” one holder will lay on the girl’s underwear and either has a snap or velcro to secure the holder to the underwear. The holder keeps a removable flannel liner in place, which is similar to using a disposable pad. Each kit comes with 6-8 liners in a zippered waterproof bag.

“[These kits] are good and very clean for them,” Garam said.

Helping across the world

Heidi Porter, Eagle River resident, created 88 kits to bring to Kenya with her on a mission trip in early January. With the help of her friends and family, Porter sewed and serged 616 liners, 176 holders and 88 cinch bags, along with purchasing washcloths and collecting small bars of soap for each kit. Porter paid for the materials and dedicated hours of her time to create the bright and colorful products for girls and women she had never met before.

“What if we didn’t have anything? What if that was us?” Porter said. “We want people to live to their fullest potential.”

North Dakota State University, a partnered university with Faraja, has instructions on how to create the products online, which Porter used as a reference. Porter and the team she was a part of dispersed the 88 kits throughout various cities in Kenya to females of all ages.

For more information on For The Good Period, visit their website at www.forthegoodperiod.org.