Education

LIBERATED TO LEARN: THE HURU SANITARY PROJECT

The project, which provides girls with reusable pads, life skills and hygiene education, not only dignifies their lives but has seen their performance improve.

At the Kambui School for the Deaf in Kiambu County ,class attendance for girls, if you isolate other factors is 100 per cent.

For this reason, the school’s head teacher Connie Mutiso says the performance of girls is on course to matching that of boys. “In last year’s KCPE exams, our mean score was 260. For a school for the disabled, that was a good performance and it is largely because girls performed well,” she says.

“We were also named the best school in sports and believe it or not, more girls participated than boys,” she says, pointing to a row of trophies in her office.

In the years past, however, the school suffered from chronic absenteeism in girls due to among other reasons, lack of sanitary towels. About 70 per cent of the school’s 647 students come from poor backgrounds.

“You will agree with me that disability goes with poverty,” she says.

“You get for example a child got struck with malaria and they never accessed medical help on time. It affects the nerves so they become deaf. Or maybe a pregnant mother falls sick, but does not attend pre-natal care. It may affect the unborn baby,” she says.

The Ministry of Health estimates that 30 to 40 per cent of girls in Kenya have reported missing three to four days of school every month because of lack of pads.

Lack of knowledge and understanding about menstruation, which is compounded by the lack of access to sanitary protection such as pads and underwear, means girls have to resort to alternative and lesseffective methods.

“Girls with periods don’t go to class and you know for girls, there is some stigma attached to it. You find she doesn’t want others to know that she has her periods,” says Mrs Mutiso.

The Safaricom Foundation has partnered with Huru International to fund the production and distribution of the reusable sanitary pad kits to school girls all over the country.

In June 2016, officials from Huru visited Kambui School for the Deaf on a factfinding mission. They discovered that despite the various interventions by the Ministry of Education, the solution was short lived because they had to keep supplying disposable sanitary pads.

“They were very concerned. And it is not like we went looking for them, they felt that this school was suitable for this project,” says Mrs Margaret Kuria, the school’s deputy head teacher.

According to the school, the problem of lack of sanitary pads is worse for physically challenged girls, especially those with a hearing disability due to a challenge in communication.

“Such a girl may not know how to express herself,” says Esther Kimani who is in charge of guidance and counselling at the school.

over 32, 390 community members have reached through sensitation programmes.

Apart from provision of re-usable sanitary towels, Huru also distributes panties sewn from their factory at Mukuru Kwa Njenga. The organisation trains the beneficiaries on life skills to teach them how to safeguard their rights through a curriculum that has been developed in conjunction with the Ministry of Health. This includes classes on hygiene and sexual reproductive health.

“I really loved the classes, tell them we want them to come back and give us more lessons,” a 16-year-old Class Seven pupil at the school says through an interpreter.

Since 2010, Safaricom Foundation has funded the project and in the process assisted Huru to reach 229 primary schools in 12 counties. The programme has supplied 12,998 girls, 568 of whom are physically challenged with sanitary towels and trained 18,134 pupils in life skills and reproductive health education.

Additionally, over 32,390 community members have been reached through sensitisation programmes. For this reason, Huru has established a production unit at Mukuru Kwa Njenga employing 21 permanent staff, thus promoting livelihoods in the Nairobi slum.

It is estimated that the kit can be used for three years if washed and stored properly. It costs Sh1,200 translating to Sh33 per month to produce and distribute the re-usable pad as compared to Sh100 for disposable pads.

“It has a big impact,” says Ms Mutiso.

“Just imagine if you miss five days a months, that is like 60 days in a full academic year. It is not easy to recover such days academically even if you are a bright student,” she says.

When girls regularly fall behind in school, they’re more likely to drop out, which can lead to early pregnancies or marriage and lower wages in the long run. Some menstruating girls who were desperate for protection would use whatever resources they had available to make their own pads. Some used tissue paper or old clothes. The Huru kits each contains five standard-size pads and three extra-long pads, three panties, a sturdy ziplock bag, and a bar of soap.

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