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Lack of sanitary towels frustrating the girl-child

An NGO involved in supplying pads to school girls wants county governments to budget for Menstrual Hygiene Management

When Victor Odhiambo visited a children’s home in Nairobi’s Kibera slums and gave Sh50 to a pupil, little did he know that was the start of a journey to empower disadvantaged girls to manage their menses.

“The girl approached me to help her with some money. I did not know why she wanted it but realised later that she was in her periods and wanted to buy sanitary pads,” he says.

Touched by the plight girls undergo during their menses, Odhiambo founded Garden of Hope Foundation, a community-based organisation in 2014 to equip the youth with skills and knowledge on sexual reproductive health and provision of sanitary towels to girls.

Other programmes undertaken by the organisation include leadership development and entrepreneurship, volunteer and internship, sports, arts and water, sanitation and hygiene a programmes in addition to training students on hygienic hand washing.

“We started out of experience after I realised that most girls lack money to buy sanitary towels due to poverty, especially in rural villages and urban slums,” says Odhiambo.

In partnership with various organisations, among them the Ministry of Health, the foundation provides sanitary pads to pupils in five counties of Kitui, West Pokot, Maralal, Nairobi and Kajiado.

The Foundation’s founder, Victor Odhiambo, counsels boys on sexual reproductive health. Photo/Charles Muasya

At least 5,000 girls in school under ages 10-21 years have been reached. He says studies have shown that menstruating girls from poor families go through various challenges.

“Some cultures still look at menstruation as a taboo while most families, especially in low-income areas and marginalised communities, cannot afford the pads,” he says.

As a result, many girls miss school during their menses, leading to low grades. Others give up and eventually drop out of school, after which some fall prey to early marriages and pregnancies.

Odhiambo is now calling on county governments and Constituency Development Fund managers to budget for and supply school girls with panties and sanitary towels.

“Many school girls and vulnerable women lack even panties. Some girls get the sanitary towels, but when they reach home, they donate them to their poor mothers and guardians, which defeats the purpose of the exercise,” he says.

Some county governments, however,support Menstrual Hygiene Management programmes in their regions, most notably Kwale and Makueni, which should be emulated by other counties.

“These first ladies in these two counties are highly involved in supporting menstrual hygiene management but a lot needs to be done in many other counties with support from the top leadership, not just the wives of governors,’’ he said.

A key challenge girls face during menstruation is lack of support from men around them – fathers, brothers, teachers and fellow classmates.

“We encourage governors to take a leading role. All students deserve quality and affordable education,” says Odhiambo. Poor infrastructure in public schools- toilets, bathrooms and changing rooms for both boys and girls—should also be addressed.

Hygiene is a key component during menstruation and if the facilities the girls use are not clean and up-to standard, they make the girls vulnerable to diseases.

“The few schools with such facilities are not built to current standards,” he says. Based in Kibera, Nairobi, the foundation and its partners will implement similar projects in Narok, Lamu and Samburu as it plans to resume operations in Ikutha sub-county, Kitui county.

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