By Seliphar Musungu, Kakamega
One evening when I was strolling around Mwiyala area, within the outskirts of Kakamega town, I met a young girl aged between 13- 15 selling firewood along the road.
She looked sad, thoughtful, worried, fizzled, unnerved and uneasy. I was so curious to talk to her so I moved close and greeted her. I asked her why she was selling firewood while other girls of her age were in school. With teary eyes she looked at me then looked aside. I sat down beside her for us to have a conversation.
She told me that her name is Diana Muchalluo (not real name) and the main reason why she is selling firewood is to get money to buy her sanitary towels.
Diana said that she has no other means of getting sanitary towels apart from selling firewood. Her family background didn’t allow her to have such essential needs at her disposal.
“I come from a poor family, my mom is a single mother and jobless, she barely gets food to feed me and my younger sister. She cannot afford that fifty bob to buy me sanitary towels and now that the price has increased from 50 to 70 per packet my mother cannot afford that. I have to sell firewood to raise money to buy them. That’s why I am not in school.” Diana narrated
Diana’s willingness to narrate her story made me want to know more about her. She narrated that the shame that comes with lack of pads in school is too much that she cannot bear to handle it when it stains her uniform.
“I started menstruating when I was in school; I always carry some old clothes in my school bag to use when I start menstruating while in school. That is what I used. Sadly, the flow stained my uniform and I was so scared to even stand up from class to the latrine,” said Diana
She added: “I had no other choice but to find a way of coming back home to clean myself and wash my uniform. Other pupils noticed and they started laughing at me. By the moment I was getting out of the class, rumors had spread all over and all eyes were on me,”
According to her, she would miss classes even for five days and that affected her performance in class and dropped from 300 marks and above to below 200marks.
“Every month I miss classes for like a week which is affecting my results. I used to perform well like I used to be among the top students in my class but due to too much absenteeism I dropped from 300 and above marks to 200 marks. My poor performance made me sometimes lose hope of better results in final exams,” said Diana
She said that while she was nearing her exam she met a lady who owns a girls foundation who came in at the right time and helped her out until she was able to sit for her KCPE and performed well.
“As I was about to sit for my KCPE I was introduced to Vivian who is running a program here in Mwiyala of helping young girls with sanitary towels and teaching them menstrual hygiene. She has been helping me to get sanitary pads at least every month.” She said
She explained that she does not agree with those girls who run to these bodaboda men for help saying that their help is not for free and she is not ready to add another pregnancy burden to her mother
“I have heard cases of girls of my age begging bodaboda guys to buy them sanitary towels. They will agree to help you but they will definitely want something in return. You will pay with your body and the result will be pregnancy as for me I cannot opt for that since the situation at home is not good. How will I take care of the baby and even myself when I can’t afford 70 shillings for sanitary towels? I’d rather sell firewood than run to bodaboda men,” said Diana
Diana advised other girls to always value themselves and protect themselves from early pregnancies and called upon the county government to continue with the program of distribution of sanitary pads to primary school and secondary school to prevent school girls from falling victim of early pregnancies and school dropout.
“I would like to advise my fellow girls to always value themselves, have self-control to avoid shame to your family and early pregnancies which will be accompanied with you dropping out of school. You will not be doing justice to your family because you are raising your poverty level and you will not be able to take care of yourself and the baby. I call upon the county government to continue with pads distribution program to both secondary and primary schools
I had a conversation with Vivian Nabwera, who is running a young girls program on menstrual hygiene said that that pads poverty and poverty are a great challenge to our girls in Kenya, especially those who come from poor backgrounds.
“About 1 million girls in Kenya miss school for 5 days months due to their menstrual cycle. This affects mostly those girls that are coming from a poor background since it is difficult for them to afford a packet of sanitary towels every month, am glad that my program has been able to restore this girl’s dignity,” Said Vivian
Vivian called upon both the county government and the national government to continue with the project of distributing pads in both primary and secondary schools to maintain girls in school every month.
“I call upon the county and the national government to continue with the pads distribution project to primary and secondary schools to enable these girls to stay in school, to avoid dropouts and early pregnancies which has become a challenge in our county.” She said
An average of 20 per cent of school going girls miss school every year in Kenya because they are in their periods. Due to the high rate of poverty in Kenya 65 per cent of women and girls in Kenya are unable to afford sanitary towels.