EMPOWER GIRLS AND WOMEN TO REACH THEIR FULL POTENTIAL
WITH MENSTRUAL HYGIENE MANAGEMENT.
These reusable sanitary kits and accompanying health education are the first steps!
Please help us continue providing reusable menstrual kits for girls and women at the remote Maasai village of Endulen in Tanzania, East Africa.
The Endulen Maasai Women’s Health Project provides girls and women with an innovative resource: washable, reusable menstrual kits and vital health education. I coordinate the project from California with a Maasai partner at Endulen and with local Tanzanian producers. In three years, we have distributed 500 reusable sanitary kits for girls and women at the village.
For 2019, we would love to exceed that number to reach beyond 1,000 reusable sanitary kits!
How the funds will be used:
I return to Endulen in the fall and will order kits in advance from Umoja, a NGO in Arusha, Tanzania, then transfer donated funds to their bank account for the order.
• 130 supreme kits at $10 (USD) each = $1,300 (USD)
• Hiring a driver at Endulen to transport the kits to the meeting area: $50 (USD)
• Stipends for two presenters who conduct the meetings: $50 each = $100 (USD)
• Educational materials for meetings: $50 (USD)
When girls and women have access to a safe, reliable method for managing their periods and health education to understand their bodies, menstruation can be seen as a healthy, natural part of growing into womanhood — not a change that means dropping out of school and being forced to marry too young or missing work and struggling to care for a family.
[Above]: Better sanitary care and reproductive health education for school girls improves attendance.
In her article, "Fixing the Global Pain Over Periods," Louisa Gosling writes that “menstruation should not be a matter of shame or impurity. Rather, it should be associated with pride and dignity. Menstruation is a sign of a woman’s health and fertility, yet it is still beset by shame, secrecy, humiliation, fear, taboo, stigma and embarrassment. Women and girls who do not have access to the water, toilets, disposal facilities, privacy and information they need to manage their menstruation safely and with dignity suffer most.” (1)
Millions of girls and women around the world stay home from school or work during their menstrual periods because they can’t afford sanitary supplies. They resort to using rags, mattress stuffing, banana leaves and even cow dung to manage their monthly periods. And with resources this unhealthy and unreliable, staying in school or working at a job becomes increasingly difficult.
Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) promotes the right for health, safety and dignity
While access to a reliable source of menstrual products is crucial for Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM), the idea also includes the need for girls to have adequate water to wash pads; to use clean, separate toilets (with doors that can be closed for privacy); and to have factual health education to learn about their bodies. According to the World Bank Group, at least 500 million women and girls globally lack adequate facilities for MHM. (2)
Audrey Anderson wrote in 2016 for Devex that “the shame girls suffer from poor MHM is a symptom of a much larger issue — a systemic problem of gender inequality compounded by poverty that touches all aspects of girls’ lives including education. MHM is not the silver bullet that will bring down the beast of gender inequality, but it is an integral part of an adolescent girl’s life that is deeply connected to a sense of dignity. As such, it must be central to programs that help girls live safe, healthy, thriving lives.” (3)
[Above]: Menstrual hygiene management is deeply connected to a sense of dignity.
The link to help Maasai girls stay in schools
For girls in the Maasai tribe of East Africa, extreme poverty and discriminating cultural beliefs often create an unsolvable obstacle to getting an education. In this traditional society where getting married and having children determine a girl’s worth, fewer than one in 100 Maasai girls complete high school and nine out of 10 are married off before age 15.
[Above]: Fewer than one in 100 Maasai girls complete high school.
[Below]: Dr. Mameso Frederick demonstrates how to assemble the reusable pads, shields and panties.
After our 2017 kit distribution at a secondary school in Endulen, the Advanced Level Matron, Ms. Irene Mlay, wrote to me that “this school is in a remote place, most girls are from peasant families, especially Maasai, and for them education, especially to girls, is not important. In recent years, we can see them at least responding positively to education after some family members have been educated [through] government efforts, law enforcement and sponsorship from charitable people and organizations. Otherwise girls are very early forced to be married, and they are traditionally raised with that mentality. Girls from families with problems are hardly even able to get their social demands met.”
[Above]: Ms. Irene Mlay and Lemali Sabore at our 2017 meeting at Embarway Secondary School. "You care for our girls," Ms. Mlay wrote to me. "It will never be worthless work. You are doing something hard for them to simply forget. Thank you on their behalf. [The kits are] to them more meaningful help than one can say.”
More than one in 10 first-time mothers in Tanzania are aged 15-19 and in rural areas like Endulen the numbers are even higher. (4) Women often don’t understand their menstrual cycle, how pregnancy occurs or what happens to their bodies during pregnancy and childbirth. Studies show that girls who complete secondary school (high school) are less likely to contract HIV or become pregnant when they are young and are more likely to have fewer children who will be healthier and better educated.
In a groundbreaking new study from the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, findings from a test in rural Uganda showed that providing free sanitary products and education about puberty increased girls’ attendance at school. The article, "Keeping African Girls in School with Better Sanitary Care," March 2018, reveals the following: “In Uganda, only 22 percent of girls are enrolled in secondary schools compared with 91 percent in primary schools, with those living in rural areas being the least likely group to go to school. Researchers believe that the cost of hygiene products and the difficulties in managing periods play a key role in keeping girls out of school."
"Over 24 months, a trial was conducted in partnership with Plan International Uganda across eight schools, involving 1,008 girls, in Uganda’s Kamuli District, an area that had been observed as having low learning levels as well as gender disparity in health and education. The research tested whether school attendance improved when girls were given (a) reusable sanitary pads, (b) adolescent reproductive health education, (c) neither or (d) a combination of both. Girls were provided with AFRIpads, a washable, reusable cloth pad produced in Uganda, and locally trained community health nurses held sessions that covered changes which occur during puberty, menstruation, and early pregnancy, and on the prevention of HIV. Researchers found that better sanitary care and reproductive health education for poor school girls, delivered over two years, did appear to improve attendance. On average, girls increased their attendance by 17 percent, which equates to 3.4 days out of every 20 days.” (4)
The link between access to sanitary supplies and remaining in school is crucial for girls in developing countries where the stigma and cultural misconceptions about menstruation result in a lack of education. By keeping girls in school and helping them to be healthier and more comfortable, the kits allow girls to develop the resources needed to make their own decisions about their future.
[Above]: The link between access to sanitary supplies and remaining in school is crucial.
Women using the kits take better care of themselves and their children
Maasai women at Endulen village struggle to stay healthy and care for their families without a safe, reliable way to manage their monthly menstrual periods. Families live in isolated huts without electricity or plumbing and daily chores consist of hard physical labor: collecting firewood and water (often miles from home), milking the cows and goats, washing clothes at the river and cooking over an open fire in an unventilated hut. Something as simple as reusable sanitary supplies helps them better care for their families and themselves. And the education we provide helps them to better understand their bodies and health issues to raise healthier children.
[Above]: Maasai girls who don't attend school marry and have children at a very young age. The women are responsible for all aspects of caring for the home — collecting firewood and water, cooking, taking care of the small livestock — and for the children.
[Below]: The Maasai village of Endulen is extremely remote without electricity or plumbing.
Creating the Endulen Maasai Women’s Health Project
I first visited Tanzania in 2012 on safari with my brother and became friends with Lemali Sabore, a Maasai man who worked at the Serengeti camp where we stayed. I was able to visit his Maasai village, Endulen, when I returned to Tanzania in 2013. The next time I visited Endulen was in 2015 and, at that time, several women told me how difficult it was for them to access any type of sanitary supplies each month. They often used mattress stuffing, corn husks, old cloth or newspaper to try to manage their periods. Girls missed school and women struggled to accomplish daily chores without adequate supplies. They asked if I could help with this issue.
Through extensive research when I returned home, I discovered an NGO that created an innovative resource — washable, reusable fabric sanitary kits — that girls and women could rely on each month for up to three years. Created by Days for Girls, the kits and accompanying educational materials provide an invaluable resource to improve the lives of the girls and women.
I created the Endulen Maasai Women’s Health Project in 2015 and started fundraising to purchase the kits for girls and women at Endulen. Because of the generosity of our supporters, we have to date delivered more than 500 kits over three years.
At Endulen, Lemali manages details necessary to plan and carry out our meetings and is my bridge from here to there. But the crucial link to the girls and women is the physician who conducts our meetings, Dr. Mameso Frederick. In a patriarchal society such as the Maasai, being a Maasai woman and a doctor gives her a unique perspective on the cultural and educational issues girls and women face living in a remote village. She provides a comfortable, safe authority figure for them to learn about their bodies, ask questions and practice using the kits.
[Above]: Dr. Frederick provides valuable health information to the Endulen girls and women.
Days for Girls reusable, washable pads are not like traditional pads
Days for Girls was founded in 2008 by Celeste Mergens when she was working with a family foundation at an orphanage in the outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya. The reusable kit is now in its 28th iteration, informed by extensive feedback and designed to meet unique cultural and environmental conditions in communities throughout the world.
We distribute the supreme kit which contains one fabric drawstring bag to hold all components, two waterproof shields, eight absorbent liners, two pairs of panties, two plastic bags for washing and storage, a washcloth and bar of soap. The absorbent liner pads are sewn from brightly colored cloth to camouflage staining and unfold to look like a washcloth so they can dry outside in the sun without causing embarrassment. The shields contain a waterproof liner that easily snaps into place.
Studies show that the kits:
• Have high user acceptance in a variety of settings
• Dry quickly
• Save money over disposables
• Are comfortable
• Last up to three years
[Above]: We use Days for Girls' educational resource materials and curriculum at our meetings.
We buy the kits locally to support the community and promote sustainability
One important way Days for Girls supports sustainability is through its enterprise program. Days for Girls Enterprise programs exist in more than 15 countries and support women and men to meet hygiene needs in their own communities through making and selling kits at an affordable price. Enterprises sell to other women, NGOs, schools and government ministries and retain all the income they earn to reinvest in more materials for more kits.
When an NGO in Arusha, Tanzania called Umoja began making the kits in 2017, this was a perfect fit for our project. By purchasing kits in country, we support the efforts of an NGO and local women who sew the kits. For our project’s first year in 2016, I took 50 kits from California to Tanzania and purchased 50 more from an enterprise established in Nairobi but since then, all the kits we distribute are from Umoja.
[Above]: The kits we buy are made locally in Arusha, Tanzania, which supports the community and promotes sustainability.
OUR KIT DISTRIBUTION HISTORY 2015 - 2018
2016 [Above]: Our first campaign funded 100 reusable menstrual kits, supplies, education and lunch and were distributed in a meeting at the Endulen hospital with Dr. Frederick providing educational information.
2017 [Above & Below]: Our project continued to grow, and we provided 300 kits for girls at two different Endulen secondary schools.
2018 [Above]: Our supporters raised funds for 120 kits and we distributed them to Maasai women at a meeting held outside in the windy savannah bush. Totally in her element, Dr. Frederick had the group spellbound as she talked about women’s health and why the kits are a game-changer.
[Below] A small meeting with 10 women that my friend arranged at her shop to give kits to a few women in town.
[Above]: Lemali returned to the school at Endulen where we distributed the kits in September 2018 and asked a few questions such as, "Do the kits work well?" and [Below]: "Are the girls using the kits?"
2018 [Above & Below]: Distributing kits during meetings at Embarway Secondary School.
Endulen is one of several Maasai villages in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, a UNESCO World Heritage site in northern Tanzania that covers more than 8,292 square kilometers (5,152 miles). According to UNESCO, the area includes “vast expanses of highland plains, savanna, savanna woodlands and forests. Established in 1959 as a multiple land use area, with wildlife coexisting with semi-nomadic Maasai pastoralists practicing traditional livestock grazing, it includes the spectacular Ngorongoro Crater, the world’s largest caldera. The property has global importance for biodiversity conservation due to the presence of globally threatened species, the density of wildlife inhabiting the area and the annual migration of wildebeest, zebra, gazelles and other animals into the northern plains. Extensive archaeological research has also yielded a long sequence of evidence of human evolution and human-environment dynamics, including early hominid footprints dating back 3.6 million years.” (6)
[Above]: Endulen is in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, a UNESCO World Heritage site in northern Tanzania that covers more than 8,292 square kilometers (5,152 miles).
[Above]: Most people live in huts made of cow dung and dried grasses. Laundry is hung to dry on vertical branches that create a fence to keep the livestock safe at night.
[Above]: Goats, sheep and cows are the Maasai's currency— a source of milk, food and income.
1. "Fixing the Global Pain Over Periods" by Louisa Gosling, May 28, 2015
2. World Bank Group: "Menstrual Hygiene Management Enables Women and Girls to Reach Their Full Potential" May 25, 2018
3. "Sanitary Pads and School Attendance: The Numbers — What They Mean" by Audrey Anderson, February 23, 2016
4. School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London: "Keeping African Girls in School with Better Sanitary Care," March 2018
5. World Health Organization (WHO) 2015
In Tanzania, the adolescent birth rate in 2015 per 1000 women aged 15-19 years was 132 births.
6. UNESCO is the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. It seeks to build peace through international cooperation in Education, the Sciences and Culture.
Days for Girls
Days for Girls increases access to menstrual care and education by developing global partnerships, cultivating social enterprises, mobilizing volunteers, and innovating sustainable solutions that shatter stigmas and limitations for women and girls.
Umoja for Girls
Umoja’s mission is to empower youth to break the intergenerational cycle of poverty and lead lives free of poverty, abuse and exploitation. Days for Girls kits are manufactured and sold in Arusha, Tanzania, as part of their social enterprise program.
[Above]: Here I am in 2018 with Dr. Frederick and Dr. Schneider and some of the secondary school girls showing off their new kits. It was wonderful!
A huge thank you to our generous supporters who have made it possible to continue our project. If you have any questions or need additional information, please feel free to contact me here through GoFundMe.