Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Friday, October 30, 2009

the girls of Mathare

Here they are—the bold and beautiful footballing girls of Mathare, who are getting Lunapads!

So, to catch up. I wasn’t able to establish a solid connection with the Kibera group, though I’m still hopeful that I can at some future point. They’re fabulous, but various factors on both sides forestalled my plans to distribute the Lunapads there. So in the ensuing months I’ve kept my feelers out, knowing the right group would come along at the right time.

And at last I believe I have found the girls who will benefit from the Cycle of Hope project, fully a year later than originally expected! They’re high-risk teens in Mathare, one of Nairobi’s more rugged slums. Many of them, for lack of sanitary products, spend their periods standing on the street in a skirt, bleeding onto the ground. Another technique is to scour the garbage piles for pieces of foam from old mattresses, which they will insert as tampons. Needless to say—these girls need Lunapads!!

Mathare Youth Sports Association, or MYSA, is a non-profit that provides sports programs for high-risk teens in Mathare to motivate them to stay in school. They are incredible girls. They practice football on a slopey dirt field covered with rocks and rubble…in their bare feet. And they’re just so grateful for the opportunity to play, and to be coached (the coach is AMAZING, an ex-professional player who is so committed to helping girls succeed), and to be supported in the challenges they’re up against. There’s an under-12s team, all the way up to an over-16s team, so girls who participate in MYSA are supported all the way through their school careers. I’ve begun attending their practices, establishing relationships, and I’m looking forward to telling them about Lunapads. The coaches are enthusiastic and grateful, and we are all optimistic that providing this extremely disadvantaged group of young women with safe and affordable menstrual care options will help in the overall quest to keep them in school, giving them a chance to break the cycle of poverty.

It’s been a busy and educational year for me, slowly feeling my way into Kenyan culture and the reality of daily life here. Less than ever I feel entitled to speak to any of the problems here, and certainly not to propose any solutions. But I do feel strongly that education, particularly for girls, is a tremendously important step toward creating better lives for Kenya’s youth, and I’m more passionate than ever about the need to protect and champion these young girls in a society where they are still largely marginalized. This is why I love the MYSA program and all the individuals I’ve met who are pouring themselves into these teen girls’ lives.

So look for updates on the Lunapads distribution soon, I hope!

The under-12s stretching out before practice.

The over-16s, two wins into the three that netted them a tournament victory against university teams last weekend.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Still moving forward!

A couple schoolgirls heading home in Kibera.

Last week I visited Kibera, Kenya's largest slum, to talk with Caroline, the woman who runs Binti Pamoja, the girls' group to whom I'm distributing my Goods 4 Girls kits. Caroline kicks ass, and the projects she's doing with the girls are amazing. I brought four other volunteers with me and they were all excited at the possibility of doing some work with the Binti Pamoja teens. So Caroline is working on selecting the girls to receive the Goods 4 Girls kits-- there are currently well over 200 girls in the program, and I have 35 kits, so she is personally selecting the girls with access to water who are also motivated to put in the effort it will take to maintain the cleanliness and usability of their kits. Interesting the considerations involved here. Now we're looking for a weekend when the other volunteers and I can all go and spend some time with the teens and start establishing those relationships, in hopes that, long after the Lunapads have been dispensed, there can be an ongoing connection between the volunteers from my program and the Binti Pamoja girls.

If you want an idea of the work Binti Pamoja does, you can check out www.bintipamoja.org. They're an amazing group. Specifically, look at their Lightbox book: it's an incredible collection of photos and mini essays by the girls about their lives as young women in Africa's second largest slum. The book is exquisitely done and 100% of the profits goes to funding scholarships for the girls' secondary education.

So, I'm enjoying developing my contacts with this group, and as Caroline gathers her group of recipients we'll be doing a Goods 4 Girls extravaganza day sometime soon! Thanks for bearing with my "African time" approach to implementing this project... I value the development of personal relationships, since I'm planning to be here awhile, so I'm taking my time making this happen, and I think it's going to be a terrific success in the long run.

A message painted during the post-election violence. Entire sections of Kibera were destroyed in the riots.

The other volunteers who plan to work with Binti Pamoja.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Update! Good things are afoot.

My friends, I am alive! I am alive and well, and so is Cycle of Hope-- my deepest apologies to those who have checked in and wondered what was going on; I ought to have updated long ago, and it simply got lost in the shuffle of a thousand other things. Life in Kenya was so BUSY. To recap briefly-- my work there is with women living with HIV/Aids and, to make a long story short, once I got involved I realized there was so much they needed and when I left things would just go back to how they had been, so I decided I can't leave till there's something long-term in place. So I'm moving to Kenya and starting an NGO to help establish sustainable incomes for the "positive" women of Kitengela (isn't it great how people use that term? it puts such an optimistic spin on living with HIV). First and foremost we want to incorporate social networking opportunities, as so many HIV-positive women are isolated there-- the stigma is still extreme-- and the simple act of establishing social connections and support is literally lifesaving for them, as I've seen with my own eyes. In addition there will be educational opportunities, covering everything from living well with AIDS and protecting your children, to learning or improving English and developing business and entrepreneurial skills. And on a more long-range level, there will be microfinance, the foundation of the sustainable income idea, as well as various civic projects that are in the brainstorm stage right now. It is a huge commitment, and such exciting work; my last few weeks in Kenya were a whirlwind, back and forth between doing my visits with women in Kitengela (and they are turning into true friends... they're so lovely, and such a gift to me) and networking with business and finance contacts in Nairobi. I've never been so busy, so full of purpose. Extremely demanding and extremely fulfilling, and I love it-- it's an incredible new journey to be beginning.

So anyway, as all this was going on, I was perpetually on the lookout for the place to distribute the Cycle of Hope goods. (I never wrote about picking them up at the airport. NIGHTMARE. The crooked customs agents held the box and demanded hundreds of dollars from me before they'd release it... I had to fight for days, but in the end, with the help of a saint of an agent named Sara who was straight with me and told me they couldn't inflict all those taxes and fees on me, I stood up to them and won!) My original contact, by way of Loretta Cella, didn't pan out, as he no longer works with that group that received them before, though I do hope to give him some kits eventually-- he was one of many infinitely kind and helpful people who was enthused to be part of our project. I also became connected with several different orphanages, but those places make sure their girls stay in school, and while their needs are still significant, it just didn't seem like the venue. So all this time I have been looking and waiting, confident I would know the place to distribute our Lunapads kits when the time came. And I did! I found it this month, a fabulous group called Binti Pamoja ("Daughters United") that works with teenage girls in the massive slum of Kibera. Originally begun by two American girls and now entirely Kenyan-run, this NGO uses peer mentoring and local outreach to empower teenage girls to make healthy choices for themselves and to recover from experiences of their pasts and work towards better futures. When I contacted the director and told her about our Lunapads, she said the girls have heard of those and wished for them... so it is indeed perfect. The only hitch is that by the time I made this contact, the girls were already between terms (they get roughly the entire month of December off school) so they aren't meeting and I could not distribute them yet.

But there is all the time in the world. I'm currently home in the States for Christmas, as of a few days ago, and the third week in January I fly back to Kenya to settle in for the long haul. At that time I'll be going to Binti Pamoja to meet the girls and give them the Lunapads. I'm thrilled to have found exactly the group I was looking for-- high-risk teenagers in a poverty situation who will consciously appreciate and utilize the advantage of reusable menstrual supplies. And I love the Binti Pamoja vision and am looking forward to establishing relationships with these girls!

...(This is Salome, a 15-year-old orphan who helped out at my homestay and who actually got kicked out of her orphanage by the spiteful owner because "you have white friends now." Before she left I gave her a Goods 4 Girls kit and my friend and I are currently working to find a boarding school for her-- so she is actually the first beneficiary of the Cycle of Hope project. She is an absolute sweetheart.)

So there's the update. Though it has taken time, the Cycle of Hope niche has been discovered at last, and it's a good one. And as originally promised, when I do finally get the chance to distribute the Lunapads, I will document it on here. I apologize for my lack of communication on the subject!

And I want to thank you all again for supporting the Cycle of Hope vision. When I originally got the idea in the fall, it seemed so extreme-- I'd never done anything like this! I'm not a project kind of girl, I'm not a go-getter!-- but somehow it felt like the right thing, so I went for it, and was OVERWHELMED by the response. Funding 40 Goods-4-Girls kits was WAY beyond what I'd hoped for. So then, when it became apparent that my work in Kitengela needed a long-term infrastructure, although it seemed ludicrous that I could actually start an NGO, I remembered the response to Cycle of Hope, and I thought, people believed in me in that venture, why not in this one too. If that small but significant project could succeed on this level, why can't I take it up a notch? So thank you all for backing me up-- your support translated directly into spurring me to undertake my next, far bigger project, and it means so much to me to know that women out there care about what I'm doing and are "on the team." You are the ones giving me courage to take this next step!

So thank you all for that ongoing gift. Look for more Cycle of Hope results in late January (I promise to do better at updating things) and follow my other blog for developments in the Aids NGO. I'm currently working on registering it stateside but I think it's going to be called Sustainable Aid Women's Agency (I had to get the Agency in there-- it's a double-entendre, referring to women taking back their agency and working to control their own destinies despite their diagnoses). We shall see how it all falls into place!

(With my friend Violet, one of my 'positive women,' and her daughters and their friends: I want to help women like these stay strong and raise their girls to be healthy and powerful!)

Much love and gratitude to you all for backing me up on this amazing journey. Your support both humbles and empowers me... truly the power of women working together; we really can change the world.

Friday, October 31, 2008

I made it!

Well I am here! Arrived in Nairobi at 4 this morning. So far I'm on system overload... it's busy, it's noisy, it's dirty, it's colorful, it's active, it's exactly like I thought it would be and better. I can't believe I'm in Kenya.

Tomorrow, Saturday, I'll be doing my program orientation for the HIV/AIDS work. I hear that non-medically-certified people like myself can only work with NGO's, not government groups, and those postings have apparently been few lately, but I'm inviting the perfect placement to me and can't wait to see how it all turns out.

As for Cycle of Hope, I've emailed the ladies here at Africa Youth Trust who helped Loretta dispense her Lunapads kits, and tomorrow I'll be buying a mobile so I'll be able to make personal contact. My hope is to arrange in the next couple days which address to have the kits sent to so the shipping process can get going back in North America, and then I'll have time to make specific arrangements for connecting with local girls and handing the kits out. So far it looks like about 50 kits are heading my way, which still blows my mind-- my best-case-scenario when I started this project was 30 kits, so I'm thrilled. Really looking forward to meeting the girls who will get them. Walking here to the internet cafe this afternoon, along a dusty road past women with babies slung on their backs and men hanging off the sides of minibuses, I looked up and saw a little girl, about 10, staring at me from the other side of the road. I smiled, and she smiled, and we waved at each other, and there it was: my first contact with a girl in Kenya, and it made me so glad. After a month in a culture where women are very reticent and I had few meaningful interactions with them, I'm so happy to be somewhere I can talk to women and girls.

For those just linking to this blog through the Lunapads newsletter, my story in a nutshell is that I'm traveling for three months-- I just spent a month in the middle east, and my next step is a month to six weeks here in east Africa-- and while this Kenyan step involves volunteer work and the Cycle of Hope project, the rest is just my personal exploration. For further details please check out my travel blog, hawfield.blogspot.com, where you can get much more in-depth reporting. Thanks Lunagals for spreading the word about Cycle of Hope, and I hope everyone will stay tuned for the forthcoming reports on how it all turns out!

Thursday, October 23, 2008


Hello friends, it occurs to me that people might be wondering why I haven't posted any info on Kenya... the reason is, I'm not there yet. My schedule changed and instead of arriving in Nairobi on October 15th, I'm still in the middle east, and will be starting my work in Kenya on November 1st.

Currently, thanks to many generous individual donations and a huge group donation from my professional women's network in CT, it looks like I'll be distributing around 50 kits... far beyond my expectations! So THANK YOU everyone who has participated, and look for more information in November!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

All about this project

Thank you for joining me in Cycle of Hope!

The Cycle of Hope project aims to help young women in Kenya complete their education. Recently, through my interest in Lunapads, I learned that young women in underdeveloped countries frequently lack menstrual supplies, causing them to miss school during their periods. Over time many fall so far behind they drop out, often becoming lost in the cycle of poverty, prostitution and disease as a result.

The provision of menstrual supplies enables these girls to stay in school and work toward the hope of a better future. However, disposable menstrual products are hard to come by and only create more trash in areas already struggling to achieve cleanliness and hygiene. Reusable products such as Lunapads require only access to clean water and, as awareness of their benefits grows, they are becoming widely sought across Africa.

Inspired by another woman’s similar work in Kenya, and with the help of Lunapads and Goods 4 Girls, I’m incorporating a distribution of reusable menstrual supplies into my upcoming volunteer stint in Nairobi, which begins mid-October. My visit to Kenya is based in a desire to contribute toward African womens’ wellness and empowerment, and while my main focus is HIV/AIDS care with International Volunteer Headquarters, I’m excited to bring along Goods 4 Girls kits as well. I will be distributing these through the help of Africa Youth Trust, a local NGO that has overseen similar projects in the past.

Kits are available in two forms: the Lunapads kit for $30, which includes an array of reusable pads, or the Lunapanties kit for $40, which also includes underwear. (Note: one friend suggested the Diva Cup or other reusable products worn inside the vagina, which is a great idea, but not an option in this case due to cultural taboos.)

To donate, please go here for Lunapads or here for Lunapanties.

UPDATE: Turns out there was a miscommunication concerning site setup, so if some of you have tried to donate through Lunapads and found no place to specify Cycle of Hope, worry not; all the Goods 4 Girls kits donated this month are being designated for my project, so your gift will still get to me. And for those who still plan to donate through the Lunapads site, you don't need to put Cycle of Hope anywhere, just make a regular donation and it will go to Cycle of Hope. Many thanks to the Lunapads ladies, for working with me to make donating secure, direct and easy!

Alternately, you can now donate individual amounts right from this page! At top left you can see a "donate now" button. Click there to securely donate any amount you please, via the wonders of PayPal. Please remember, no amount is too small, so if you can only give a few dollars, give a few dollars and do it with pride! Every donation counts and we are working together to create change.

This is a powerful project with the potential to make a real difference in young women’s lives! Thank you so much for your interest in Cycle of Hope. I solicit your prayers and intentions for the success of this venture, and hope you will carry me in your hearts as I go. I’ve never spearheaded a project like this before and I’m excited but nervous! Look for updates as time goes by… and I promise to include pictures when the time comes to pass these kits on to girls in Kenya.

Asante sana (see, I’ve been practicing), Anna

p.s. I leave September 27th on my trip. Please follow my journey at www.hawfield.blogspot.com

p.s. 2 My dad asked when the deadline is. Good news: there's plenty of time! I arrive in Kenya mid-October, and donations can be made anytime up until then and perhaps to the end of that month.