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 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.