Sanitary towels initiative sees teenagers retained in school

Nazi Kivutha, the wife of Makueni County governor Kivutha Kibwana standing with pupils of Kithathani Primary School after presenting them with free sanitary pads. [Picture:Nzinga Muasya ]
Nazi Kivutha, the wife of Makueni County governor Kivutha Kibwana standing with pupils of Kithathani Primary School after presenting them with free sanitary pads. [Picture:Nzinga Muasya ]

Makueni County government has rolled out a programme to keep teenage girls in school by providing them with free sanitary towels and panties.

Through the initiative dubbed “Keeping girls in school; ending the period of shame”, the programme is being spearheaded by spouse to the County governor Kivutha Kibwana, Nazi Kivutha.

The project aims at preventing the possibility of poor girls dropping out of school due to lack of sanitary towels.

According to Nazi Kivutha, Makueni being an arid and semi-arid region with high poverty levels leaves school girls at a vulnerable stage.

She notes that lack of sanitary pads has been cited as one of the major reasons why girls would drop out of school and engage in immoral and risky behaviour such as prostitution to fend for themselves.

“The county being along the busy Mombasa Highway poses the challenge that raises the risk of girls dropping out of school to fool around with truck drivers,” says Nazi. She notes: “This is so real that we have to find a permanent solution to it.”

Makueni County Government has within the last financial year spent KSh5 million to purchase quality sanitary pads which have been distributed to 7,000 school going girls.

The money has been allocated through gender responsive budget lines and allocated through the county department of youth, sports, gender and social services.

According to Winfred Wambua, chief officer in charge of the department of youth, sports, gender and social services, there was a budgetary allocation of KSh3.5 million every year to purchase the pads while another KSh1.5 million was being used for distribution.

“This is a continuous project aimed at reaching all school going girls in the county,” says Wambua. She notes that the girls are entitled to a yearly package of sanitary towels and panties.

The county first lady who donated the pads and panties through her Shina Foundation revealed that the programme was informed by her own depressing experience while growing up in a poor family in Kilifi County where she was forced to use rags during her menses.

“I was forced to use rags because my parents could not afford sanitary towels. Such a life brings shame in one’s life, it demeans and erodes confidence and self-esteem in a pupil,” noted Nazi.

“I do not want to see a school girl going through what I went through. Girls lose valuable time during that time of the month which leads to dismal performance. It is something I am out to address,” she vowed.

The school girls were all praises for the initiative which they say has turned their lives around.

Kanini Wayua, a class eight pupil at Kithathaini Primary School and an orphan who lives with an aunt confesses that in the past things were so difficult.

“I would use toilet paper and handkerchiefs. Every other time I would keep on checking to see whether it had leaked. I could not concentrate in class,” Wayua confesses.  She notes: “I am grateful for the initiative. It has really made our lives easy in school. Personally my performance in class has improved.”  Syombua Musyoka in class seven says before the initiative she would make do with rags and tree leaves. “I would be left in class as others went outside to play. Cheeky boys would make catcalls and stare which greatly affected my self-esteem,” says Syombua. She notes: “We are now comfortable in class and nobody notices anything.”

Serah Wambua, a teacher at Kithathaini Primary School, who is charged with the responsibility of keeping the sanitary towels for the girls says other than academic improvement, their personal hygiene has also improved.

“Teachers used to complain over bad smell but that is now gone. Ours girls are now clean, no longer shy and very confident,” says Wambua observing that in the past cases of absenteeism were rampant.

“We would know when they were on their periods as some would spend inordinate time in the toilets while others sought permission to go home,” Wambua notes. According to Cosmas Mutia, the school’s head teacher, the girls are now performing better than boys.

“Their performance has improved significantly. In last year’s Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) examinations, girls’ performance was better than boys,” explains Mutia. He reiterates: “They now concentrate better in class and their discipline has improved.”

Nazi says she is sourcing for donors within and outside the country to help support the initiative. “This is a continuous thing. Girls are vulnerable and we have to be there for them,” she says, while noting that her foundation is also designing a programme for the boy child.

The County first lady who holds a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology and a Master’s degree in Counselling Psychology from the United States has also started a counselling and mentorship programme where the youth are taught about life expectations, sexuality and effects of drug abuse. She personally counselled about 30 survivors of the Garissa University terrorist attack from Makueni County.

“My plate is full and you can be sure soon it will be overflowing but I’m not complaining. I have to be there for the young people,” says the mother of four adult children and three grandchildren.

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