The Huru International team arrived mid-afternoon at Gatie Primary School in Kenya’s Gatundo North, where our matatu was quickly surrounded by curious and welcoming school children and administrators. Preparing for today’s Huru Kit Distribution, we were led to an upstairs classroom and watched from the narrow balcony as girls from nearby schools began to arrive. They appeared from the road in close-knit flocks, donning their school uniforms; many brought their own chairs to ensure a place to sit.
Once all the girls arrived, we gathered in a large classroom to begin an educational session. The space was simple with no electricity, the floor made from packed-earth, sunlight poured in through spots where the tin roof and clay walls were not quite joined. A few small windows dotted the room, which was filled with hand-made wooden desks and benches.
Huru had carefully pre-assessed the needs of school girls in this region of Kenya’s countryside, and the classroom is now filled with nearly 200 young women. After brief introductory remarks, Valentine – Huru’s Field Coordinator and a driving force behind our Peer Education program – facilitates a discussion about maturation and menstruation.
Speaking in Kiswahili, she enthusiastically explains what it means to become a woman, what happens during the menstrual cycle and how long it may take. Once the girls have acclimated, Valentine asks them what a girl can use during her period. The answers are unsettling: pieces of mattress, paper, old clothes, anything that is available when they need it. One young woman explains that she typically needs three sanitary pads in one day; but she is often left with only one pad to use over the course of a few days, as this is all her family can afford. Many girls admit to staying home from school during their periods, due to lack of sanitary supplies and an overwhelming concern that they will be teased by male classmates if their uniform is stained.
Valentine calculates that a girl can miss 5 days of school every month because of her period – this adds up to 15 days in a term, and 45 days (more than a month!) in a school year.
“Teachers do not come back to teach what they have already taught,” she explains. “During final exams, boys are performing well and girls are not. This is why.”
From the Problem to a Solution
Valentine is joined at the front of the classroom by Edith, a dynamic Peer Educator, who introduces the Huru Kit. She shows the contents of the bright blue backpacks, each decorated with a colorful butterfly: 3 pairs of underwear, a bar of detergent soap, 8 reusable sanitary pads (5 for daytime, 3 for nighttime) and user instructions. The girls watch intently as Edith teaches them how to use the Huru pads and explains the proper care so they will last for 18 months or longer; and she concludes her step-by-step training by inviting 3 girls to stand up and demonstrate what they have learned. Smiling and laughing, the room lights up as each volunteer triumphantly holds a pair of underwear over her head with a Huru pad successfully in place.
The girls are then divided into smaller groups, each led by a Huru Peer Educator, to continue the discussion in a more intimate setting. The participants of each group discuss other challenges in their lives: topics such as delaying sexual debut, how to talk to boys and risks related to HIV/AIDS. The Huru team offers evidence-based information and referrals to guidance and counseling, trusted teachers and health care providers.
As we reconvene to close the session, Valentine asks the girls what they have learned. The excitement in the room is palpable as they share newfound knowledge about their bodies, menstruation and its potential effect on their academic goals; how to engage with their male counterparts, and the importance of understanding risks related to HIV/AIDS. Each girl stands up to claim her Huru Kit with pride, joy and enthusiasm.
In Swahili, Huru means Freedom.
At Huru International, we give girls the freedom to stay in school, empowering them with the tools essential to pursue their education, develop self-respect and establish healthy relationships. Offering girls this integral support allows them to develop the life skills necessary to make their dreams a reality.