St. Anthony — Krista Hewitt is in the final days of a six-month internship in Kenya, but once she returns to St. Anthony, her work with Africa’s underprivileged will not end.
Hewitt, a nurse, was selected by the College of the Rockies to participate in an international youth internship program as a health education assistant. She was working with a primary school when she realized that many girls could not afford sanitary napkins when they were menstruating.
She says that’s not surprising given that more than 60 per cent of Kenya’s population lives on less then $2 a day.
“I started researching the idea of reusable cloth pads when the head teacher told me donations for disposable pads have stopped,” she said.
“After many online searches and phone calls, I came up with only one organization that even knew what I was talking about. It was then I realized if I buy reusable pads for the girls at this school they will not be able to get replacements. I wanted something more sustainable.”
Hewitt then realized the best way to benefit the women of Kenya was to empower them to start a business to manufacture their own sanitary pads.
“I knew that if a group of women could start a business in central Kenya the market would be there. Not long after this realization a foundation called Binti Africa sent me a reply stating they take orders,” she said.
She discovered that the foundation’s mission statement fit perfectly with what she had envisaged.
The group’s aim was to act as a “focal point for solidarity and collective action for women in pursuit of information and resources that are necessary to improve their livelihoods.”
“I started asking questions about the women employed to make the pads. We were both happy to hear that they were looking for another group of women to be trained and I knew just the group,” she said.
That collective was called Al-subra, a self-help group of like-minded women in Nyeri town. They wanted to serve the community and started meeting every week in 2004.
The group took advantage of free training offered in their area and started volunteering as community health workers.
“This group of women knew all too well the hardships and disadvantages of not only being a woman but also a woman living in the slums,” Hewitt said.
“Marriage and child at an early age is the norm for many and, as one woman (noted), ‘It’s our culture, but not always for the best.’
“A girl who marries young eases the burden of her family having to find means to support her. Many don’t go on to finish secondary school as the prices are too high and now, with marriage, children are her top priority.”
Binti Africa has agreed to send their trainers to help the women start the business, but Hewitt’s group will have to cover the cost.
She has enough in donations to pay for three sewing machines and a small amount of material, but Hewitt said the cost of six months of training for the women is $1,560.
“I have spent a lot of my own money as I feel passionate about it and know it can help many women and be sustainable when I leave,” she said.
“Not only will this business be employing 15-plus women, but young girls and women in Nyeri district will have a cheaper alternative to disposable sanitary pads.”
When Hewitt arrives back home she will be pushing forward with a fundraising drive.
The Northern Pen