Kenyan trio in Dallas spearhead campaign to provide menstrual pads to needy homegirls

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In Summary: They are spearheading a campaign to create awareness and raise funds to buy and provide free brand new kits of reusable menstrual hygiene supplies to the neediest of the needy and nearly hopeless school girls in their motherland, Kenya. The need to support and restore hope to the helpless homegirls especially in rural Kenya has never been as more exigent as is now. Resort to using leaves, mud, and cow dung by the poorest of the poor girls to hold and control the flow of blood during their menstruation periods is the most jolting of anecdotal accounts about the primitive and desperate practices used in some remote areas of Kenya. This must stop! The Dallas-based Team Operation BPP (Bras, Panties, and Pads) has launched an effort to stop the desperate and dangerous practices that are exposing adolescent girls to infections including cancers and other health hazards.  Team Operation BPP has thus far shipped and distributed 200 kits to 200 school girls in Siala Primary School in Machakos and Nice View Orphanage in Nyanza Province. The 10-dollar kit with the necessary reusable menstrual items are designed to last for at least 3 to 4 years. Operation BPP, a brainchild of three young Kenyan women; Angela Esho, Carole Nganga, and Joanne Muturi, residents of Dallas, Texas, the trio; friends joined to the hip, happily married, and mothers to girls, is  partly filling the bottomless pit into which life aspirations of millions of poor girls in Kenya and, indeed, Africa, are perennially buried. Team Operation BPp, as the trio fondly refers to itself; whichever way you see it, the modest outcome of its nascent endeavor is a tangible demonstration of a loveburst every humanitarian should support. As Samuel Muwanguzi writes, to these three transformative champions, we collectively and loudly shout out your names!

The 3 founders and members of team Operation BPP

Dallas, Texas—Three Dallas-based young Kenyan-American women are spearheading a campaign to create awareness and raise funds to buy and provide free brand new kits of reusable menstrual hygiene supplies to the neediest of the needy and nearly hopeless school girls in their native Kenya. To the trio, the need to support and restore hope to the helpless homegirls especially in rural Kenya has never been as more urgent as is now. The most jolting of anecdotal accounts told by the trio is the resort to primitive and desperate practices by the poorest of the poor girls in remote Kenya who use leaves, mud, and cow dung to hold and control the flow of blood during their menstruation periods. “This must stop! These desperate practices are dangerous and are exposing adolescent girls to infections including cancers and other health hazards,” the three founders of Team Operation BPP passionately declared during an interview with the EADM team recently. Operation BPP, a brainchild of three young professional women ; Angela Esho, Carole Nganga, and Joanne Muturi, residents of Dallas, Texas, have lived in the United States for over 15 years apiece.

Team Operation BPP during an interview with the EADM at an upscale home of one of the founding members in Carrolton, Texas recently.

Team Operation BPP has recently shipped and distributed 200 kits of reusable sanitary supplies to 200 school girls in Siala Primary School in Machakos and Nice View Orphanage in Nyanza Province, the EADM has learned. The 10-dollar reusable sanitary kit includes 1 classy and easily portable drawstring bag; 2 moisture barrier shields; 1 travel-sized Soap; 8 absorbent tri-fold pads; 1 washcloth; 2 pairs of panties; 2 gallon size freezer bags; and 1 Visually illustrative instruction sheet. The kit and the reusable menstrual items are designed to last for at least 3 to 4 years, according to Team BPP.

The reusable sanitary items in the kit that are given to the schoolgirls by Team BPP at Nice View Orphanage and Siala Primary School

The three founders of Operation BPP share a similar spiritual passion and a burning desire that inspired them to come together to provide menstrual hygiene supplies to needy schoolgirls in their native Kenya. Born and raised in Kenya, friends joined to the hip, happily married, mothers to girls, the trio is partly filling the bottomless pit into which the educational and career hopes and aspirations of millions of poor girls in Kenya and, indeed, Africa, are perennially buried.  Team Operation BPp, as the trio fondly refers to itself; whichever way you see it, the modest outcome of its nascent endeavor is a tangible demonstration of a loveburst every humanitarian should support. Buoyed by the clarity of their mission and vision, Team BPP is unstoppable. As transformative champions, we collectively and loudly shout out your name!

Beyond motherhood, the three, professionals in their own right, are pursuing careers in information technology and healthcare sectors. Angela Esho is an IT professional while the two; Carole Nganga and Joanne Muturi are in the Healthcare industry. Before relocating to the United States, the three had separately attained high school diplomas in Kenya before pursuing undergraduate and graduate studies here. To the three young mothers, their initiative to provide sanitary hygiene kits to helpless schoolgirls is a win-win-endeavor and a love dream come true!

First, “with love, we are enabling the poorest of the poor homegirls to attend classes with minimum absences and empowering adolescent schoolgirls to competently manage their monthly periods,” they told the EADM. Second, “we are helping to enhance the self-esteem of the schoolgirls and alleviating the extra burden and social stigma adolescent school girls endure; one of the main causes of their eventual dropout from school, “they said delightfully. Third and most importantly, “it is a cause we passionately embraced as Christians and mothers and a love-inspired effort we have cherished to undertake and accomplish for a long time,” the trio, visibly gratified, told the EADM.

While the trio come from diverse socio-economic family backgrounds, as girls born and raised in Kenya, share similar physiological and cultural experiences that cut across family and ethnic boundaries in most African societies especially body changes that tend to emotionally overwhelm girls during the onset of their menstruation periods. “Periods are a troubling experience to girls across cultures but when they receive help to manage them, they get emotionally relieved of the stigma towards them, “the trio said confidently. To Team Operation BPP, “lack of sanitary pads greatly disadvantages girls in African societies on top of the other extra burdens they have to endure at home doing domestic work that boys often do not do, the young women reasoned. They added, “the provision of sanitary pads for school girls helps to foster gender equality and accelerates girls’ full and equal participation and retention in primary schools,” they further argued. “Without sanitary supplies, the girls become miserable, vulnerable to ridicule, get easily embarrassed; a recipe for loss of self-esteem and easy manipulation,” they regrettably declared.

Incumbent Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta at State House Nairobi. He signed the Education Act Amendment Bill into law on June 21, 2017

Last week, Team Operation BPP woke up to find themselves in bed with an unexpected ally to their initiative. In the midst of a very politically-charged and hectic election campaign period, Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta signed into law amendments to the education act requiring, among others, the provision of “free, sufficient and quality sanitary towels” to every girl registered at school, as well as providing “a safe and environmental sound mechanism for disposal”. Kenyans go to the polls on August 8 to elect a new president. While the timing of the decision by the incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta to sign the law could have been politically motivated and may have had nothing to do with his concern for the plight of the girl child, is now a subject for fierce political debate, the need to come to the aid of the helpless schoolgirls is neither an issue for political expediency, partisan debate, nor a matter for further postponement. Rather, the non-partisan views of the young women are clear: “The need to help the poor adolescent girls in Kenya is both genuine, urgent, and cannot wait any longer,” the three young ladies passionately told the EADM in the interview long before the new law was signed.

Some of the recipients of the kits containing the reusable sanitary pads provided by Team Operation BPP.

An even much more serious rationale advanced by Team BPP in support of the provision of free sanitary towels to the poor schoolgirls was equating it to giving food to adolescent girls.  “Some may think it is not such a big issue as getting food to eat but we think the problem is real and is as much of an issue as food is, “the ladies fervently opined. They added, “for some  girls, they would rather miss food and stay at home during the 4 to 5 days when they are in their monthly periods instead of going to school without pads and get embarrassed  or humiliated in case blood accidently stains their clothes,” they argued with discernible emotions. “The persistence absenteeism, drop-out, low completion rates, and  sub-standard quality of education for girls  are largely caused by the start of menstruation, a lack of ability to manage it, as well as other issues related to puberty, “ the three eloquently contended. To further illustrate their point, the trio said: “If a girl stays at home for 4 days in a month, it amounts to about 40 days or more absences during a school year. If you multiply the days in a year with the number of years they spend in upper primary school, you get months of absences resulting in dropping out because the girls cannot cope or catch up with the boys,” they said with regret.

Members of Team BPP during the interview with the EADM recently

Espousing a trans-national mission both in the Diaspora and in Kenya, Team Operation BPP seek to create awareness about the plight of the poor girl-child in Kenya. The team aims to highlight the excessive burdens the adolescent poor girls carry compared with their male brothers and work towards restoring hope to the poor school girls whose parents and communities cannot afford to buy them menstrual pads. Team BPP is also on a mission to enhance the self-esteem of the girls, help to keep them in school, and inspire them to discover and develop their full potential as their male counterparts through equal educational opportunities.  “Although women are socialized to keep quiet in face of trouble and tragedy, for us, we are speaking out for the neediest of girls in Kenya, especially those in rural areas who are helpless and have no alternative voice to be heard,” the trio told the EADM in an interview.

Clearly, their work is finely cut out: “Girls live and carry the risk of being raped; are married off early; are kept at home to do domestic chores; are denied opportunity to go to school in poor families which often favor boys if a choice has to be made as to who should benefit from the scarce resources,”   Team BPp outlined the extra burdens which they have set out to reduce. The Team is also highlighting the unfairness in African societies which always tend to prepare girls for motherhood and readily marrying them off as soon as they become adolescents compared with boys who are prepared for success as leaders through education.   “We hope highlighting these risks both in the Diaspora and in Kenya will be an eye opener to both men and women to support our love-inspired campaign,” the trio said with boundless optimism.

A cross-section of the recipients of the kits with sanitary supplies provided by Team BPP at Siala Primary School in Nyanza Province, Kenya last month.

The vision for Operation BPP is to establish a local and self-sustaining source of supply of sanitary pads to empower women communities to earn money and support their families. To that end, Team Operation BPP has established a partnership with Luwala Alliance in Western Kenya to produce reusable sanitary products and to pack them in a kit according to specifications recommended by the US-based organization, Days for girls which developed the design, the group told the EADM. “We opted for this partnership because it is cost effective.  Luwala has access to cheap labor compared to the United states. Besides, the group offers employment to women in the community who in turn earn money to support their families; an arrangement consistent with our mission and vision,” the trio said with discernible contentment...

Team Operation BPP members

Recounting the historical journey of their initiative, the trio, who lived in neighboring cities in Texas years ago, had a mutual friend who introduced them to the women Bible study at Victory Chapel where they met. The three recalls that the idea of the sanitary pads project came to one of the members who spoke about it and frequently raised money within the group to buy disposable sanitary pads to distribute to needy girls in an orphanage whenever she traveled to Kenya. “For several years, whenever she returned from Kenya, she would share her experiences regarding the widespread need for help to the poor girls and her anecdotes resonated with all of us and we set out to collectively do something about the problem,” they recounted.

“We all agreed that if we were to do something, it had to enhance the self-esteem of the needy school girls to manage their menstrual days; ensure that they complete high school; and devise strategies to make the project an economically self-sustaining community-based initiative for women,” the trio said. At the Victory Chapel where the three were members, they engaged their fellow Bible study classmates about the problem and the solution to help the needy school girls in Kenya, they narrated. The convergence of their dreams and ideas gradually evolved into both action and reality.

“One day, we fundraised and collected $200 from our church Bible study class, bought and made the first shipment of disposable menstrual pads and distributed them to 75 girls in an orphanage in early 2016,” they triumphantly announced. However, the supplies they sent were for only one month yet the need and demand still existed. “Despite the inadequacy of the supplies, the very fact that we had managed to ship and distribute the items to the girls was a major milestone and that is how Operation BPP was born,” the trio delightfully told the EADM. Later, they raised more funds, procured and shipped another    batch of disposable pads that were distributed to 125 girls in a Primary School in Western Kenya, the team recalled.  “Since the foundation of our initiative is built on transformative love, the shipment of our two consignments to those in need was an expression of our love to the girls and our desire to change their lives,” the trio, self-confessed born again Christians, told the EADM over a typical Kenyan meal of roasted goat meat, ugali (corn-bread), Sukuma wiki (steamed mixed vegetables, and potatoes at a residence of one member of Team BPP recently.

A cross-section of the schoolgirls who received the kits with the reusable sanitary supplies last month

But their euphoria lasted for only 30 days. Team Operation BPP was now faced with a dilemma and a question: “How do we continue helping the needy girls in a sustainable manner?” According to the trio, the disposable sanitary pads were associated with multiple problems: “They were expensive to buy and ship to Kenya every month; disposing of the used pads was a problem as elsewhere in developing countries; and, even most troubling, female teachers were stealing the pads because they also needed them!” But, “by God’s grace, at that point, after conducting some extensive research, we found a US-based organization called Days for Girls that designs and produces reusable sanitary pads using special and hygienically-tested materials. The organization had already introduced the sanitary products in neighboring Uganda and the pads had been received positively. When we contacted Days for Girls, they, to our delight, informed us that they had also opened offices in Kenya and were training local producers,” the trio recalled.

According to the three women, since they wanted to get involved in an endeavor that would project dignity in the lives of the schoolgirls, the provision of hygienically-tested reusable menstrual supplies offered the most cost-effective option. Although reusable sanitary pads are scoffed at by the wealthy and sections of the elite and were rejected in India because girls could not spread them to dry openly in the sun due to social stigma associated with menstruation, no more cost-effective  and better alternatives existed for the poorest of the poor in rural Africa, the ladies contended. “Obviously, while there is some stigma associated with reusable pads, on closer assessment of the problem, the women reasoned, “you pose and ask: What are the alternatives available to the needy in Africa?” “The emphatic answer is none!”

To further justify the viability of reusable sanitary towels, the trio said: “Using old clothes (rags) was not a hygienic alternative; they burn, pose health risks, and are a discomfort especially to an adolescent girl starting to experience menstrual cycles.” They also genuinely contended that in rural areas, where boys and girls   go to school in torn uniforms, finding old clothes (rags) to use as pads is also problematic.”

Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zREzzCvHYHU

“Team Operation BPP made its first shipment of reusable sanitary supplies to Kenya in mid-2016 and the reception for the supplies was a hit,” they excitedly recalled. They told the EADM that the positive reception to the supplies was because washing and maintaining the pads was both easy and convenient. “After washing the pads, they are spread out in the sun to dry and, the sun is the best way to naturally disinfect them,” they said while quoting a manual from the Days for Girls, the US-based developer of the reusable towels. At Siala Primary School, we have provided reusable menstrual kits to 125 girls and at Nice View Orphanage; we have supplied the kits to 75 girls.

One of the BPP team members during a session with the schoolgirls at a school where the sanitary supplies were delivered last month

“Since then, Operation BPP has never looked back; the more traction the initiative gains, the greater the magnitude of the need for sanitary supplies becomes,” team BPP told the EADM. Although the ages at which girls start periods vary, we started with girls aged 10 to 12 years. Girls of these ages are typically in primary 6 and above; implying that each year the team will have a group of girls who will have become of age. “We are planning ahead to assist those who will start their periods next year,” the ladies assured the EADM. Already, the team has an ongoing 3 to 4-year educational and follow-up plan for the schoolgirls who receive the sanitary towels. The plan starts as soon as they provide the schoolgirls with the kits and continues until they complete high school. “Our goal is to ensure that we assist the needy girls complete their high school without having to worry about the extra burden that may drive them out of school.  After high school, we will set them free,” they said.

Video: An educational session conducted by one of the team members of BPP at one of the schools   where the sanitary supplies were given to the girls

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At both Nice View Orphanage and Siala Primary School, we have representatives on the ground, senior Christian women who are making follow-ups with the girls. to ensure proper use of the supplies and to offer sex education to the young adults. This strategy is helping to keep the girls in school as they now have someone they can confide in when they experience any unusual circumstances. Drawing from the Bible, the Kenyan trio, self-professed devout Christians, reference senior women including Rachel, Leah and others who talked to their daughters and adolescent girls about womanhood. A mother to a member of the BPP Team is one of the volunteer educators to the girls at the Nice View orphanage. At Siala Primary school, Team BPP has also recruited a volunteer educator. “We also receive frequent feedback from the recipients of the supplies through the volunteers at the two schools,” the BPP Team disclosed.

A screen short of the volunteer educator conducting a session with the girls at Janice View Orphanage

According to Team BPP, preliminary results suggest that “the girls are now attending school regularly without absences compared to the period before we started providing the sanitary towels,” the trio disclosed.  The team reported that with the availability of volunteer educators, the girls now have someone respectable to speak to about their menstrual issues such as pain experienced during periods and are no longer ashamed of their periods to hide from school. Previously, senior village women and even some mothers never talked to girls or their own daughters respectively about periods because no one talked to them either, the ladies said. “Girls either had to speak to their friends, got too scared to even mention what they were going through, or became a summary of frustration and misery and eventually dropped out of school,” the three women observed with regret.

“At the two schools where we are operating, we are gradually but systematically reversing those trends,” the BPP honchoes said. “We can now state with a degree of assurance that we are helping to build confidence among the schoolgirls; reducing their risks of infections caused by the use of primitive methods and unhygienic materials; and offering them a second chance to stay in school and potentially realize their educational aspirations,” the Kenyan trio said with a discernible sense of self-gratification. The long term goal for Team Operation BPP is to establish a production center for the Tala community in Machakos to enable Nice View, an orphanage they support, to become a self-sustaining enterprise to empower women and girls in the community. At the minimum, team Operation BPP aims to provide sanitary hygiene supplies to 500 girls in Kenya this year.

Video A video during a visit to Nice View Orphanage by Team BPP local educator 

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“Since we have already provided 200 kits to Nice View orphanage and to Siala primary school, attaining the 500 goal is not that farfetched,” team Operation BPp stated with unbridled optimism. Yet, desiring to do more, “their long-term goal is “to ensure that  we raise enough money through partnerships with women organizations, churches, corporations, and other sponsors to sustain the supply of sanitary materials including bras, panties and menstrual hygiene items,” the group avows, adding, “sustainability and outreach are our main objectives,” they decisively declared. Team Operation BPP told the EADM that they are seeking partnerships with organizations planning big events to invite them to make presentations about their effort. The group disclosed that thus far, the Dallas chapter of Queens’ Night Ministry invited them to their annual event in April where they made a presentation and raised some money. The team also revealed that it is working on registration of their organization as a fully-fledged 501C non-profit organization to start receiving taxi deductible donations. Finally, “we are putting final touches on our Web site to launch it soon to enhance our online visibility,” they said of their future plans. Team Operation BPP paid tribute to their erstwhile partners, Love Bound, for helping them to create awareness and for elevating their platform. “Love Bound of Texas has been supporting our fundraising efforts because they have the online infrastructure in place where donations to our initiative are usually directed,” they disclosed.

Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni and his wife Janet Museveni, the Minister of Education and Sports.

But across the western Kenyan boarder, the provision of sanitary pads to needy Kenya girls from the Diaspora community in Dallas comes at a particularly difficult political time for the government in neighboring Uganda. While on the campaign trail in 2015, President Yoweri Museveni promised, if re-elected, that his government would provide free sanitary pads to school going teenage girls. However, the government has failed, like on many others, to come good on this campaign pledge. The failure to provide sanitary pads to adolescent girls is now a hot political potato to bite in Uganda. Matters were not helped because it was the Minister of Education, also First Lady Janet Museveni, who told Parliament barely a year after her appointment, that government did not have the money to fulfill the president’s campaign promise.

Makerere researcher Dr. Stella Nyanzi with her lawyer Nicholas Opio in court. She is on trial for using social media to attack the president and his wife Janet Museveni (Photo by The Observer)

The announcement triggered widespread criticism from Opposition politicians and some civil society organizations. Makerere University researcher Dr Stella Nyanzi, a no stranger to controversy and apparently angered by the “betrayal”, jumped at the hot-button issue and used social media to ferociously attack the First Family. Her postings landed her in legal battles with the state and was temporarily incarcerated before she was granted bail. Beyond the incarceration for the exposure of the Fountain of Honor and Mother of the nation for reneging on their political commitments and responsibilities, the case for sanitary pads in Uganda cast the Pearl of Africa in more negative light internationally. Ironically, the EADM has learned that the Uganda operation by the US-based Girls’ Days organization to produce and distribute reusable sanitary towels is the most successful in the developing world.

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