Alexis Greenberg knows what it feels like to miss school.
When she was 18-months old, she was diagnosed with Ankylosing spondylitis, a type of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. It caused her to miss almost all of 7th grade. She is re-doing it this year.
“I was in school for about a month,” Greenberg said.
But while Greenberg missed school because of a physical condition, many Kenyan girls miss school because of financial situations.
They stay home when they have their periods because they cannot afford to buy menstrual supplies.
One of the girls from Kenya wrote in a letter to Greenberg’s Girl Scout Troop, Troop 733 in Alachua County, that she used to miss school because her family lacked the money to buy sanitary pads.
Another girl said she had to use old clothes instead.
“Sanitary supplies cost as much as a bag of corn,” said troop leader Radha Selvester. “So if you had a choice between feeding your family or buying your daughter sanitary supplies if your income is a dollar a day, you’re not buying sanitary supplies. It’s just not going to happen.”
Greenberg and her troop want to help change that.
So they’re partnering with Days for Girls International to raise money to help girls in Kenya with reusable feminine hygiene products.
Besides making reusable menstrual supplies to take to the girls in Kenya, the Girl Scouts are also raising money for sewing supplies to take to Kenya to teach the girls how to make menstrual pads.
“I want to make it so that they don’t have to be like me,” said Greenberg, who is patrol leader and treasurer of the troop. “They can go to school all the time, and get an education, and be smart and successful.”
Girls feel ashamed when they get their period because in some African communities menstruation is considered contamination. According to the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa, Kenyan girls lost an average of 3.5 million days of school every month in 2011.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization estimates that one in 10 African teenage girls misses school and ends up dropping out because of their menstrual cycle.
Selvester said that four Girl Scouts, two University of Florida students and four adult volunteers plan to go to Tharaka Nithi, Kenya, in December to establish a “Days for Girls & Sewing Health Enterprise.” The scouts will deliver the kits and supplies.
The kits consist of a drawstring bag with a pen, pencil, two pairs of panties, a washcloth, a bar of soap, safety pins, liners and instructions. They also added a personal letter from one of the girls in the troop and a picture of the troop members, Selvester said.
The governor of Tharaka Nithi, Samuel Ragwa, approached Selvester and the Girl Scouts at a church in Daytona in July 2014 to invite them to go and teach girls in Tharaka Nithi how to make reusable sanitary pads. The Girl Scouts have also sent 200 kits to girls in Tharaka Nithi, she said.
Selvester said that after the girls received thank you notes from the girls in Kenya, they realized they could not stop at 200 kits.
Dr. Damaris M’Mworia, associate professor of religion and philosophy at Edward Waters College and sister of Ragwa, said that in addition to keeping the girls in school, this project will help create awareness.
“It’s a taboo to talk about menstruation,” M’Mworia said. “In my country, most of the girls don’t even want to acknowledge that they have their periods. The idea that people are going to start talking about it is going to make it easier for girls to talk about it too.”
There are two events later this month to help raise awareness about this issue.
Celeste Mergens, the founder of Days for Girls International, is passing through Gainesville on her way to Bangladesh. She is giving a free presentation on Oct. 29 at 6 p.m. at the Bob Graham Center in Pugh Hall and another one at 10:30 a.m. on November 1 at the United Church of Gainesville.
Selvester said there is also a full day of training for those who are interested in becoming Ambassadors for Women’s Health on Oct. 31. The cost of attendance is $45, and lunch will be provided.
Girl Scout Troop 733 is planning to help South Sudan and Nigeria in the future, Selvester said.
So far, the Girl Scouts have raised about $1,697 in donations, but about $5,000 is needed to set up the self-sustaining sewing enterprise, according to Troop 733’s fundraising website.