Updated: Jun 27, 2020
"My two siblings and I were brought up by my single mother. Life was not easy for us. We were living under the poverty line and could not afford the basic needs required for any growing children. Our hardships led me to the streets where my mode of survival was begging for money and food. Sometimes I relied on earnings from collecting plastics and cartons for recycling. I have seen days when I did not have anything to eat and had to search for food in the bins.
I am Sylvia Khasoa Maina, and I am the Founder CEO of the Simama Na Dada initiative.
Being on the streets, I was convinced that God did not consider me fit enough to have a life like the life other kids have. Other kids had access to proper meals, a roof over their heads, and education, and I barely survived on whatever I could find out there. One fine day, I met a samaritan on the street who rescued me and dropped me to a children's home where I got the opportunity to attend school. Things started to get better.
One day at school, in Grade 7, I got my periods. I was feeling very fatigued and got up to stretch a little. My classmate beside me shouted, “Sylvia, you have blood on your back!" I had no idea what was happening, and some friends in the classroom started laughing and mocking. I felt embarrassed so I wrapped my sweater around my waist. When I went back to my dorm and explained my situation to the matron, I was given tissues. We could not afford to buy sanitary pads so I had to use tissues every month till grade 11. Using tissues restricted my movement. I always had to be extra careful, and gradually it started to affect my self-esteem. I could not live forever with this feeling and the taboo around menstruation. Hence, I started an initiative in 2013, called Simama Na Dada, that would comprise of mentorship programs for young girls and a platform to provide sanitary pads to the girls of low-income families.
Our mentorship program is for girls between the ages of 9 and 19 and comprises of educating about menstruation and personal hygiene, sex education, career guidance, general talks about responsibilities, respect, child protection policies, human rights, and many more. Initially, we started mentoring just 5 girls, and that expanded to 200 girls from various schools. We have received overwhelming feedback. Lesser number of girls drop out of schools, and in fact, we observed an increase in the enrolment of girls in schools.
In the year 2017, we came across another big problem in Kenya. Many girls could not afford sanitary pads and had to exchange sex with pads. This was a major problem that led to teenage pregnancy. I met a girl who told me that she did not want to have sex anymore so she resorted to using nylon sheets during her period days. It was immensely heart-breaking. We started mentoring more girls and their families on the topic. To date, we have reached out to around 10,000 girls. We also distribute 'Dignity Kits', basic hygiene and sanitation kits, to girls from low-income sections of society.
Our organization has 25 young volunteers who contribute their time, efforts, and finances to make sure that we operate smoothly. The majority of times, my husband and I use our resources to sponsor the dignity kits.
On June 16th, we celebrate the International Day of the African Child. I prepared 100 dignity kits to distribute to 100 girls. But on the day 170 girls turned up. Sadly I had to send 70 girls back home without the kits. It broke my heart to see them crying while they left empty-handed. I am now meeting those 70 girls at the end of the month to provide them with dignity kits. They deserve it.
COVID-19 has restricted our movement. I have been getting so many requests and messages from the community but because of limited resources and restrictions on travel, we are not able to reach out to the girls and the community in the same intensity that we want. We are in lockdown for the past three months, and it is my biggest worry that when the school reopens, a lot of the girls may not be able to re-join due to lack of basic sanitation. However, we are doing our best during this phase. Since May 2020, we have reached out to 560 girls with the kits, and we are continuing our mentorship program in some areas by maintaining social distancing.
I know and understand what it feels like when one does not have access to basic things, therefore, my heart goes out to all the girls who are not in an ideal situation.
Whenever I see a girl in need, I get reminded of my hardships as a child. I also feel responsible for them because I feel that I may be the only adult these girls are reaching out to. This initiative has made me feel fulfilled in many ways. Every day I get a sense of accomplishment. When I hear stories that the girls are standing up for themselves makes me feel so proud. Currently, I am living with my husband and my two beautiful daughters. I graduated with a BA in Community Development. Therefore, I always tell my girls, if I could make it till here, they can make it farther."
You Humanity pays respect and gratitude to Sylvia Khasoa Maina for going above and beyond to contribute towards Humanity.
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