Five minutes before we were meant to get in the battered pick-up truck to travel to the nearby school, a representative of the local charity we were working with started searching desperately for a loudspeaker.
I enquired as to why a speaker was necessary. We had run these small workshops on menstrual health several times before, doing small group work in various schools in the rural Homa-bay area of Kenya. It was only then that it was casually mentioned that the workshop today was going to be delivered not to a class of around twenty but the entire school of girls aged thirteen to eighteen, roughly a thousand in total.
In the six months since Lilypads, our organisation which manufactures and sells sanitary towels and provides menstrual health education, was set-up there have been many unexpected twists and turns, but this was a new one.
Lilypads was set up to provide girls in rural Kenya with reusable sanitary towels which are more affordable and safer than alternatives allowing them to stay in education for longer. It stop girls having to use leaves to cope with their period or engaging in transactional sex in order to access period products. We believe that good quality menstrual health education is also vital for girls and women’s health and wellbeing.
We spent the drive to the school desperately dismantling and rewriting our lesson plan to change it from one intended for a small group to one that was now going out to a crowd. A crowd who seemed as hyper and excited to see us as the average group of teenage girls would be if it had been One Direction rather than us who had just walked in.
The lesson went off better than we could have hoped – we maintained a conversational style, which is also how our newly trained local Lily Ladies are now going out and teaching these classes.
However, at the end came another issue. We had only brought enough packs of Lilypads, our reusable sanitary pads, for the size of workshop we had originally expected to teach. Normally we ask the girls if they wish to try them, but in this lesson we were obviously massively oversubscribed. It was then the head teacher came forward and started asking the girls how they thought the pads should be allocated, and from the crowd came shouted out a variety of suggestions for a fair allocation of the pads. Eventually a system was decided on where at least one girl from each class would get a pad, and one-by-one they came up to collect them, looking as though they were winning the lottery jackpot.
In Lilypads we find ourselves having to respond to a lot of challenging and unexpected situations but we’re a small, highly flexible organisation and, with the help of local communities and local women we’re finding a way through.
A couple of months later the feedback came through from the girls who had got the pads. One line in particular stuck out at me: “I feel so much happier at school now.” That, of course, is what this is all about.