Dignity becomes secondary when poverty dictates whether one will eat, how one lives and whether a girl has underwear or not.
The challenges facing girls in Kenya are heartbreaking. For me, they are not new. The depth of these girls’ psychological suffering and the impact on their education create new wounds and retrieve bitter memories from my childhood.
The story of Teresa, sponsored by Caring Hearts and Hands of Hope (CHHH), reminded me of an occurrence in the late 1960s. It is still hauntingly vivid in my mind. I wished God could erase the memory of what happened.
Occasionally, female teachers would inspect girls’ cleanliness in my elementary school while male teachers inspected boys in a separate classroom. One day, there was thunderous laughter in the classroom with the girls.
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A 6th grader was wearing torn underwear and a teacher lifted her dress and displayed it for the others to see, as an example of what not to wear. I was in 3rd grade and that girl’s name is the only name I remember of all the students in the 4th-7th grade, other than my relatives. I still see her humiliated face as she walked home alone.
That was the last day she ever went to school. I have never forgotten her or what happened. But at least she had a sympathetic mother to console her.
Teresa is a bright student with astonishing self-discipline, focus and determination. She lost her mother when she was a baby. Teresa was courageous enough to discuss how she sometimes misses classes due to lack of hygiene supplies. She was even given underwear by classmates.
This happens to thousands of girls living in poverty-stricken families, orphaned or not. Destitution means that every cent must go to food, not sanitary pads, the lack of which can have devastating lifelong consequences for girls in developing countries. Countless girls resort to dangerous alternatives, recycling used pads, or using mattresses or unthinkable replacements.
Many poor girls, even those with the potential for a successful future, drop out of school due to missing numerous days each month. In Kenya, there are three terms in a year. If a girl misses five days each month, she’s losing 60 learning days per year. Two months of school absenteeism every year. UNICEF reports that a lack of hygienic supplies is a major factor for school dropout among girls in Africa.
Yet, sanitary pads for a four-month term costs $25-30 per girl. That’s the difference between a productive life and enduring impoverishment.
Culture plays a significant role, too. Traditionally, girls received feminine education by their mothers and grandmothers as they worked together. But today, many girls are orphans or have only one parent, a jobless father. Feminine and sex-related matters are still a taboo subject between fathers and daughters.
At Caring Hearts High School, girls are provided counseling about womanhood issues by compassionate female teachers.
Keeping girls in school actually delays their sexual debut and makes early marriages and relationships with older men less likely. Reportedly, 50 percent of poor girls in developing countries engage in sex or are sexually exploited for money for basics, such as feminine supplies, increasing their risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases and passing them on.
Please help a girl stay in school and prepare for a promising future. Idaho Gives Day (www.idahononprofits.org/overview), an online donation campaign for nonprofits in the state, is May 5. Please consider donating on the Caring Hearts and Hands of Hope page or mail your check to CHHH, Box 7152, Boise, ID 83707, or donate directly at www.caringheartsandhandsofhopes.org.
When you educate a girl, you educate an entire community. That starts by ensuring that no girl stays home because of the lack of sanitary pads. Mother Teresa said, “We cannot do great things, but we can do small things with great love.” Through CHHH, your kindness and generosity can do great things.
Vincent Muli Kituku is an author and speaker for business organizations, schools and Christian groups. He is the founder of Caring Hearts and Hands of Hope and Caring Hearts High School, a vulnerable girls boarding school in Kenya. Contact him at (208) 376-8724 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Idaho Statesman’s weekly faith column features a rotation of writers from many different faiths and perspectives.