Fran’s Kenya Diary
This series of posts contains my reflections on our visit to Peter Abungu in Kenya, one of the Fellowship’s linked mission workers. We were only there for a week, but it felt like a very long week, full of experiences and learning, hence a whole series of posts to capture what happened.
We are not going to Kenya for a holiday, though it is sure to be an amazing experience. We decided quite on the spur of moment while Peter was with us in September. I talked to him again about the problems of the cost of supplying reusable sanitary pads to all the hundreds of girls in his clubs, and this time we thought, well surely we can do something about that and find out more about the Ruby Cup model in Kenya. We are going to see Peter’s work and also to see if we can investigate the feasibility of his Jitambue project for teenage girls switching to Ruby Cup. They supply the pads now as girls in the slums typically cannot afford to buy them and therefore have nothing, making do with anything they can find, rags, rubbish or whatever. The issue first became apparent to them when Peter’s organisation, Swahiba Youth Networks (SYN), started schools work and soon realised that large numbers of girls were not turning up each week. Upon enquiring, they were told that they had their period that week and did not want to leave the house due to lack of suitable provision. This issue is actually very common all over the third world, with teenage girls missing large amounts of secondary education (and presumably older women struggle with the same issues too). Jitambue currently has around 700 girls and cannot accept any more because it is limited by the cost of the pads. There are around 3,000 girls on a waiting list. Using Ruby Cups would take away the ongoing cost, though they are more expensive to purchase in the first instance. Ruby Cup do donate cups for free at the rate they are able to sell them in the west. The obvious question is could you maintain suitable levels of hygiene in a slum or other location lacking modern sanitation, but research indicates this is not a problem e.g. Africa Population and Health Research Center Policy Brief 20 and Mason et al, 2013 study in rural western Kenya.
SYN have also tried washable cloth pads and these actually present more problems as girls are not able to dry them satisfactorily due to not wanting to air them in a publicly visible place, so they get mouldy and the girls get infections. We want to contact Ruby Cup and organisations that are already working with them to gain experience and find out whether Ruby Cup would be satisfied with the support offered by the Jitambue clubs to girls starting to use the cups and adopt Swahiba Youth Networks (SYN) as a partner organisation, and gaining as much experience as possible from people already involved in this type of work.
I have researched quite a bit of these issues and aim to contact some of the people involved, when I hit one of my screwy episodes. I realise eventually that I have gone into the same self-sabotage mode that I did when trying to complete my PhD thesis. I really want to be useful (like Thomas the Tank Engine) and don’t feel like I deserve to be, so I keep not doing anything about trying to contact anyone about discussing these possibilities further.
On a broader spiritual level, I have been thinking for some time about lighting the flame of my faith. I feel quite lost spiritually, I have been drained by many things but not refreshed and have lost touch with any sense of the reality of faith. 18 months ago, I went on a Christian retreat called “Reconnecting to Earth” led by Tess Ward and Matt Freer and felt strongly at the end of that that I needed my flame relighting, maybe like the pilot light on a boiler. At the last service of the retreat, we were all asked to bring something from the garden, and as the conker trees were in flower, I brought a conker flower – a candle, to represent this prayer. At a recent Advent Taizé service in the cathedral, I not only failed to light my own tealight at the appropriate point in the service, I actually lost the whole of my candle into the big candle trying and put it out too! I am hoping that the much clearer spirituality that is manifest in Kenya will touch me too and help me in the right direction.