Women’s Issues: Cups, Confidence and Cake

Fran’s Kenya Diary – Friday 13th January 2017

We get up early again to miss the traffic. This time, we see some buffalos and very distant gazelles from the bypass. We loiter again in Java at Prestige Plaza until Zainab arrives around 8:30. She is coming with us to our meeting with Amaia from Ruby Cup, but Peter has not told her what the meeting is about, so I tell her a bit about our ideas and she looks quite anxious.

We drive to Westgate Shopping Centre – that’s the one where the 2013 Al Shabaab terrorist attack took place, resulting in 67 deaths, many more injured and huge damage to the building with three floors of the five  storey mall collapsing. It was closed for almost two years but has been completely rebuilt now and is like any other shopping centre, though the security looks a bit more serious. We discover that Java here has let us down by closing, so we switch the meeting to ArtCaffé. We find a table outside on the terrace and there is an excellent weaver bird colony in large tree across the road.

We meet Amaia from Ruby Cup who is delightful. Peter tells her all about Swahiba and hands over to Zainab to describe the Jitambue clubs that she leads. We explain that SYN has been buying disposable pads each month and that this is becoming unaffordable and limiting the scope of the work, as there are many more girls waiting to join a club. Zainab also talks about the education programme they have around reproductive health, also self-esteem, purity and other topics relevant to teenage girls in the slums. Ruby Cup like to partner with organisations who offer this kind of education and are able to support girls in learning to use the product so that they stick with it, as it can be harder in the first instance to get used to. Ruby Cup don’t just distribute the product without this kind of infrastructure. Golda  of Golden Girls Foundation has shown clearly in her work that take up is improved in the areas where most support is available.

Amaia produces her sample for Zainab to look at. She seems quite alarmed by the size, so I find my samples, which were a pair of both the larger and smaller ones. Zainab looks less anxious at the sight of the smaller one. Many girls and women are initially quite unkeen on the idea of the cups when they first hear about them, but experience shows that once they have used them for a while, they are very likely to prefer them to alternatives. Amaia agrees, her mother-in-law nagged her for years to try one and she declined, but now loves it and that certainly echoes my own experience. I only tried one when I started to think about it being a possible solution to SYN’s cost problems and felt morally obliged to try something I was considered inflicting on others, only to discover the superiority of the cup to alternatives I was used to. These cups are certainly not some second-rate solution suitable only for those with no other choice, they are a genuinely excellent product. Manufacturers of disposable products have a vested interest in making sure sales  do not take off and cups of this kind are rarely seen in mainstream retailers in the west, or only in small displays in the least prominent positions where they are available at all, such as in Boots.

Ruby Cup are currently at full capacity for their “Buy one, give one” model for donations through their existing partnerships, but do have a supply of cups already imported into Kenya available for NGOs to buy at cost price. This could certainly be a possibility for SYN, at least initially. Experience suggests that schemes should start small, Golda suggested getting a small number of the most adventurous girls to try first, then they will tell their friends and they will all want one. One key factor is that the trainers need to be users themselves to be able to pass on experience about the details of practical issues that will arise. This is where Zainab seems particularly alarmed and I make sure Peter grasps that this is not something he can push the female staff about if they are unhappy. Zainab says she is feeling less anxious after the discussion than she did in the beginning. We leave feeling very positive that this is a direction that looks eminently realistic.

Discussions at ArtCaffé

We go to SYN office. We talk to Lucy about the meeting and I leave the two women with two of the Ruby Cups, Amaia’s sample that she left with us and the smaller one I brought. I keep the larger one for Julie to try.

I go with the team to a lunch time Jitambue club in Star Rise and realise I am giving the whole lesson, not just a 5 minute slot. I talk to them from the outline about self-esteem, about learning to be happy with their appearance and not comparing themselves with everyone else and especially not with magazines, as they are often fake and photoshopped. I ask them if I look skinny and they laugh, but photoshop could make me look skinny I tell them. I find myself telling the girls about being made in the image of God – where did that come from? I hadn’t thought about that beforehand and it seemed very natural here. I talk about needing confidence to accept constructive criticism e.g. in my job as a scientist, you get a lot of criticism from reviewers when you write a paper. I was impressed as a student by more experienced people who were able to accept those comments and be glad that their paper would be improved. If you have confidence, you have the capacity to improve. You need to trust that the person criticising you is trying to help you and not just put you down. Learn to distinguish between the two.

Meanwhile, James is visiting a recording studio run by the Baptist Church in Jogoo Rd somewhere, but takes forever to get there and back, so does not have much  time to look at the music. He meets a famous Catholic recording star who is working there and has many intense theological discussions with Pastor Joseph Cho whose church runs the studio and is coming back for the SYN board meeting planned for the afternoon.

Baptist recording studio

Peter and I go to Cake Plaza, next to Prestige Plaza shopping centre just off the Ngong Road, for the meeting. Pastor Ken Aringo arrives after a while. He has had a dreadful day already, helping another pastor friend who has been car jacked in his own driveway and forced to drive his car where the assailants tell him. Fortunately for him, his car ran out of fuel after only half a km. They have been in the police station 5 hours this morning. Pastor Ken wonders why this other pastor persists in living in such a remote suburb which always makes him nervous when he visits, even in the daytime. Ken has to go to another meeting. Julie arrives and also Pastor Joseph Cho with James. Doughnuts are had – this is Cake Plaza after all. There isn’t really a meeting as such.

We go home, aiming to leave before 4 when the traffic gets really bad, though actually it is less bad today as half the population stay out drinking on Friday night and don’t go straight home from work. We stop by at the supermarket near Peter’s house and buy a 20 tonne tractor jack and grease gun – don’t you have these in your local Aldi? We also enjoy generally wandering round trying to identify the strange vegetables and being impressed by the very large number of different types of bean available.

What kind of beans would you like?

Is this a puffer fish? Or a thorn melon?

Arrow root – this appears not to be a small tub of powder

We are home at a sensible time for once and the kids are around. This must be the first Peter has really seen of them all week since before we went to the village. I feel rather useless not doing anything to help with tea, but there are already about 5 people in the kitchen doing stuff. We meet Lyonne, who is going to take us out tomorrow afternoon. The original idea tomorrow afternoon was for a family afternoon with Julie and the kids, doing some touristy things, but no-one told Julie. She is going away with work for the next two weeks to Kilifi, which is on the coast somewhere and she needs some new clothes that will satisfy the local customs. Peter has to go with Chris to do the whole cow thing with his fiancée’s family.  It turns out the elephant sanctuary Peter was thinking of sending us to is only open for one hour a day from 11-12 as a concession to tourists, it is really a conservation organisation, so we will not be able to get there from the meeting we have tomorrow morning in Kibera. The giraffes will be open until 5pm. And there’s a botanic garden very close to the giraffes that’s open until 8pm. We take screenshots of google maps as Lyonne does not know these places. I also remember to leave the last of the Ruby Cups with Julie, who looks excited about it and sits reading the leaflet.

At bedtime, we have family prayers. Peter asks the children a little bit about each of their days. Abby is learning a new word each day at nursery. Duck is her current favourite. Joy is in charge of singing. She leads a song and everyone joins in. James manages to pick it up and join in, but I just watch and listen for the most part. Baraka is in charge of the memory verses. I do better here. He leads reciting them and everyone else joins in with him. We all pray and say the grace.

All posts in this diary series:


Getting There


To the Village Via the Tractor Dealership

The Health Centre

Village People

Choices: Kibera and Kabete

Women's Issues: Cups, Confidence and Cake

Opposite Ends of the Spectrum


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