She wanted to be like many others she had heard about. She wanted to learn. Her desire to attend school was pulsating each day though she lived a world of contrast to the desire.
At the spell of dawn she was sent to fetch water from a distance of few kilometers, where she went footing holding a pot on her right waist and balancing the other on her head braving the morning chill in the air. At the tender age of 13 where she needed a mother to shower her with love she was more of a mother to her younger siblings trying to fill the void of a generation as their elderly grandma was now the only parent in the house.
Having brought in the water she helped shosho in preparing tea and ujji besides tending to other household chores and taking care of five year old Kirubi and seven year old Nkasiogi. She was somewhat uncomfortable owing to the poking straw padding that she used as a protective layer in her underwear. Grandma had given her a scrap piece of clothing a day before but that was soiled and smelly so she had to wash it.
Malaika prayed that somehow grandma gets enough money to buy packets of sanitary napkins for her every month. She wondered what would happen when Nkasiogi grew up and faced the same challenges as her. She didn’t want her kid sister to make the same sacrifice as her and stay away from school because of her menstrual cycle.
She feared for the safety of her younger sibling and herself as she knew if they didn’t manage to find a solution they might end up to same deadly fate as their mother Sironka.
Thinking of her mother brought tears to Malaika’s eyes. She suddenly found herself sobbing as she crouched in the painful memory of her death. Poverty and failed crops had leashed fury over the family as her father left the family in search for greener pastures never to return. Sironka in her efforts to feed her four children single-handed struggled at the farmland.
Weather circumstances and invasion on her crop by locusts pushed their situation from bad to worse. The youngest baby Nataana succumbed to disease and they were now one member less to feed. One day like every month her mother left for the forest for the usual three days. Sounds shocking, but that’s the circumstance in their Masai Village. Owing to lack of education and facilities, no toilets at home, women often left for the forest during menstruation and sat atop the dug up holes leaving their little ones behind under the care of elderly at home or in neighborhood. They waited for her return but she didn’t return. On the second day the news had already reached Malaika’s grandma that Sironka was mauled by an animal in the wild. Some said it was a lion while others said it was a Leopard. Little did it matter to the family about which animal it was. What mattered was that they had lost a precious person who used to look after them all.
At her tender age, Malaika had taken up big responsibility looking at the frail yet strong old woman who as much needed her as much she cared for her. Life had altered its direction and all her hopes of schooling vanished in thin air. She had started menstruating and in the absence of basic hygienic and protective products grandma decided for no more school for the young girl with bright dreams. Poor financial condition, Grandma’s old age and now her monthly obstruction all seemed to work against her dreams.
One fine day, it appeared God did exist as some of her prayers were being answered. She walked her little siblings to the the ill constructed yet the only school in the area and found some visitors at the school. There were two vehicles parked outside the cracked muddy walls that formed the territory of the school. She didn’t know what to call those vehicles – she had heard the words like cars, jeeps, trucks and vans but didn’t know to differentiate between them so she simply called them big cars.
There were a few men and few women and one Indian woman walked towards her and handed over a bright colored fabric kit. Malaika thanked the woman with excitement but little did she know that her prayers had been answered through that kit. The lady who she later learnt was called Aruna must have taken a liking to her as she gave her an additional kit. Malaika’s happiness knew no bounds when even her siblings got gifts such as biscuits and tooth brushes. The team from Amref were very generous she thought.
Though she wasn’t a student at the school, she fortunately got included at the receiving end of the generosity by the good hearted community coming from Nairobi. The children were all being spoken to about dental hygiene and cleanliness. Then the girls in particular were shown what was the secret gift about. Aruna opened one of the colorfully printed kits and voila! it was a sanitary napkin. She explained to the girls about the use of this very practical and re-usable product.
Malaika learnt along with the other girls about the method of usage, cleanliness, washing and caring for the product. This was nothing less than a blessing sent by God and Aruna was nothing but an Angel who was God sent to uplift her desire. She was very sure, her grandma wouldn’t object to her schooling anymore. Rightly so, Grandma promised her that she would let her study and become a smart woman who would no longer live a life of misery if she ever met an irresponsible man as a partner(obviously hinting at Sironka and her husband). Grandma further added that if these pads had come in earlier Alice would have survived too.
The Gamechanger Kits had altered life style of hundreds of girls like Malaika. Those many girls in her neighborhood who skipped school often could now resume to continuity in their educational journey with this newfound boon in the re-usable sanitary pads. They could now experience ease of movement without any discomfort poking and bruising them. They didn’t need to dig holes in the hidden spots on the ground for disposal of those items. Life was taking a turn for Malaika and many others like her due to the well wishers who cared for the society.
Malaika now has great ambitions of being capable of studying and making it big in life. She was now confident of facing newer challenges and encouraging her siblings as well. One little kit had changed the mind set and set her free.
P.S. The story is inspired by several stories narrated by Aruna Varsani, a Kenyan of Indian origin. Besides being a passionate hiker, an educationist she is involved in teaching rural women how to make reusable sanitary pads and creating awareness about women’s hygiene and female genital mutilation. The names used in the story are all fictional as this is a combination of few stories merged to make one.
Aruna n her efforts at helping the society has done several charitable projects of which some are in conjunction with Amref Health Africa in Kenya and some with East Africa Satsang Swaminarayan Temple.
The kits she helps hand out consist of 4 regular and 2 large pads all made of cotton fabric which ensures sufficient comfort for the girls for at least one year.