Apart from being a Third Year student at Moi University in Eldoret, 20-year-old Ann Mwende is the chairperson of a lobby group that champions for reduction of teenage pregnancies in Laikipia County.
Whenever Ms Mwende is not offering menstrual hygiene sensitization programs to young girls at ‘Rise Her Initiative’ in Laikipia, she is busy pursuing Bachelor’s degree in Business Management.
The journey to salvage teenage girls from sex predators started in November last year when she partnered with her five childhood friends to establish Rise Her Initiative. After being entangled by financial constraints, the lobby group was registered as a Community Based Organization (CBO) in June.
The CBO opted to support vulnerable teenage girls, the main targets for manipulation by sex pests, by providing them with hygiene kits every month. Each kit includes two sanitary towels, a tissue paper, a shawl, petroleum jelly and a panty.
“We resolved to impact the society positively by coming up with a unique program of issuing hygiene kits to vulnerable teenage girls. The driving engine towards this initiative is increased cases of teenage pregnancies. When young girls lack of these key essentials due to poverty, they are rendered vulnerable and easily lured to unprotected sex,” Ms Mwende tells Nation.
The group is currently offering mentorship programs to 300 girls and has so far provided hygiene kits to 90 girls in Laikipia East Sub-county.
According to Ms Mwende, the organization aims at offering menstrual hygiene sensitization programs to more than 10,000 girls, and availing hygiene kits to more than 1,000 girls in the county in the next three years.
“We want our teenage girls to understand that experiencing monthly menstruation is not a justification of giving in to sexual activities. That is why we have sacrificed to ensure they rise and are able to pursue their education,” she says.
Other members of the group include Paul Mwaniki, Clare Muthui, Rita Muteithia, Ted Wachira.
“We get funding from well-wishers who offer support through cash and kind. We also sell hoodies at Sh2,500 each. We buy and brand them at Sh1,800 and use the extra Sh700 to buy sanitary towels. We have branded T-shirts which go for Sh1,500 each and pens we sell at Sh100 each,” Ms Mwende says.
The organization has also developed a program to economically empower vulnerable parents so that they can comfortably afford sanitary towels for their teenage girls.
The program targets parents of the 90 beneficiaries of the monthly hygiene kits donations, who are residents of Majengo, Likii and Kabiru slums. It trains them on how to venture into small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
The organization’s patron Mr Paul Mwaniki, says the livelihood project dubbed “kuku tatu” where they donate three chickens to each family will enable the parents to venture into poultry farming.
He notes that the parents will be able to comfortably avail hygiene kits to their children as well as providing for food.
“Poverty has entrenched its roots in our society that is why we want to find a sustainable solution for them to provide for their children. We want to gradually shift from just donating sanitary pads to empower the beneficiaries to contribute positively to the country’s economy,” he says.
Ms Mwende says they plan to partner with tertiary learning institutions to enrol some of the girls into short-term courses.
“We will soon come up with a project dubbed “skilling her” where girls aged 18 years and above will enrol for short courses. We are specifically targeting teenage girls from poor backgrounds to ensure they acquire skills to sustain themselves. In many instances, poverty drives young girls to indulge into unprotected sex,” she says.
Fatmah Ibrahim, an 18-year-old girl from Kabiru slums, says most of her age mates have been lured to sex to afford sanitary towels.
Ms Ibrahim notes that majority of the affected teenagers had their self-esteem and confidence lowered after being manipulated sexually.
“During this Covid-19 pandemic, most girls have been targets to sex predators due to lack of sanitary pads. We have been empowered by Rise Her and given the voice to rise high. I am encouraging my age mates to not engage in sexual activities because there are many well-wishers willing to nurture them,” she says.
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