By Qabale Duba
2017 Akili Dada Fellow
My name is Qabale Duba, from Marsabit County, Kenya. I am the founder of Qabale Duba Foundation PAPA Project (Panties and reusable pads). The intervention of PAPA project was meant to initiate measures that will equip girls with sanitary towels and panties, to enable them concentrate on their studies. The girls who receive a year’s supply of the pads no longer skip lessons every month to attend to their physical demands. Pads are as important to school girls as pens, they can’t stay without them. The provision of such commodities does not form part of luxuries, and that their benefits go beyond offering comfort to the girls. When girls are able to access pads, they tend to get empowered, which then enhances their dreams, and eventually, helps in economic development. Their poor parents are not able to provide for pads and panties since even food is a huge challenge to the families.
Upon realization of these challenges in my community, I saw that there were many girls who were suffering silently and I felt the need to solicit for support in donations for purchasing sanitary pads/panties for pastoralist school girls from remote villages in Marsabit County since 2013. To date, I have helped more than 2000 girls to remain in school.
My Period Story
I was motivated to start the project out of my own menstruation experiences. The day I got my first monthly period in primary school was the worst shameful experience for me as an adolescent girl. Nobody had ever talked to me about menses before, when to experience or what to expect when the day comes. It got me off guard unexpectedly during the lesson time, I had a stomachache but didn’t know that it was the menstruation cramps. The lesson was over and innocently I was the first to leave the class because I wanted to use the bathroom, to my shock the boys started shouting and laughing loudly because I had soiled myself unknowingly. I was so ashamed and felt frustrated, it really disturbed me that I had to stay away from school for one week just to avoid ridicule from the boys in the class. A friend of mine who has already received her menses advised me to use cotton wool and I, therefore, borrowed some from the school dispensary which I used for two months and I had to continue missing classes whenever I was on my period.
Missing classes whenever on the monthly period is not just my story but the story of every pastoralist girl in remote village schools who lack sanitary towels. My own situation and the situations of other adolescent girls in my school facing the same problems during menses motivated me to start an initiative in future to save the girls from monthly shame. My dream came true when I won different Miss Tourism Kenya titles (Miss Tourism Marsabit County, Miss Tourism Kenya Peace and Miss Tourism Kenya Investment 2013/2014). I then had the support of the County Government of Marsabit to implement the PAPA (Pads and Panties) project through the Qabale Duba Foundation.
I started giving girls and women reusable sanitary pads instead of the disposable ones. A packet of 5 reusable pads can sustain a girl in school for a whole year, since she just needs to wash and keep them for the next menstrual period. Most of these girls also lack panties that is why my PAPA project included the provision of panties too. I also involve women because their situations are not any different from the girls; sometimes we give the girls the sanitary pads they go home to share with their mothers and the absenteeism continues.
After venturing into this project for some years, I noticed that the reusable pads from Uganda are very expensive and therefore I am currently working on making reusable period panties using locally available materials. This initiative empowers the local women as it offers employment and enables them to gain new skills. My ultimate goal is to be able to supply to at least 100 girls every month in the rural village schools.
On joining the fellowship
I did not know about Akili Dada until one day a friend sent me a picture on WhatsApp about an advert of the 2017 fellowship on the newspaper. When sending the picture, he captioned “Qabz please try these fellowship too, you are one person am really proud of when it comes to advocating for girls and women in Marsabit, I know you will get to (sic) represent Marsabit well in Akili Dada” Those words really moved me!! I followed the link to read the requirements and realised that I qualify for the fellowship.
My PAPA project addresses menstrual hygiene and sexual health among adolescent girls in rural schools. Through menstrual hygiene and sexual health awareness sessions the girls are able to learn more about their bodies and changes that comes with adolescence. The project also promotes girls education in the sense that the girls who receive enough supply of sanitary towels do not miss classes every month to attend to their biological demands. Therefore the number of absenteeism and girls dropping out of school in Marsabit has decreased.
On average, a girl is absent from school due to menses for four days in a month and loses 288 lessons in a calendar year translating to 192 hours of missed learning due to absence from school. Since I was a victim of the same predicament, I am passionate about menstrual health.