Going With The Flow

06/09/2019

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Every month women between the ages of 11-55 experience their menstrual cycle. In Kenya, menstrual health is swept under the carpet as a woman's thing, with little information given on the subject and periods often treated as something to be ashamed of.

Research from Huru International has shown that 65% of women and girls in Kenya cannot afford menstrual products. The average girl reports missing at least 3 days of school per month because she doesn’t have what she needs to manage her period. This has serious personal and educational consequences, like falling behind in class, dropping out altogether and having to use unsafe substitutes for pads like mattress filling or leaves. For example, a resident of an informal settlement or just a young struggling Kenyan girl with 50ksh will often have to make the difficult choice between buying food and buying a pad; both are basic needs but opportunity cost prevents meeting the later.

Over the last few weeks, we have undertaken research to review the different menstrual products that could provide affordable, safe and hygienic options to girls within Nairobi. We focused on two alternatives, Menstrual Cups and Reusable Pads.

Menstrual Cups

A menstrual cup is a feminine hygiene cup that you insert into the vagina to safely collect menstrual flow. As the name suggests it is in a bell shaped form made from a flexible silicone. There are many ways in which it can be inserted to the preference of the girl/woman. It might sound like a new product, but the menstrual cup was actually invented way back in 1937 by an American actress Leona Chalmers. Awareness of the product, however, generally remains low, although it is starting to increase in both Europe and Africa, interestingly among quite different target audiences. In Europe menstrual cups are making waves among the young and climate conscious in environments such as universities, and are often regarded as a high end product. Contrastingly, in Kenya, and other parts of Africa, menstrual cups are being introduced and promoted by NGOs looking to improve menstrual health options for girls from disadvantaged backgrounds.

With all new products, questions and misconceptions abound. Reading this, you’re probably wondering things like, are they safe? Are they easy to use? Will they save me money?

How about side effects and health issues?

Whilst every woman is unique and they may not be the solution for everyone, from our research users generally give very positive reviews. Menstrual cups can remain inserted up to 12 hours, with users commenting that they are comfortable, and they can get on with their everyday activities without even noticing that it’s there. Light and heavy flows can be managed with cups of different sizes.

Menstrual cups at The Cup Foundation’s shop in Kibera

Menstrual cups at The Cup Foundation’s shop in Kibera

A major attraction is that one menstrual cup can last for as long as ten years, creating potential for savings. Huru’s research found that an average Kenyan girl requires 14.1 pads a month to adequately manage her period (Huru, 2019) with the cheapest pads going for 50ksh to 125 Ksh. In a year, adequately managing her period with disposable products, an average girl could thus have to cover costs beyond 8460 Ksh a year. By contrast, a long lasting menstrual cup costs around 2000Ksh.

Recent research published in the Lancet  (https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanpub/article/PIIS2468-2667(19)30126-4/fulltext) concluded that menstrual cups were as reliable as disposable alternatives, and presented very few complications. They also do not produce an odor and their reusability makes them eco-friendly! However, they may take a while to get used to, meaning the training is key.

At present in Nairobi, the menstrual cups have a slow market as not many know of it and this causes a lot of stigmas and misconceptions towards its use. Much research is needed to help about how best to convey understanding and ensure acceptance of menstrual cups as an option among the girls and women in Kenya. Considerations such as culture and perception, techniques of combating harmful myths and taboos, will be explored as we further our research.

Our research to date has included meeting with The Grace Cup founder, Ebby Weyime, and talking to Sue from Crimson Care about how they raise awareness and use of the cups. They both sell the cup at a price favourable to mostly middle class women but aim to help all females. We also met with Camilla Wirseen who through The Cup Foundation strongly advocates for the education of girls and boys regarding menstrual health and other issues arising from social environment in which the girls and women they support live. Through our research we keenly noted the stress made on training girls on the cup’s use and education of general menstrual hygiene and issues as they are socialized not to discuss the topic of periods.

Meeting with Camilla (left), founder of The Cup Foundation

Meeting with Camilla (left), founder of The Cup Foundation

Meeting with Sue (second from the left) from Crimson Care

Meeting with Sue (second from the left) from Crimson Care

Reusable Pads

Reusable pads look similar to the disposable pads however they can be washed and reused each cycle.  They can last up to 18 months and one is advised to use around 8 pads for her cycle.

Reusable pads produced by Huru International

Reusable pads produced by Huru International

We met with Huru International, an organisation here in Kenya that has specialised in equipping young girls and women with comprehensive health education. Huru pads are quality fabric, leak proof tested and environmentally friendly pads which are Kenyan made by women and men from impoverished informal settlements in Nairobi. To mention some benefits that are highlighted on the reusable pads, they are comfortable and have less infection risk than disposables. They are great for sensitive skin and can be more absorbent than disposable pads as well as being more breathable. There are some downsides, such as handwashing taking time and water, with difficulty getting stains out and also having to carry the soiled towels around before cleaning at home. These are challenges, however reusable pads are adaptable and the similarity to disposable/traditional alternatives makes adoption for girls easier, which is attractive particularly in communities where there might be existing cultural taboos.

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Huru International take a holistic approach which is evidence based, girl centred, community focused and brings in boys as allies. This inclusive approach has helped them reach girls in more inaccessible, isolated communities.

Our hope as we develop a project in this area is to give girls agency to be able to choose their option of management. To pick an option which is appreciated by them and they feel most comfortable using. Rather than preaching the benefits of one option we want to increase awareness and access to many, empowering girls. Furthermore our main aim is to increase education and knowledge about menstrual hygiene management (MHM) and the female body. We understand this is a big task but we are excited to carry on researching this project.

We are beginning research for a new project including training university students in Nairobi to act as MHM ambassadors providing information to young girls about MHM and the options available, as well as acting as role models. This is a very important issue for us and after continuing our research and creating a structure to complement our other projects such as the mentorship program) we will look to roll out a pilot project.

Today and everyday roughly one in seven of the women you see will be on their period. This is an issue that affects half of our population personally, and should be of concern to us all. #menstruationmatters

Patricia and George
(Kite Nairobi committee)

All Aboard the MentorShip

Hello from Nairobi!

It’s now been a week since we arrived here, and we have had a productive and insightful time working on the mentorship project. We have also started research on another project, but more to come on that in a further post! Many matatu rides, late night brain storming sessions and many ‘asante sanas’ later we have managed to achieve a lot of progress on the mentorship scheme especially working closely with the Kite Nairobi committee which has been an absolute pleasure. We have met with potential partners and discussed future expansions of the scheme. One of the main highlights of our trip however has been the special activity day to the Bomas of Kenya with the mentees, mentors and teachers at Uhuru Kenyatta.

The special activity day is a termly event that take the mentees out of the usual school setting enabling them to engage in fun activities. The days further their understanding about life after school, careers and future pathways. It also acts as a motivation for the mentees to attend the mentorship scheme at school if they then get to partake in such an exciting day trip that the mentees look forward to. On Tuesday we got to join the second term special activity day to the Bomas of Kenya, a hub of rich Kenyan traditions. The day went as follows:

7.30 a.m.

We (Oxford committee) arrived at Uhuru Kenyatta school to meet with the Nairobi committee and discuss final logistics. The students and mentors then started to arrive. It was great to introduce ourselves and start talking to everyone. We got the chance to catch up with some of the mentees about their experience of the scheme and the feedback was very encouraging.

We asked the mentees to fill in a mid- year survey to self-assess their personal development. We will then be analysing them to compare to the original base line survey and the end line survey they will complete in December once the pilot project is over. It also offered the mentees the chance to give us feedback on things we can improve going forward with the project. The surveys are an opportunity to measure the impact of the scheme.

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10 a.m

We all piled into two buses that had a buzz of excitement about them. I felt like I was back in my own secondary school ready for a school trip surrounded by so many smiling faces in school uniform discussing the day ahead! The Nairobi morning traffic allowed for an opportunity to have a great chat and really get to know some of the students on the journey!

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11 a.m

Once arriving in Bomas the whole group got to explore the traditional home steads of different Kenyan tribes. There were some great instruments at the end of the tour that everyone got to have a go with!

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1.00 p.m

Lunch time! After an energising lunch we played some team building games with James from CoWA. An intense round of ‘James says’ and the most upscaled game of rock paper scissors that consisted of acting out wild animals got all of the mentees and mentors working together in a relaxed and enjoyable environment.

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2.30 p.m

Show time! Bomas provide a daily cultural show of traditional music and dance that was thoroughly enjoyable. We even had some of the mentees go up in the interval and showcase some of their dance moves! It was great to see their confidence levels! However, one of the most entertaining events of the performance for everyone else was when one of the performers picked on me to go on stage to try and join in their traditional dance… it did not go too well but I gave it a good go, and everyone had a good laugh! I won’t be forgetting that experience any time soon!

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4 p.m.

Back on the bus to Uhuru Kenyatta for the students to go home. What a day!

After reflecting on the busy day at Bomas, it has affirmed our aspirations for expanding the scheme in the future to other schools around Nairobi. We met with Amani Kibera where Ben showed us around the local area and the community centre project they have been working on after the destruction of their original offices due to the road construction displacing approximately 30,000 families.

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We also got to visit Babadogo to see the MOHI school and talk to students and parents in their homes about the schools impact on their lives. We have been thinking about possible expansion sat Uhuru Kenyatta with our existing partners CoWA.

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All in all it has been a very productive week looking at the mentorship scheme and we are excited about the future of it after the positive feedback we have received. Now we need to start doing a bit more research into possible new schools and begin thinking about a second round of mentor recruitment and training. We would like to extend a special thanks to the Nairobi committee especially Patricia who has been fundamental to the running of the mentorship scheme.

 

Laura, Pia and Joe

(Oxford committee)

 

Message from Musanda

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It’s been several weeks since Camille (Project Manager) and I arrived in Musanda, where we have since been joined by Sarina, who arrived two weeks ago. We have now gotten stuck into the busy Nasio Trust community and are enjoying every minute of it.

 
A tractor tire, perfect for shoe soles!

A tractor tire, perfect for shoe soles!

 

With this in mind we started our project by reaching out to cobblers and akala (Kenyan tyre sandal) makers in Musanda and Mumias, creating valuable contacts that we hope to learn from and potentially incorporate into our project. Community engagement is key to the success of our project due to differing views in the community of the social, economic and environmental factors influencing the severity of a jiggers foot infestation as well as our limited understanding of the community needs from our UK perspective.

 

This summer we are completing the research and development for the Nasio Trust’s Shoes for Africa project, partnered by Kite Oxford-Nairobi, a new sustainable social shoe manufacturing enterprise targeted at reducing the incidence of Jiggers foot infestations (google if not squeamish) in the local community (particularly schoolchildren) with the additional benefits of local employment and skills development. 

Jigger Treatment Clinic

Jigger Treatment Clinic

For this reason, we interviewed many head-teachers from local schools as well as conducted two focus groups with parents, gaining a greater insight into community shoe wearing and purchasing practices as well as attitudes towards jiggers prevention. Additionally, we have attended a jiggers removal clinic that has deepened our understanding of the pain of those suffering from the condition as well as strengthened our determination to provide a long term sustainable solution to the issue that may be replicable in other communities.

Focus Group with Guardians in Musanda

Focus Group with Guardians in Musanda

From our initial research, we are considering ways to revise the initial business model of the social enterprise to be more efficient and effective in jiggers prevention for vulnerable kids. This has included consideration of a more holistic approach to reducing jiggers through an educational campaign and proposed projects that will seal floors and maintain clean home environments. In the following weeks we will continue conducting research including market surveys and contacting government officials to build upon our model.

As always please don’t hesitate to contact us if you would like more information.

Michael (Marketing and Product Development Director)

 

About our mentorship scheme

10/08/2019

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The mentorship scheme is Kite’s first project and incredibly, is coming up to its mid-year stage! This means there is lots of evaluation to be done, a key pillar of Kite’s model. In case you haven’t heard or seen about the project: here is a summary in 2 key points.

What is the Mentorship Scheme?

The mentorship scheme is a weekly mentorship programme run by University of Kenyatta and Nairobi student volunteers who act as mentors, to 68 mentees at a high school in Nairobi. Mentees and mentors meet once a week throughout the year, with each term focusing on a specific area. In the first term, the focus was on building the relationship between mentees and mentors and developing academic skills, amongst others. In the second term, careers and college pathway awareness was covered. Next term will be a group project, decided by the mentees to build positive peer to peer relationships, and one-on-one sessions between the mentors and mentees.

Why the scheme was developed?

Research highlighted that there was a serious issue of a high rate of high- school drop outs, with students leaving with minimal or no qualifications. Alongside this, baseline surveys on the mentees highlighted that less than half knew where to find careers advice. The mentorship scheme is able to utilise university students who act as role models, with recent experience of challenges faced by the mentees.

Our plans!

This trip will be a busy week of researching new ideas for projects, meeting potential handover partners and evaluating the mentorship programme at its mid-year point.

Evaluation

We have written and will be collecting surveys in from all the mentees. The aims of these will be to a) compare statistics such as percentage awareness of careers advice, with the baseline surveys b) measure any developments in student’s self – assessed soft skills. This is key for informing the next steps of the project, building into the sessions topics the mentees have found helpful and those they would like more help with.

Alongside this, we will be meeting all the mentors to hear their feedback on various areas such as the support Kite offers them, the time commitment, session content. The mentors are themselves delivering each session and are best placed to inform us of how we can build upon and improve the mentorship scheme, in these relatively early days.

Handover

Meetings will take place with potential handover partners and charities working in mentorship programmes already. This will be a chance to share experiences and to look to the future in a year’s time where we hope to work with a charity to handover – watch this space!

This trip should be a brilliant chance to really see and hear from the Nairobi committee how our first project has been going. Mentors, mentees and schools will all be able to help us to inform the next steps and ultimately, scale up effectively!

Pippa
(Oxford committee)

 

New Blog and Nairobi Summer Trip

09/08/2019

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Hello everyone!

Welcome to our new blog! We will use this blog to keep you updated on our projects and to share with you news, impressions and exciting developments!

We are excited to announce that we are visiting our partner committee in Nairobi this month! From the 7th to the 21st August, we are travelling to Kenya to meet with Kite Nairobi, our partner NGOs and with participants of our projects. During this trip, we aim to evaluate the progress on our current mentorship scheme and assess possible opportunities for improvement and expansion of the scheme. Together with Kite Nairobi, we will also spend several days discussing ideas for new projects! Lastly, we will make a 2-day short trip to Kakamega County to meet with our partners at the Nasio Trust regarding our social entrepreneurship project. Our social entrepreneurship team is already in Kenya, as they spend several weeks travelling in order to prepare the implementation of the project. We are excited to meet up with them as well and will keep you updated on their journey!

We are happy to see our partners at Kite Nairobi and looking forward to a great and productive time together! We are especially looking forward to joining the mentorship scheme on their special activity day and we will share with you on social media the daily news about our trip, so stay tuned (for example, by following our new Instagram page @KiteOxford)!

Joe, Laura and Pia

(Oxford committee)