Photos and Story by Kate Lapides
A Pad That Might Change the World
For most of her professional life, Glenwood Spring’s Kayce Anderson, Ph.D., was an ecologist happily immersed in scientific research in South America. She spent a third of each year hitchhiking through the mountains of Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela, camping out in tiny Quechan villages at 14,000 feet for weeks at a time to collect butterfly and aquatic insect samples to take back to her labs at the University of California at Davis and later, Colorado State. The last time she went, she was six months pregnant with her daughter Blu, now three years old. “I loved it,” says Anderson. “Being out in the field in Ecuador. I love science. It’s important to me.”
Late in 2013, as funding for Anderson’s CSU-based National Science Foundation project was winding down, a good friend happened to ask her an unusual request: Would she be willing to volunteer to sew some sanitary pads for girls in Kenya? That simple, innocuous query introduced the passionate ecologist to a little known development issue that ultimately changed the course of her professional life. Anderson delved into the data and learned a stunning fact: Millions of girls in the developing world drop out of school every year once they reach adolescence due to simple lack of access to a sanitary pad. The disparity in opportunity for girls this figure represented struck her so profoundly, she chose to forego pursuit of a professorship and dedicate her life to reducing this barrier to education for girls.
Anderson’s vehicle for social change is For the Good Period, a non-profit she founded in 2014 with the help of a fellow scientist and an entrepreneur. The organization partners with villages in rural Kenya to supply girls with human rights-based reproductive health education and reusable sanitary pads good for three years. The health education is as critical to their work as the pads: Girls in these regions are highly vulnerable to pressures for coercive and transactional sex, increasing their exposure to HIV and other health risks. When they stop going to school, their vulnerability to these pressures increases, with the correlative likelihood that they will marry young, endure high-risk pregnancies and be coerced into the practice of FGC (female genital cutting), still highly practiced in the region despite the fact that the practice was outlawed in 2011.
For Anderson, the mid-course professional shift has been exciting but has also meant the loss of something deeply loved.
“For most of my life, I’ve been equally impassioned about education and opportunity as I have by science,” says Anderson. “But I also knew that once I stepped out of that life –– the life of academia –– there was no going back. I was sad to leave science behind because I love it. But I was also excited because it felt like the new work might create something tangible that could really make a difference.“
To date, the organization has reached nearly 2000 girls in 25 different rural villages in Kenya. One of their first steps was to hire a Kenyan staffer, Millicent Garama, who possesses two decades of experience in grassroots community development work focused on girls’ health and water and sanitation issues. They also created a Kenyan advisory board to ensure their work is culturally sensitive and relevant. Garama regularly meets with the community and school leaders to organize education sessions and to coordinate pad distributions in the schools. Twice a year, staff and volunteers in the U.S travel to Kenya to bring new pads, explore new community partnerships and evaluate the impact of the pads on girls ‘health, school attendance and successful progression onto secondary school
For Anderson, it’s critical that the work goes beyond pad distribution. The organization is committed to thoughtful, community-driven development work that is in step with the communities’ own capacity to change. They work with villages to transform more systemic barriers to girls’ educations including poverty, water and sanitation challenges and patriarchal cultures that have historically valued girls’ education less than those of boys.
“There’s a time element to that process of building human capacity and buy-in, and there’s simply no shortcut to that,” says Anderson.
“We have a lot of big problems to overcome, yet we’re excluding the potential brain power of a significant percentage of the world to solve them when we exclude girls living in rural, impoverished regions from the opportunity to gain an education. Meeting with mothers and girls and teachers on our last trip and learning that the pads are working was affirming. We also realize that to truly see the transformation that we want to see, it’s going to take a change in the larger mindset of the community. I feel like we’ve found our niche, our role and our pathway. I feel very confident in our approach.”
For the Good Period’s work is currently funded by individual donors. Financial gifts of any size are incredibly meaningful to the organization and allow them to continue their work and increase the impact they are having in one small corner of the world!
For the Good Period founders and Executive Director, Kayce Anderson joins in an ice-breaker game of Hokey Pokey with girls during a pad distribution in Magutuni, Kenya.
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