By Alison Carlman, KF8, Kenya

Consider yourself warned: this blog talks about maxipads. There. I said it. Now please keep reading.

Perhaps you’ve heard of  the “Girl Effect” campaign.  The “Girl Effect” is a about investing in what Africans call the “girl child” and how that can affect a country’s development.  According to The Girl Effect, an extra year in primary school statistically boosts girls’ future wages by 10% to 20%, and every additional year a girl spends in secondary school lifts her income by 15% to 25%. And you better believe that the size of a country’s economy is, in no small part, determined by the educational attainment and skill sets of its girls. For Kenya alone, if the 1.6 million teenage girls who drop out of school each year instead finished their secondary education, their incremental earning power would lift Kenya’s GDP by $27 billion over their lifetimes.   Not to MENTION the impact it would have on the health and well-being of future families and children of these girls-turned-women.

But it’s not that easy just to “stay in school.” The girls I work with in Kisumu at K-MET’s Safe Space have dropped out of school, many because they became mothers during their teen years.

A Safe Space Member Working to Start a Tailoring Business

A Safe Space Member Working to Start a Tailoring Business

I’ve talked a little with these girls, and have learned some other things about why it is so difficult to stay in school.  I learned that something as simple as “sanitary towels” (or maxipads -there, I said it again-) can make the difference whether or not girls miss 4 days of school each month and get hopelessly behind in their studies.  These products are too expensive to purchase every month, and the alternative is to use unsafe materials (like chopped up pieces of mattresses or old newspapers) which cause infections, leading to more absenteeism.

Look – I realize that you didn’t check the Kiva blog to read about sanitary products. But aren’t you at least slightly incensed by the fact that the lack of these simple supplies keep girls and women from attending school, attending public meetings, or even operating their own businesses for 4 days every month?!

There have even been studies done in East Africa that reflect these statistics: a study in Rwanda by Sustainable Health Enterprises in Rwanda showed that even if girls are provided with scholarship money, “ if we don’t make sanitary pads available they will still miss school because they can’t afford to buy them, girls are missing school 4 days a month during their menses just because the pads are too expensive.”

K-MET, the Kiva Partner where I work, is taking on the challenge to find a sustainable solution to the problem.  Let’s face it; the world didn’t stop turning 50 years ago before they invented these expensive products that are harmful to our environment.   The K-MET team is working to “re-invent” (if you will) a sustainable sanitary towel that is environmentally friendly, can be re-used, and costs a fraction of the amount that the disposable ones do.

Susan, the tailoring tutor at Sisterhood for Change, shows samples that the girls have made

Susan, the tailoring tutor at Sisterhood for Change, shows samples that the girls have made

It’s a new project under the umbrella of K-MET’s Sisterhood for Change program, and it’s not yet funded by microfinance, but if it is successful, individual girls could be able to start their own businesses selling these products in their community with some help from Kiva lenders like you!

I think that this is the kind of entrepreneurial venture that makes us all excited in microfinance.  For me, I’m passionate about African women coming up with African solutions to African problems.  These women identified a need and came up with a product that is both financially and environmentally sustainable in the developing world.  And perhaps this is one of those areas where we in the developed world can learn from some African ingenuity.

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Alison Carlman is in her 7th week as a Kiva Fellow in Kisumu, Kenya with K-MET.  She is passionate about women, art, community, and sustainable development, and K-MET is a great host MFI in that regard. Interested in K-MET’s unique approach to microfinance and development? Learn more about K-MET here or join the K-MET lending team here. You can even check for fundraising K-MET loans here.

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