From the Frontlines of my Teenage Years

Gladys Muthara
Posted March 5, 2016 from Kenya
Teen Leaders Club Debate
One Teen Leader presenting about the challenge of menstrual products that her fellow school girls face. This was during a debate about issues affecting them and their immediate community.
Sanitary Towels Donation
Sanitary Towels Donation : The Teen leaders approached well-wishers to donate pads to their group, which they distributed to these girls in their school. The teen leaders, however, expressed their dissatisfaction with the solution they created because they wanted a long lasting solution to access of menstrual products. (1/1)

When it was time for me to attend the only interview in my life that promised to quench my thirst for secondary education, my mum was lying in a sick bed; hence, only my elderly dad was available to accompany me.

At 4.00 o’clock in the morning, I folded a piece of cloth that I had cut from my mum’s old leso, which I had secretly hidden in my mattress so that she would never ask about its whereabouts. I slipped it nicely on the inside lining of my underwear and wore it; then, I cut another big piece, folded it into a pad, and stuck it into the pocket. These would act as my sanitary towels and protect me from soiling my skirt with heavy menstruation flow for the 17 hrs that I would travel from home to the interview venue, sit at the interview which would determine my fate of accessing high school education, and later come back home.

Traditionally, speaking about menstruation is a taboo, and worse is telling your predicament to an 80 year old dad who was not lucky enough to go to school.

I was only 13 …

Collection of the interview sheets made me wish the earth would open and swallow me alive…my heart sank as I watched other candidates leave the room, some happy, some sad, but obviously eager to meet their parents. My legs went numb, I could neither lift a finger nor move a leg; it was like the menstrual blood had gotten tired of waiting for me to finish my test; it gushed out at once, forcing its way through the old and dirty piece of cloth and found a landing place on my purple skirt… efforts to stop it were futile as blood kept flowing and flowing.

Then, I heard his strong, loud voice shouting, “Gladys, the test is over and the journey ahead of us is very long. Let us go home!” We had an 8 hour long journey to cover. I slowly turned around while sitting fixed on the chair and nodded in agreement.

Even though the sanitary pads challenge did not end then, I remained upbeat and sort to create the change I wanted to see in my life. I would sew pieces of cloth and cotton together to make a pad. Believe me when I say it breaks my heart to the core when I hear that other girls have to struggle this much in order to stay in school today!

…as if the struggle was not enough, I missed the scholarship…yes, I did not pass. But how could I have passed when all I was thinking about was the dirty piece of cloth stuck between my thighs, every time I felt the menstrual flow?

I joined a local day school, where I would ride a huge, black bike to school, covering kilometers after kilometers, even with an old piece of cloth, stuck between my thighs and threatening to leak its content, as I peddled my bike up the hill…

Though in a cruel way, life taught me from this early age to take charge, to create solutions, to fight on, to push myself beyond the limit; to make decisions which I would solely be responsible for, to knock on doors and request school principals to admit me into their schools, to identify social challenges affecting girls in my community and help address them; it taught me to be a leader and a change-maker in my life and the lives of others.

A strong desire to see more girls develop into all-round youths, change-makers, solution creators, decision-makers, leaders, with confidence and high esteem, lodged in my heart.

While at the university, I realized that our entire academic system was lacking in many aspects. It focused on academic performance, instead of developing students into all-round persons. Then one day I thought, “What if more and more teens in Africa would learn how to take action in their lives and their communities…”

Comments 10

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Mkandeh
Mar 05, 2016
Mar 05, 2016

Hi Gladys,

Thanks for such a brilliant piece and thanks for opening up on such a private issue. Indeed discussing mentruation is still considered a taboo in many parts of the world especially in rural communities. I agree with your suggestion of letting young people be the champions of change in their communities. I would also add that community elders are sensitize on the need to learn and understand the issues young people face, especially girls and issues like menstruation that are often ignored because of culture.  

Thanks again for sharing.

In sisterhood

M

Gladys Muthara
Mar 05, 2016
Mar 05, 2016

Thanks a lot MS Kandeh. I did not realize the issue affected me so much until when I decided to write about it, and halfway the story I got really overwhelmed and emotional...but hey, this is partly why we are telling our stories...to heal.

I completely agree with you. The older people should be sensitized on issues that younger people face and we see how we can strike these 'difficult' conversations.

Thank you.

Anita Kiddu Muhanguzi
Mar 06, 2016
Mar 06, 2016

Oooh Gladys,

This is a very sad story. To have to go through such an experience without your mother or someone close to confide in must have been very tramatising for you as a 13 year old girl. I remember my dad was the one who told me about periods and we had a very close relationship.

Thank you for sharing and this is a very big challenge for many girls in african countries and we have to ensure that schools most especially are able to look after girls in such difficukt times.

Looking forward to listening to more of your stories.

Stay blessed.  

Amalie
Mar 06, 2016
Mar 06, 2016

My dear Gladys, 

You reminded me of myself when I first got my period at the age of 13 and I smiled :) I couldn't tell my mother about it and couldn't afford buying the sanitary pads. I got a white bed sheet, cut it into pieces, and used them for the same purpose as yours :) I used to wash them and boil them in water and detergent, iron them to dry them quickly, and hide them under my mattress for the next month. I did that for many years.

Stephanie Auxier
Mar 08, 2016
Mar 08, 2016

Gladys,

Thanks for being willing to take a risk and share such a personal story with us on the subject of menstruation. I found your story to be very powerful, and it highlights the struggle that many girls around the world experience, and how lack of access to sanitary pads threatens girls' education. The strength and determination you had as a teenager and the obstacles you were able to overcome are incredible. I can tell from your story that you are a strong leader and will have a huge impact on the teens in your community. I look forward to learning more about the work you are doing!

Warmly,

Stephanie

Gladys Muthara
Mar 08, 2016
Mar 08, 2016

Thank you Stephanie for your kind comments.

Yes, it wasn't easy sharing the story and halfway I realized that I was a bit emotional, just to think that this happened to me and it is still a major challenge for many girls in my country and across the world, yet we cant seem to create a solution once and for all...

The menstrual products access challenge is real and it affects girls' esteem/ confidence and education.

I am glad though that today I can help other teens create the positive changes they want to see in their lives...even in a small way because then, we are preparing them to become great changemakers and leaders in their communities.

Forever grateful to WorldPulse for this opportunity.

Gladys Muthara
Mar 09, 2016
Mar 09, 2016

Dear Amalie,

What? Did you go through this as well Amalie?

How was your experience? Did it affect you in any way, your confidence, esteem, education, sociability?

It is a bothering challenge, that despite the major progresses we have made in technological innovations, a lasting solution hasnt been made yet to tackle this challenge...yet so many girls in the world go through this.

Gladys Muthara
Mar 09, 2016
Mar 09, 2016

Dear Anita,

Thank you. It is sad, infact, no girl should go through this at all. I always feel like sanitary towels should be given to all girls in school at no cost. I still don't understand why menstrual products are taxed!

ARREY- ECHI
Mar 11, 2016
Mar 11, 2016

Dear Gladys, Your story brings to mind forcefully one thought... until we hear about others' struggles before we can truly appreciate the privileges we had'. Thank you for highlighting this struggles girls face which remains a taboo topic in many of our communities. I am glad to see that despite missing that crucial opportunity, you didn't let it damper your zeal to seek solutions. You are right our educational system is not geared towards helping students think out the box, something I feel need to be revamped if we want to see noticeable changes in our communities. Keep the good work. Arrey

Rahmana Karuna
Mar 14, 2016
Mar 14, 2016

Gladys, i am soooooo happy you wrote about this !! Having produced V-Day The Vagina Monologues, in a very vagina unfriendly town, our "actors" all could relate to the onset of our moontime stories. My own story on my first day of my first bleeding was also humiliating at school, though now i have been able to laugh about it for a few decades. This is obviously a very important issue that needs fixing. In my early 20s i became aware of the toxins in the menstrual pads and tampons, so i started using white tube socks, then making my own out of thrift store baby blankets and baby washcloths, and used the sea sponge, and ritually fed my potted plants w my nutrient rich blood. Too late for me, i met a woman who had done sacred art on paper with her blood. I love the photo of the debate- and how progressive, mixed gender! I look forward to reading more of your words, thoughts, ideas. Hugs, Rahmana Karuna