Investing in Girls' Education with a Focus on Health

What is the simplest thing you can do to change the world? I’ve asked myself that question constantly since I moved to Kenya in 2001. My experiences have led to my wholehearted belief that investing in girls’ education is truly the best thing we can do to change the world.

And how to best invest in girls' education? I found my answer in a peculiar package... a sanitary pad.

You may be asking, how can a pad dramatically change a woman’s life? Considering that pads are a luxury out of reach to 80% of women across East Africa, they are items that have quite the potential for impact.

Unable to afford pads, solutions such as old rags or torn mattress foam are used. Unhygienic and uncomfortable, they cause girls to stay home from school to avoid embarrassment from a likely accident. No woman should be inhibited for a week each month. She should be free to study, work, and live on her terms. Access to pads shouldn’t be a matter of socioeconomic status—rather, access to hygienic menstrual solutions is a human right that should be denied to no one.

Think about how missing a month or more at your job or school would impact your life, for something that was completely outside of your control. I imagine you wouldn’t get off easy. You’d be fired or fail, hijacking your future plans. Your self-esteem would take quite the hit, and you’d be vulnerable.

In Kenya, one million girls are missing up to 1.5 months of school because of their period, and the drop-out rate is twice that of boys starting at puberty. When you consider that staying in school means girls are four times less likely to contract HIV, five times less likely to become teen mothers, and can earn 10 to 20 percent more, it becomes clear that we need to work on keeping these young women in the classroom.

I founded ZanaAfrica with the goal of providing a holistic and sustainable solution to keep girls in school. Pads plus health education wins back 75 percent of lost learning days, and unlocks girls’ productivity and health. At ZanaAfrica, we work day in and day out to ensure that women and girls live up to their potential as focused students, productive workers, and informed mothers.

We believe that pads for girls, though crucial, are only one part of the equation. We are developing new, more affordable pads that can be distributed widely to meet womens' needs and offer a sustainable and scalable business model. We are reinventing the pad—leveraging agricultural byproducts, streamlining the process, and creating a high-quality, radically affordable pad that helps solve an environmental problem rather than creating one.

We have also designed engaging comics to provide critical health education to girls in a way that is fun, standardized, and easily sharable. Young women can better take control of their lives and livelihoods and inspire those around them to do the same. We constantly iterate and learn from girls to stay relevant, and we test each message to ensure impact.

Since 2013, we have kept 10,000 girls in school with pads, underwear, and health education. Many of these are documented on our mobile app, which helps coordinate national distribution of pads to schoolgirls and is helping to streamline health education delivery.

And when we see a 90 percent increase in self-respect, a 95 percent increase in self-esteem, and a 100 percent improvement in school attendance, we know we’re onto something big.

What is the simplest thing you can do to change the world? Here are a few simple ways you can help us today.

via Real Time with Bill Maher / YouTube and The Late Late Show with James Corden / YouTube

A controversial editorial on America's obesity epidemic and healthcare by comedian Bill Maher on his HBO show "Real Time" inspired a thoughtful, and funny, response by James Cordon. It also made for a great debate about healthcare that Americans are avoiding.

At the end of the September 6th episode of "Real Time, " Maher turned to the camera for his usual editorial and discussed how obesity is a huge part of the healthcare debate that no one is having.

"At Next Thursday's debate, one of the candidates has to say, 'The problem with our healthcare system is Americans eat shit and too much of it.' All the candidates will mention their health plans but no one will bring up the key factor: the citizens don't lift a finger to help," Maher said sternly.

Keep Reading Show less

There is no shortage of proposals from the, um, what's the word for it… huge, group of Democratic presidential candidates this year. But one may stand out from the pack as being not just bold but also necessary; during a CNN town hall about climate change Andrew Yang proposed a "green amendment" to the constitution.

Keep Reading Show less
Me Too Kit

The creator of the Me Too kit — an at home rape kit that has yet to hit the market — has come under fire as sexual assault advocates argue the kit is dangerous and misleading for women.

The kit is marketed as "the first ever at home kit for commercial use," according to the company's website. "Your experience. Your kit. Your story. Your life. Your choice. Every survivor has a story, every survivor has a voice." Customers will soon be able order one of the DIY kits in order to collect evidence "within the confines of the survivor's chosen place of safety" after an assault.

"With MeToo Kit, we are able to collect DNA samples and other tissues, which upon testing can provide the necessary time-sensitive evidence required in a court of law to identify a sexual predator's involvement with sexual assault," according to the website.

Keep Reading Show less

Villagers rejoice as they receive the first vaccines ever delivered via drone in the Congo

The area's topography makes transporting medicines a treacherous task.

Photo by Henry Sempangi Senyule

When we discuss barriers to healthcare in the developed world, affordability is commonly the biggest concern. But for some in the developing world, physical distance and topography can be the difference between life and death.

Widjifake, a hard-to-reach village in northwestern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) with a population of 6,500, struggles with having consistent access to healthcare supplies due to the Congo River and its winding tributaries.

It can take up to three hours for vehicles carrying supplies to reach the village.

Keep Reading Show less
via Keith Boykin / Twitter

Fox News and President Trump seem like they may be headed for a breakup. "Fox is a lot different than it used to be," Trump told reporters in August after one of the network's polls found him trailing for Democrats in the 2020 election.

"There's something going on at Fox, I'll tell you right now. And I'm not happy with it," he continued.

Some Fox anchors have hit back at the president over his criticisms. "Well, first of all, Mr. President, we don't work for you," Neil Cavuto said on the air. "I don't work for you. My job is to cover you, not fawn over you or rip you, just report on you."

Keep Reading Show less