Breckenridge photographer helps nonprofit provide menstrual hygiene resources in Kenya
In late September, Kate Lapides flew overseas to help deliver hundreds of menstrual pads.
Based out of Breckenridge since 1995, the freelance photographer pulled aside about a dozen girls at a rural Kenyan school to interview them individually on-camera about their dreams.
One young girl named Millicent wanted to be a broadcast journalist, so Lapides taught her some video basics and let her help with the interviews.
“She just had a spark to her,” she said, and it made her goal seem possible despite the barriers she faced.
Lapides has been volunteering with a new Colorado nonprofit called For the Good Period, and she recently returned from the organization’s first international-aid trip.
The all-volunteer organization, founded by Glenwood Springs resident Kayce Anderson, aims to improve girls’ access to education by helping them manage their menstruation.
“I became aware of this issue and a little bit outraged that something this simple was having such a profound effect on these girls’ lives,” she said.
In some parts of Kenya, girls can’t afford menstrual pads, or they are not available to buy. The girls usually have two options: make something absorbent — often out of ineffective or unsanitary materials, which can lead to infections and other health issues — or stay home from school.
Girls who miss school fall behind and tend to drop out, which means they have less opportunity to achieve their dreams, earn more income and improve their communities.
They also spend more time at home as teens, which makes them more vulnerable to early marriage, early pregnancy, sexual assault, rape, HIV and other sexually-transmitted diseases as well as to the cultural tradition known as female genital mutilation that can be devastating for some girls and lethal for others.
The menstrual-hygiene issue has existed for a long time, she said, but it wasn’t on the radar of aid organizations until recently.
“People have a hard time talking about it,” Lapides said, and “lots of men have been running the aid organizations and NGOs.”
She connected with Anderson and was drawn to the organization by her desire to share the stories of women and children marginalized by economic, educational or social barriers or traumatized by exile or conflict.
“That’s always been what I’ve loved to use my photography for.” said Lapides, who now works as the marketing editor at Colorado Mountain College in Glenwood Springs. “When we can recognize ourselves in the struggles, dreams and hopes of another human being, we are more likely to experience empathy for their struggle and get involved in some way to make a change.”
HOW IT WORKS
Anderson founded the organization in 2014 after partnering with Sadler Merrill, who runs a cloth-diaper company in Fort Collins called Thirsties, and Molly Secor-Tuner, who is on the faculty of the nursing and public-health departments at North Dakota State Univeristy.
They chose to go to Kenya because Secor-Turner has visited the country regularly for the last 20 years to provide aid and, in recent years, has taken nursing students every spring. The organization raised $10,000 to purchase and distribute 1,000 menstrual-hygiene kits.
Each kit comprises one transportation case, two pairs of underwear, one waterproof pad and eight absorbent inserts. The idea is that, even during times of heavy menstruation, each girl will be able to manage her period with four inserts at school while four dry at home. The kits cost the organization about $10 each and are given to the girls for free.
In Kenya, the nonprofit gave out 650 pads in seven communities to girls from about 12 schools who also participated in a basic sexual-health class. The final 350 final pads will be distributed by a local partner.
Lapides described bonding with the girls through song and dance. She said she was shocked to learn about the prevalence of female genital mutilation, but, on the other hand, she was awed by locals she met who were passionately working to improve girls’ lives and better their communities.
“I’m always just humbled that people dedicate so much of their lives to helping people in need,” she said, especially when those people also lack access to resources most people in Summit County take for granted.
In the future, Anderson said the organization will focus more on the sexual-health education component.
“That’s where we saw a real deficit, and the pads are an excellent entry point because they are so acutely needed,” she said. “We need to raise money, so we can make some more pads, and then, hopefully, we would love to go back over in April.”
For the Good Period hopes to expand geographically, refine its curriculum and offer the class to girls and their mothers together.
Lapides said the nonprofit met with a group of women in one community and asked them if they would like to participate in the education for the girls.
“I just remember it was like this wave of women. They all leaned forward, and their eyes got really big, and they just said, ‘Yes, yes, yes,’” she said. “You could just feel how much they kind of yearned for that information themselves and to be able to empower their daughters.”
Anderson said the nonprofit also wants to eventually shift production of the pads and hygiene kits to create economic opportunities for locals in Kenya.
“We’d really like for it to be as Kenyan as possible with us just sort of facilitating things in the background,” she said.
For more information, visit fortheogoodperiod.org, follow For the Good Period on social media or email executive director Kayce Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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