Changing the World, One Pad at a Time
by Guest Blogger: Kate Lapides
For most of her professional life, Glenwood Spring’s local Kayce Anderson, PhD, was an ecologist happily immersed in scientific research in Central and South America. During her dissertation, she spent a third of each year hitch hiking through the mountain roads of Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela, camping out in tiny Quechan villages at 14,000 feet to collect butterfly samples to take back to her lab at UC Davis. For her post-doc, she managed a National Science Foundation (NSF) funded project based out of Colorado State University, coordinating research on the impacts of climate change on freshwater ecology and aquatic insects. The research required her to camp out for weeks at a time in the high alpine terrain of Ecuador’s Papallacta and Oyacachi Valleys and to manhandle a Toyota truck over the region’s rugged, remote roads. The last time she went, she was six months pregnant with her daughter Blu. “I loved it,” says Anderson. “Being out in the field in Ecuador. And I loved the research. I love science. It’s important to me.”
Late in 2013, as funding for Anderson’s NSF 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. Ever the researcher, Anderson delved into the data behind girls’ lack of access to pads 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 new post-doc opportunity or professorship and dedicate her life to reducing this barrier to education for girls.
What is For the Good Period?
Anderson’s vehicle for social change is For the Good Period, a non-profit she founded in 2014 with the help of a 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 pad kits 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 forced FGC was outlawed by the Kenyan government in 2001.
For Anderson, the mid course professional shift has been exciting, but also meant the loss of something she deeply loved.
“For most of my life, I’ve been equally impassioned about education and opportunity as I have by science,” says the reflective 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.“
And making a difference it is. Since it’s formal inception, For the Good Period has improved opportunity for nearly 2000 girls in 25 different rural villages in Kenya. One of the organization’s first steps was to hire an experienced in-country 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 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, currently sourced in the U.S., 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 requires going beyond pad distribution to include community transformation. The organization is committed to thoughtful, community-driven and sustainable development work. They not only provide pads and education to communities but work with them in the long term to address and 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.
“For the change to have a long term effect and be respectful and sustainable, it has to be in step with the communities own process and capacity to change. The trajectory has to be natural for them. There’s a time element to that process of building human capacity and buy-in, and there’s simply no shortcut to that.”
Anderson starts off most presentations on the organization’s work with a quote by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nicholas Kristoff
“‘Talent is universal; opportunity is not.’ That quote purposely captures our challenge, and the challenge of the world,” notes 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.
“There’s so many inequities in terms of where you happen to live, your gender, and the different barriers those inequities create. 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.”
Show Your Support For the Good Period
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. AspenRealLife readers can make a big difference by donating to this organization and by sharing this article with others they feel may be interested in the organization’s work and the impact they are having in one small corner of the world!