Despite the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic and a personal health crisis that landed her in hospital, Peperusha Binti founder Sharon Jesscah Odhiambo continues to advocate for young women and girls her organization supports.
The organization, which educates girls on menstrual education and adolescence and also provides sanitary napkin donations to girls in rural primary schools in Kenya, recently handed out supplies to girls in Obunga on May 28th – International Day of Menstrual Hygiene – and in Manyata on June 1st.
“For a time, we had to seize operations and we were not able to reach out to the girls because of restrictions on crowds,” Sharon told The Weight She Carries. “We were challenged on how we should reach out to the girls and talk to them about the various issues that affect them.”
When some of the restrictions in Kenya were lifted, Sharon and her team sprung into action.
“The girls had been telling us that since the pandemic, their parents have been focusing solely on providing food for them,” she said. “And they don’t have enough money for sanitary towels. If someone has 50 Shillings, they have to think about how they can feed their family and everything else is secondary.”
Sharon explained that many teenage girls who were working as maids or had other informal employment to supplement their parents’ income and buy sanitary towels for themselves have not been able to work due to the pandemic.
“This has lead to sex for pads because children now don’t know where to get sanitary pads and maybe they’re being lured into these other activities and they think that if they do these acts, they may be able to buy sanitary towels for themselves,” she said.
Sharon added that the rate of gender-based violence has also increased since the pandemic because many of the girls are living with their perpetrators at home.
“I’ve had a lot of volunteers helping me and we have been creating awareness on gender-based violence through social media platforms and through interviews with radio stations that we’ve been invited to speak at,” she said.
Sharon fights hard to make a difference for countless girls and women while dealing with her own health challenges associated with sickle cell disease. In fact, she was hospitalized recently with severe complications and required a blood transfusion.
Sickle cell disease is a disorder that affects hemoglobin, the molecule in red blood cells responsible for delivering oxygen to cells throughout the body. Due to their abnormal shape, red blood cells die prematurely and can block blood flow, resulting in a sickle cell crisis.
“[I] ran out of blood and needed a transfusion. This is the worst kind of pain I have gone through this year. My legs, just beneath the knees, [were] too painful and I couldn’t walk,” she said.
In addition to running Peperusha Binti, Sharon founded the Jesscah Sickle Cell Foundation in 2015 to raise awareness in the community about the disease by organizing events and talking to people in the community who are affected. She is also often invited to speak to people in hospitals. Her mission is to help reduce stigma and help others living with the condition get access to medication and resources.
Despite her medical condition, Sharon is determined to continue making a difference in the lives of the girls her organization serves.
“Our greatest need right now is to be able to provide enough sanitary towels for the girls. Every day will are constantly getting requests that there’s a place that is in great need,” she said. “We also need to be able to create more awareness to these areas so the rate of gender-based violence goes down.”
Sharon added that there is a petition being signed for the government to step in to help control the rate of sexually gender-based violence across Kenya during the pandemic.
“We really want people to support us and help us help the girls because we’re not able to do it on our own,” she said. “We always depend on people supporting us.”
Peperusha Binti has a crowdfunding campaign and is inviting those who can to support their cause at the following link: https://gogetfunding.com/a-sanitary-pad-for-a-slum-girl/#.XuK3on0wYde.whatsapp