MANCHESTER, Vt. — For many girls in the developing world, the biological reality of menstruation can prevent them from attending school for a week or more each month.
Manchester resident Sarah Hadden hopes to make sure that education is accessible for as many girls as possible, and her nonprofit organization the Kura Project is working to make that dream a reality.
For Hadden, it all began with a trip to Kenya in 2010, alongside other socially conscious women.
“I was a former school teacher in Connecticut for 21 years,” said Hadden, who founded the Kura Project shortly after the eye-opening trip. “When I saw the conditions of the schools, and learned about the issues involving girls and education, I just felt that I had the privilege to go and see what I saw. Now, I have a responsibility to do something about it.”
Her mission began by encouraging local students in Manchester to raise funds and collect donations for school supplies to be sent to Northern Kenya, based on requests from headmasters in Kenya that she had been put in contact with. While Hadden had focused on pencils and pens for students, she soon realized that another item was more dearly needed.
“I was just taken aback. I thought, ‘are you kidding me, these girls do not have these things?'” said Hadden. “It was actually a male teacher that was requesting these.”
The Kura project initially began by sending $500 school supply kits to students, with disposable pads included. When Hadden returned to Kenya in 2012, however, she was joined by a Canadian physician who introduced her to reusable menstrual pads.
“We just received a delivery in Nanyuki of 600 kits that will be delivered up north,” said Hadden, who points out that the reusable pads are both economical and environmentally friendly. “That will bring us to 5,400 kits that we’ve supplied to 32 schools in and around Marsabit County Kenya, which is about double the size of New England.”
These reusable pads can make all the difference for girls who often face limited access to education beyond their menstrual cycle.
“It’s hard to think that pads equal education, but it’s keeping these girls in school,” said Hadden. “We’ve had headmasters say that the girls are now free. They’re rising to the top of their classes. It’s so great.”
The results have been remarkable, according to Hadden.
“Before the girls had reusables, one headmaster said that 50 percent of her girls were missing a week or more of school each month,” said Hadden. “Now it’s down to 20percent.”
While the reusable pad kits cost only $25, the money can go a long way in providing girls with equal opportunities for education.
“A little bit of money goes a really long way there, and I just think that putting that into education is key,” said Hadden. “You can take so many things away from a person, but once you have an education there’s no taking that away.”
Though the pad program is one of the founding pillars of the Kura Project, the 501(c)(3) organization has also begun sponsoring students through secondary school and providing mentorship programs.
“For secondary school students, if they cannot pay they don’t go to school,” said Hadden, who says that local organizations and individuals have sponsored students at a cost of $3,000 over four years. “We now sponsor 22 students through secondary school; 80 percent girls and 20 percent boys.”
The Kura project has also brought in professionals to mentor area students, even those that do not participate in their programs, to learn about issues that affect their lives including female genital mutilation, HIV, career opportunities, and stress management.
“Most of our students are missing a parent or both of their parents, so it’s important for them to have people that can teach them about these things, and give them knowledge, so that they can lead a healthy and happy life,” said Hadden. “Our whole thing is giving them opportunity, so that they can be the best that they can be.”
The Kura Project has found immense support in the Manchester community, according to Hadden, with organizations like the Maple St. School, GNAT-TV, the Burr and Burton Academy Student Council, Subway, and The Long Trail School contributing.
The organization has also worked with the Dorset Field Club over the last two years to organize an annual tennis luncheon.
“We raised money for over 800 of these kits for girls, from women coming to have lunch and play tennis,” said Hadden. “I’m so proud to be a part of this community and receive the support that I have.”
Another popular fundraising event, sponsored by Manchester’s JOY All Things Underthings, was also primarily supported by local women.
“We had what I like to call a panty party, where Joy donated 100 pairs of underwear to include in the kits,” said Hadden. “We had over 80 women come, and they each donated $25 for one of these kits to go with the underwear.”
Though Hadden has made an impact on the lives of many students in Northern Kenya, she has no intention of slowing down anytime soon.
“I love doing this work, it’s become my passion,” said Hadden. “It’s what I think about all of the time and try to work toward all of the time.”
Information from: The Bennington Banner, www.benningtonbanner.com