What does a girl’s monthly cycle have to do with her future success?
A lot, says Megan White Mukuria, if the girl lives in one of the many war-torn or impoverished towns and villages of Africa.
Megan saw the connection firsthand when she began working in Kenya in 2001 after graduating from college.
"Girls start missing school when they start their periods," says Megan.
"Or if they're participating in the classroom they're not actually engaged. So they start falling further and further behind."
The reason is simple. 65% of women and girls in Kenya cannot afford sanitary pads. This means that over 850,000 girls miss 6 weeks of school every year and women miss valuable work hours. The problem is worse across East Africa with 4 in 5 unable to afford pads. So, in 2008, to help address the problem, Megan founded ZanaAfrica.
Along with offering women and girls health education, ZanaAfrica offers sanitary pads at a drastically reduced price -- less than 25 cents a pack instead of the usual $1.
“It is simply a human right for girls and women to manage their bodies with dignity and confidence, and to have the pads and health education they need in order to achieve that.”
Growing up, Megan never thought about having an impact in Africa. In fact, she says she didn’t know what she wanted to be. So, in college, when the opportunity to go on a service trip to Kenya became available, she took it. That led to a job offer after graduation working with the service organization. The rest, as they say, is history.
“I never dreamed at that time that it would have evolved into what I do now. I think it’s really important when our heart says ‘yes’ to listen.”
Megan’s heart is now in ZanaAfrica which is providing the tools to help alleviate poverty among adolescent girls. But, she says, ultimately, it is the girls themselves, empowered and educated, that will be the game changer.
“I want to see girls choose the life they want to live rather than the one that is usually prescribed to them…to help girls believe their voice matters, and that they can see an expanded picture of what is possible for their futures.”
And Megan says she also wants to encourage Americans like herself in their journey towards greater global understanding and awareness.
“I’ve witnessed over time that when we really come together as equals from diverse cultures, professions, and backgrounds and are able to sit at the table together and listen to one another, we can find solutions that none of us could have found by ourselves.”
Since its founding, ZanaAfrica has served over 12-thousand girls with the goal of directly impacting 3-million girls and women with their pads by 2020. The organization calculates that will win back 5 million school days, 2 million work hours and $1 million which the women can reinvest in their families.
“The Buddhist view of ‘inter-being’ with others is something I’ve come to appreciate deeply, and that my significance in life is only best realized when I honor and support the significance of others.”
And Megan says while her work with ZanaAfrica won’t make her rich, she is reaping more priceless rewards.
“I often joke that if I’d wanted to personally enrich myself I would have gone to Wall Street after Harvard and not to the streets of Nairobi. What I do is far more fulfilling than amassing wealth.”
Megan is a recognized leader both locally and internationally. She was the youngest President of a Rotary Club in Kenya 2006-2007 and was featured in Fast Company’s League of Extraordinary Women in 2012 along with Oprah, Hillary Clinton and Melinda Gates.