Activating Confidence in Girls

Petronilla Nzomo Maria, founder of Pad-a-Dada Initiative, talks to Ananke’s Josephine Adeti Otieno about her initiative that helps girls stay in school by donating sanitary towels.

Tell us what Pad-a-Dada Initiative is all about.

Dada is a Swahili word for sister. It is an initiative that helps girls stay in school by donating sanitary towels to those who can’t afford to buy them. We also donate pads to women who live on the streets. Our aim is to increase access to education, health and human rights for women and girls through advocacy and sanitary provision. This will help them live more meaningful lives. I mobilize resources and get like-minded individuals to see and understand the challenges young girls in society face in their day-to-day lives.

What motivated you to start pad a dada?

I was saddened when I saw some girls passing by my home, their clothes soiled with menstrual blood just because they couldn’t afford to buy sanitary towels. Others are even forced to exchange sexual favors for money to buy these essentials. Girls can miss between four to seven school days each month, which negatively affects their school performance. Together with my team, Eddie Mutunga, Said Shaban, Dorris Nyale and Dhea Kenny we formed Pad a Dada Initiative in 2014.

Does the initiative have any major sponsors?

At the moment, we don’t have any major sponsors. We entirely rely on contribution from well-wishers, friends plus a cut from my pay. We all raise funds and buy sanitary towels, which we later distribute to school-going girls from marginalized areas. Currently, we only distribute sanitary towels to girls in Kilifi County, Kenya. I am focusing on padding one dada at a time. I also hold charity walks from time to time to raise funds. Our biggest challenge remains getting finances to support our activities.

What is your opinion about women empowerment?

Even though we have come a long way societally, we still tend to overlook the extraordinary impact women have or their phenomenal abilities to lead in the toughest circumstances. Women can juggle multiple responsibilities and multitask far better than most men. And if we pay attention, we could all learn a lot from them about being a great leader both professionally and personally.

Would you say that the community has neglected the girl-child?

Teenage pregnancies are increasing each and every day especially in my hometown. Girls are no longer forced to marry, but they themselves are ‘taking to men’. It is important for parents to have a heart-to-heart conversation with their children but often leave it to the teachers to do the talking, completely shunning their responsibilities. And teachers obviously cannot do everything. It is high time parents stand up and own their responsibilities. The community too has a role to play. It’s about time we guide our girls properly and tell them the truth. If we don’t teach them, the harsh realities of this world will do that for us.

Any advice to people who want to follow your path?

Be a dreamer and tell yourself there won’t be anyone to save you. You have to save yourself so stand up for what you believe in and know that you are going to make it. That should be the song in your head every time.



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