I grew up in Mufulira, a farming and mining community in the north central part of Zambia. I lived there until I was 11. I liked school and I was the best student. I got a scholarship to attend a Catholic school at Fatima Girl’s Boarding School in Ndola. I spent four years there and finished high school. Most of my family members didn’t go to college, and I knew that the only way I could escape poverty is through education.
When I was in high school, I had an irregular period. It started after I went to boarding school. I went to the school nurse and she told me that changes in your environment or your diet can cause it. When I heard that, I was interested in how diet affects the menstrual cycle. I was also told about the stigma that comes with menstruation, and I also experienced it myself. It is so expensive to buy feminine hygiene products. There was one time at school when I didn’t have money to buy basic sanitary wear, so I had to use one of my socks as a pad. I had to walk back to class without my socks. It negatively affected my self-esteem, made me self-conscious, and hindered my ability to actively participate in school activities.
When I came to America, the land of abundance, I started to think: How am I going to make a difference? I decided I wanted to find a solution to period poverty. Period poverty is a term used to describe the lack of resources for one to properly manage their menstruation or period. Studies show that period poverty or the lack of resources to manage one's period is a challenge that most girls in Sub Sahara Africa face when they reach puberty (UNESCO). Sanitary pads are expensive, and most families save up to buy food for sustenance as opposed to buying sanitary pads every month. It leads to damaging misconceptions, discrimination, and may cause girls to miss 2-3 days of classes and not contribute to economic growth (UN women). In 2019, a Kenyan girl committed suicide after her teacher mocked her for having soiled her uniform from menstruating. In some parts of Zambia, a menstruating female is secluded from the rest of society for two to three days. I had friends who would miss their classes. And most of them opted to get married, as opposed to pursuing other opportunities. If I can help remove that stigma for other young women, then maybe that would clear an obstacle for them and they could reach another level in their education and economic situation.
While an undergraduate student at Edgewood College in 2018, I secured a grant of $1,000 and used it to start a project in Zambia that produces reusable menstrual pads and provides girls with menstrual hygiene education. In 2020, a team of individuals who were inspired by my work incorporated an organization in the U.S. to support my work. The organization, HERZ Movement, was awarded the 501c tax-exempt status by the IRS in December 2020.
Overall, the stigma, taboos, and myths surrounding menstruation prevent 1 in 10 Sub-Sahara African women from having a platform to learn about each other’s needs. This is the reason why I decided to become a social entrepreneur so that I can provide the much-needed platform for the empowerment of menstruating young women and girls.