Leader Spotlight: Njeri Thubei of Upendo Women's Foundation

Q: Where do you live?

A. I am originally from Kenya and now live in Elk Grove, California.

Q: Tell us about your organization.

A. Upendo Women’s Foundation is an innovative and vital nonprofit organization that exists to support females from impoverished backgrounds in Africa. Upendo provides a more dignified, humane and sustainable world for girls through advocacy, reproductive health awareness, education, and sustainable hygiene solutions. Radical philanthropy and advocacy have steadily been strong components of the organization. We strive to answer the needs of disparity and health injustice for women and girls who are unable to attain menstrual hygiene products. This crisis leads to a high rate of absence in schools.

Over 4 million girls in South Africa alone miss 6 weeks of school per year due to lack of sanitary pads. We believe that every girl in the world deserves an education. Our foundation steps in to fill the gap. We provide young girls with quality resources they need to ensure a safe, healthy and dignified way of embarking on the journey of adulthood.
We accomplish this through direct distributions in conjunction with other nonprofits, continually raise awareness, encourage other organizations to propel their own programs and most importantly we actively support impoverished communities to advocate for themselves by establishing their own programs that produce their own sustainable kits.

Q: What is the one piece of advice you would like to share with other women looking to start an organization?

A. Take a leap of faith and just go for it. Advocate for yourself and for others!! Trust your intuition or gut feeling. Do not allow yourself to get in the way, and if your head keeps trying to rationalize a decision, it's probably a mistake. Stay focused no matter what and remember your WHY – the reason behind your dream. Every step you take counts towards the bigger goal. Dream bigger, do bigger, and then surround yourself with people who will support you in achieving that vision.

Q: How can WorldWideWomen readers get involved in what you are doing?

A. Up until now, poor menstrual hygiene in developing countries has been an insufficiently acknowledged problem. Our goals are to educate and advocate. Imagine a world where every girl and woman in the world had readily feasible access to quality, sustainable hygiene, and health education.

So, here is what readers can do to get involved, and to become an advocate for others:

1. The Upendo Women’s Foundation Team is comprised of numerous volunteers worldwide. Volunteers bring strong skills, enthusiasm, and a much-needed support to our work. There are numerous internship opportunities in addition to volunteering. Volunteers and interns donate their time by making valuable resources such as shields, liners, and bags for kits. To apply for an internship or a volunteer position please email us at info@upendowomensfoundation.org.

2. You can also advocate by donating. The Donate Page provides a secure contribution to Upendo. If you prefer to provide goods instead of monetary contributions then you can help us by purchasing washcloths, panties (Girls size 10,12,14, 16) Gallon sized freezer Ziploc baggies (the best source for this is at Costco or Sam’s if they are available where you are). Please contact our development officer to ensure successful support. Her name is Angela Sherwin and email is angela.sherwin@yahoo.com.

3. Advocacy through Awareness! We would love readers to continue to TALK about this important issue! Engage in conversation about the crisis. Advocacy means raising awareness. Spread the word about Upendo and share the message on Facebook and Twitter. You may contact us for a Stand UP for Girls Toolkit or FUNdraise Toolkit. Last but not least, find and recommend events to support our solutions. Meet and network with members of the Upendo Foundation community. Browse our calendar of events promoting the most innovative solutions for women and girls.

Q: Who is the greatest female influence in your life?

A. My mother is the greatest female influence in my life. She believed in equal opportunity for education for girls and boys. My mother had to forfeit her education at a fourth-grade level. She had to work to help provide for her older brother's education. During my mother's era, education was prioritized for boys. Culturally, girls were of value domestically; girls were raised to make successful wives and mothers. Her experiences and injustices made her vow at an early age that she would not allow her own daughters to succumb to the inequality that presides in her culture.

Q: Please share with us something that you want other women around the world to hear.

A. During my adolescent years, I remember how difficult it was to attain feminine hygiene products. Many girls in my neighborhood missed school because of this and unfortunately the cycle remains true today. Every year adolescent girls are forced to risk forgoing their education because of this disparity. The issues encompassing menstrual hygiene stem from a lack of proper education, and support from communities due to social stigmas. These issues propel and correlate greatly with teenage pregnancy, increased HIV/AIDS rates, and school dropout rates among girls.

Providing sanitary pads not only afford 6 weeks of school for a girl annually but it decreases some of the correlated concerns that affect young girls. For example, there are about 4,000,000 young school girls in South Africa that can’t go to school every month because they are menstruating. This is appalling. This is a human rights issue. It is time we all step in to fill the gap.

Connect with Njeri and Upendo Women's Foundation through their Facebook page!

Donate to help bus 500 girls to the Girls' Festival!