Valley Senior Takes Menstrual Kits, Education to Kenya (07/27/21)
Inspired by her family, Alyssa Makena will empower Kenyan girls through education this summer.
July 27, 2021 | Valley High School student Alyssa Makena is about to start her senior year, but first she is headed to Kenya. As founder of The Teti Project, Makena aims to increase educational access by providing Days for Girls menstrual kits and education opportunities to girls in Kenya.
Originally focused on Iowa, Makena quickly shifted The Teti Project to support Kenya, where she grew up. While she sees progress in the resources available to Kenyans, she knows there are systemic gaps that still create difficulties for girls attending school. She will soon travel to Munga Village and Kajiado County in east Kenya to provide the menstrual kits and education. Each kit includes underwear, liners, waterproof shields, a washcloth and soap, and an instruction sheet, all in an easy-to-carry bag.
“A lot of times you have big companies who go over to Kenya and give pads, which I think is great,” Makena said. “But then they don’t give the necessary educational materials so you’re given the physical thing, but you don’t know what to do with it — or some girls don’t even have underwear, so at the end of the day, it doesn’t help anybody.”
Right now, The Teti Project’s team is small — just four volunteers, including Makena and her cousin. To best meet the needs she identified, Makena took a course through Days for Girls that prepared her to present on reproductive and sexual health and how to use the kits. She said she’s never felt uncomfortable with the topics, thanks to her mom and aunts, many of whom are nurses. Makena’s family had always emphasized the importance of education, but she began to realize the influence it could have on everyday life when accompanying one of her aunts during her work at a hospital and in the community.
“Education is important, but what you do with it is more important,” Makena said. “The types of relationships you form with people are very crucial to the impact you want to make and life in general.”
Her family models those relationships with their community, whether they are physically present or not. Many of her aunts have moved away but still sponsor school meals and other causes. Her grandfather, a Meru Village leader, helped to establish a nearby school. His stories about the educational barriers Kenyan girls faced during the COVID-19 pandemic were a main motivation to start The Teti Project.
The project also pays tribute to her grandmother. Teti is a name Makena shares with her grandmother, and though she has never been able to track down it’s literal meaning, the name has special importance in her family.
“My grandma was a very loving person. When she made dinner for the family, she made dinner for everybody,” Makena said. “I was really young when I went to her funeral... The people who were there weren’t just close family people. It was everybody from Meru Village because they all knew her to be somebody who cared about everybody around her.…
“I think in our family, it’s meaning is to carry that same sort of love for the people around you. That’s what we’ve shaped it to be.”
Soon, Makena will enact that love for a community during The Teti Project’s inaugural trip. Besides the reproductive health opportunities, Makena and her team will offer fun STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) activities to help build relationships with the students there. She hopes to expand to areas in west Africa and eventually confront other reproductive health issues, like female genital mutilation. Inspired by activists like Wangari Maathai, Makena plans to make this lifelong work. Though familiar with day-to-day concerns about grades and friends like many students, Makena said starting The Teti Project has empowered her to focus on the present and tackle the issues she can address.
“There’s so many places you can devote your time and your money to,” she said. “Even if it’s not this project, if this inspires any inkling of action in you, taking steps to do something with that is really important.
“Especially as high schoolers and young adults, I think there’s a lot of potential, but in the same way, there’s always going to be a lot of things that prevent you from fully realizing your own potential. Just knowing that you have the type of power in you that you can achieve those things is really important.”
The Teti Project strives to improve the state of sexual and reproductive health in Kenyan schools. This goal is accomplished only through providing the necessary resources to ensure young girls become comfortable with women's hygiene and no longer feel excluded due to their periods.