Why Harvard graduate finds peace uplifting girls
By Lilian Kaivilu
Megan Mukuria, CEO and founder of Zana Africa came into Kenya in 1998, one year before she graduated from the Harvard University. Her interaction with street girls and those from underprivileged backgrounds led her to later start Zana Africa, an organization that today impacts over 20,000 women and girls through reproductive health education, sanitary towels and mentorship.
She shared her inspiring story…
“I first came to Kenya the summer before my senior year at Harvard, and felt a strong conviction that my life would be dedicated to helping unlock the most opportunity for girls, and particularly in Kenya. I kept in touch with the organization I’d volunteered with, Teule, and was invited back as the Resource Mobilization Manager. Through a number of circumstances it became very clear that the opportunity was exactly what I had been waiting and praying for, and I said yes and bought a one-way ticket in August 2001.
Frankly I couldn’t think of a better use of my degree than to do exactly what I’m doing. Of course they first objected and between 2006 and 2007, it was a real struggle to try and set up Zana Africa. Even getting funding was difficult. But the decision by the Kenyan government to introduce sanitary pads education was a huge relief. All this time, until 2007, I was supporting a number of girls through school.
While at Teule, I put together a course for the organisation where we would shift from giving these children the ordinary bread and soda to giving them sanitary towels.I felt by giving these sanitary towels was key to dealing with poverty. And in 2006, I launched the National Sanitary towels campaign. A year later, in 2007, I launched Zana Africa.
I grew up in a good home where I was the only girl. I did most of the chores that boys would do. With Zana Africa, I wanted to assure girls of their capabilities and empower them to go for their dreams.
I got interested in the sexual reproductive health because i realised that for most girls in Kenya, their first sexual encounter was undesired. That concerned me and I saw it as an opportunity and the best tool to listen to girls. I was convinced that the girls needed direction in their reproductive health. Girls need affection and I will always stand or a girl, whatever it costs me.I want to see girls make the right decisions, not just about their reproductive health but also general life choices
We currently work with 14 community-based organizations across Kenya to support 10,000 girls directly with pads and health education. In addition, we sit on several Technical Working Groups within the Ministry of Health to support menstrual health management.
Right now we serve approximately 20,000 girls and women, with approximately 12,000 of those being girls. We have a team of 18 in Kenya.”