When Ella Marinic and Sabrina Rubli were tasked with designing a water sanitation program for a rural Kenyan community in their Humber post graduate program in International Development they couldn’t help but ask: How did women without access to water sanitation systems manage while menstruating?
While researching options available to women and girls with no sanitation resources, the duo discovered that girls in Kenya’s slums missed an average of 5 days of school a month, mainly as a result of staying home while menstruating. This statistic alarmed them, especially when learning chronic absenteeism led to girls falling behind in school – sometimes even dropping out – both of which greatly impact future career opportunities.
Ella and Sabrina came to recognize this as a major gap in development agendas and in the empowerment of young women.
In 2013 they channeled their combined experience in teaching, social work and development to found Femme International
as a way to advance the rights of women and girls through gender-targeted programs that address menstruation, sexual health and feminine hygiene. In their first year they reached over 150 young women in the Mathare slum of Nairobi with educational workshops and Femme Kits, including menstrual cups.
The duo recognizes that a critical component of their success so far has been working with their Field Coordinator Rachael Ouko and others with deep ties in Mathare. Ella describes these partners as “invaluable to the success of the programs and our reach within the community.”
“Sabrina and I do all that we can, but we are foreigners,” she said. “It’s really essential to have local partners and community leaders as involved as possible.”
Ella also believes their studies at Humber College have been key to their success. It was Sabrina who introduced her to the program when the pair met two years ago. Their acceptance to Humber began an unexpected journey as their coursework sparked an idea that had them flying to Nairobi a few months later – completing exams on the plane while also designing a needs assessment for their new NGO.
Ella never imagined starting her own organization but believes her passion for women’s rights led her there. She urges people looking to get involved with something they are passionate about to take risks and forget about the fear of failing.
“You can’t make a difference unless you really put yourself out there,” Ella says.
To learn more about Humber College, click here.
Learn about the other 2014 Global Changemakers here.
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