"I didn't think it was right for any girl to have to stop going to school because they had their period," Jessie Ridgeway, Girl Scout and Los Alamitos High School senior, said. "They're putting their lives on hold, and many of them can't catch up."
Ridgeway joined her mother, brother and other members of her family on a trip to Kenya in early 2018. She said that their travels brought them to rural Narok — about an hour outside of Nairobi — where they had the opportunity to learn about one village's culture, food and day-to-day living.
"One thing stuck out for me and that's that the girls have limited opportunities compared to the boys," Ridgeway said.
She added that when the girls reach puberty, they're taken out of school for the duration of their monthly cycle. They often fall behind in their studies, and might end up getting married and starting a family instead of finishing school.
"I was shocked that they couldn't go to school," she said, "They're my age, they shouldn't have to get married, right?"
She added that she felt like she had an obligation to do something. As a Girl Scout, Ridgeway said that she is participating this year in the Gold Award Project, which calls on high school Girl Scouts to take on a sustainable project that helps others — whether that be in their community or on the other side of the globe.
So, Ridgeway said that she decided rather quickly that she wanted to do something that could help the young girls she met while in Kenya, many of whom have already reached puberty and are falling behind on their studies.
"They don't have access to products for their periods like we do here," she said. "So that's my project, to send items that girls don't really have access to in rural Kenya."
And it appears that it may be a Ridgeway family trait to use resources that they have at home to help others.
Ridgway's mother, Tricia, and aunt, Susie, hosted a fundraiser in 2017 to raise money for clean water tanks for the Maasai tribe in Kenya by selling jewelry made by the tribe's women. They ended up raising $500 to install a freshwater tank for clean and drinkable water.
Following in her family's footsteps, Ridgeway said that she's going to put together more than 300 drawstring backpacks filled with sanitary items for the girls and women in Narok. She and her family will be heading back in the summer to hand deliver them.
Each package will contain four to five washable sanitary pads, wash cloths, soap, two pairs of underwear and a bag to wash the items with, all secured in a drawstring bag.
But with a goal to have all of the packages finished and shipped by summertime, Ridgeway is asking for help.
The Girl Scout is hosting a work party to help make the items and put the packages together, and the public is invited to lend their support. That's happening from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. this Saturday, Jan. 26, at the Boy Scouts of America Long Beach Sea Base, 5875 Appian Way.
She added that they are looking for donations of new underwear, cotton washcloths and drawstring backpacks. Cash donations also are welcome.
And for people who want to help sew the sanitary pads during the work party, Ridgeway asks that they bring a sewing machine or sewing kits to use for work.
"I would like to see this get bigger, but we'll see how much we can do by summer," she said.
More information about Ridgeway's project can be found at africansisterhood.org.
Stephanie Stutzman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.