In January 2018, Nehema Georgina, 23, was scrolling through her Facebook timeline when she came across a post that would birth her passion in an area that she had always been keen on but had not been able to solidly name and build.
“In the post, Faith Kagendo was wearing school uniform accompanied by a post in which she decried the plight of a primary school pupil who had been taken advantage of by a man because this young girl needed sanitary towels,” she said.
She immediately sent Faith a message to find out what she was doing to try and help that particular girl, because the lack of sanitary towels among school going girls continues to be a challenge.
This is despite the fact that we have increased measures from the government and many charities; as well as corporates to better this situation for the young girls, especially those from poor backgrounds.
Indeed, there is always the need to do more.
“Together with Faith, we decided to start a foundation that addresses the needs that provoke scenarios such as the one that got the girl taken advantage of. We wanted to look for ways to interact with the students and find out what their individual stories are; and do our best to offer support and advice,” she says.
This led to the setting up of the NeFa Foundation which organises school visits, especially those in the slums, to interact with the girls, donate sanitary towels because many of them are not able to afford their supplies and just provide a safe space for the students/pupils to speak about their challenges.
“Living in the slums easily affects the children morale, especially their academics and how they approach their lives because, the slum environment makes them feel inadequate and limited, compared to their age-mates from better socio-economic backgrounds. Our intervention efforts begin here,” she says, adding that she finds that sharing her personal story with the students make them more comfortable to share their own stories and shows them the possibility that, they can come from humble circumstances and rise to realise their dreams.
Nehema was raised by a single mother and the challenges of growing up made her understand what lacking means and that is why she easily empathises with the situation of the students.
“Even after my high school, affording sanitary towels was a challenge. My mum had to prioritise what was important, for my siblings and I, as per her earnings and sometimes pads were never a priority. Also, at some point I had to live with relatives and these challenges simply intensified. For example, I had to wait two years before joining university because of lack of funds. It helps when these students see that other people have been where they are now and through hard work, were able to overcome the challenges,” she notes.
During the talks, students open up about their challenges at home and some even confess to preferring to stay at school rather than go home because of challenges there – some find themselves getting into vices such as an early debut into sex that most often than not, makes them compromise on their education.
NeFa Foundation has so far visited, held talks and given donations to Daniel Comboni Primary School in Korogocho slums, Gatoto Primary School in Mukuru Kwa Njenga, visited two schools in Isiolo County, Wasu Primary School and Kambi ya Juu Primary School.
“We visit a school prior (reconnaissance visit) to explain who we are and what we do (we are still working on the legal frameworks), establish what they need and then spend a week or two getting donations from friends and well-wishers to enable us purchase these items,” she says.
Nehema’s driving force is her need to make a difference, touch a life and make students have more hope in themselves and eventually make better-informed decisions.
“Before visiting the first school, Karama Primary School, I simply approached a friend who introduced me to the head teacher of a school in Kibera and we set up a meeting. During the meeting, I stated my agenda. The head teacher’s initial reservation was whether the visit and talks would be of any consequence; what impact our talks would have on the students because there already exist very many organisations that do that in Kibera. I invited him to our first session with the students and he was happy with what he saw and he linked me up with other schools around Kibera,” she says.
“When Zari Hassan was coming to Kenya for the “Colour Purple Event” Cancer event organised by FabNRoll, the owner of FabNRoll had been following what NeFa Foundation was doing for a while. He asked me if I could get three schools that I could go to. I started with the schools close to me and the first head teacher was excited by what I was doing and that was how he invited me to speak on some of the issues affecting girls such as early pregnancy because the vice was becoming too common at the school,” she says.
But because of the lack of sponsors, their main challenge so far has been the slow pace at which donations come in, sometimes. Without enough donations, they have to postpone or cancel meetings, all together.
“The other challenge is that a lot of people in informal settlements and other remote areas are quite suspicious of NGOs because of past experiences; some are sceptical and think that such organisations are simply using them to make money. But with our growing portfolio, things are getting better,” she said.
Once a school confirms, she plans with three to four hours in the afternoon – where she has talks with the students, especially the girls and then gives the donations.
“In a session, we pray, sing then have an interactive session where we basically talk about everything, including careers; and because we open up about our personal stories, it becomes easy for students to open up too,” she says.
While Nehema is still a student and seeks to make a difference, in the smallest way possible, for the students that she reaches out to and mentors, she hopes that NeFa foundation evolves to become a global organisation that reaches out to more girls in disadvantaged positions.
"If we all worked with what is available to us and begin to make even the smallest of difference in our immediate environments, then we are looking at eventually changing the whole world,” she concludes.