Each year, millions of girls all over the world experience their first period. For some, it is minimally disruptive or even a proud coming of age moment. For others, including thousands of school-aged girls in Ghana, it means beginning to miss 30-50 days of school each year. And this means falling behind in their education.
When she was 15 years-old, Winnifred Selby learned that many girls in her native Ghana cannot afford sanitary supplies. Some girls improvise, using anything from dirty scraps of fabric to newspaper to mud. Some are at risk for being exploited in their desperation to obtain supplies. Many stay home from school out of necessity or embarrassment.
A born entrepreneur, Winnifred decided to take matters into her own hands. The daughter of a single mother who couldn’t afford school fees, Winnifred began selling toffee to schoolmates at the age of six and as she grew up, continued selling odds and ends in her spare time to help pay for her schooling. Winnifred quickly put her drive and ingenuity to work to help get other girls back in school.
Her nonprofit organization, EPF Educational Empowerment Initiative, began distributing free disposable sanitary supplies to adolescent girls in their partner schools. Since its inception, the program has provided thousands of sanitary supplies to hundreds of girls and partner schools have seen a drastic reduction in the rates of menstruation-related absenteeism among school-aged girls. In addition to providing free supplies, the program provides health and reproductive education to the girls and trains teachers to create safe spaces for girls to learn and ask questions about their bodies.
Winnifred is part of a growing movement of entrepreneurs around the world who recognize the importance of helping women and girls fulfill their basic needs in order to remain in school and, eventually, contribute full-time in the workforce (she funds the program in part through a social enterprise company that she also founded at the age of 15). For her though, the early success of this project is just the beginning. With the funding and increased visibility she’s getting through World of Children, Winnifred hopes to expand the program to all ten regions of Ghana, provide more opportunities for training, and begin introducing girls-only environmentally-friendly toilets to partner schools. All in the hopes of empowering girls, who face so many obstacles to education in Ghana, to study, learn, and grow into amazing young women who will continue to drive change for their own daughters and sons.
Winnifred Selby is the recipient of the 2015 World of Children Youth Award. To learn more about Winnifred and EPF Educational Empowerment Initiative visit: worldofchildren.org/winnifred