Now Aaliyah is making a difference to the lives of girls who could have been her, had she not been adopted.
Through her social enterprise ‘In2 Eradicating Period Poverty’, the 16-year-old is coordinating the manufacture of sustainable sanitary packs containing underwear, sustainable liners and pads for more than 2000 girls who live in the community of Korogocho.
With money raised by her younger brother and sister, and a fundraiser organised by Aaliyah, it has been possible to purchase a sewing machine, buy fabric and employ a woman in Kenya who is making the sanitary products.
By mid-March 600 packs had already been created and as more money becomes available Aaliyah intends to buy additional sewing machines and employ more women to expand the project around Kenya and into Rwanda.
Speaking at a breakfast to celebrate International Women’s Day last month, Aaliyah highlighted the issues faced by females from the low socio-economic regions in Africa, many of whom cannot afford sanitary products and instead are forced to use whatever they can to manage their periods, including rags, newspapers and even tree leaves.
It was this fact that drew Aaliyah’s attention to the issue of period poverty when in 2019 she visited Korogocho with her mother, who is the founder and CEO of ‘In2Ed Africa’ which operates two schools in Kenya and a library in Rwanda.
While the schools were forced to close for most of last year due to COVID, In2Ed Africa was able to offer regular dance and drumming sessions for children in the slum.
“I figured out then that some of the girls were regularly absent from these sessions and wondered why this was happening,” Aaliyah said.
“I spoke with relatives in Kenya who revealed that a lack of sanitary products meant these students are too embarrassed and felt unable to go to school for a number of days each month.
“I felt a need to do something about this and make a difference. This project is a good way for me to help and chip in on what Mum is doing there.”
Susan said she was driven to establish the schools in Kenya after teaching in Kenya, Malaysia, Qatar and Rwanda for more than 25 years.
Returning to her hometown of Adelaide in 2017, she wanted to do something to give back to those who live in a community where the buildings are made of corrugated iron, there is no running water or electricity, open sewers, and usually one toilet is shared by 100 people.
“When I came back to Australia I was kind of a stranger because I became an adult abroad,” Susan said.
“It was like being an observer of what life was like here and the things people valued, the things that had become priorities that weren’t really in alignment for what I wanted for my kids.
“I decided the children needed to be raised understanding that we are here to be of service.”
Susan said with the establishment of In2Ed Africa there were now 60 children from Aaliyah’s community attending school, 30 more who attend weekly dance and drumming lessons and a further 100 who participate in female-led mentoring sessions.
From her mobile phone, she manages the daily operations, recruits teachers, plans curriculum and conducts staff meetings remotely. Before COVID Susan and her four children travelled to Kenya regularly and hope to do so again when restrictions ease.
“Our organisation is self-funded so our family makes a huge amount of sacrifice to do what we do,” she added.
“We all live under my Mum’s roof. I home school my youngest two children and we have sacrificed many things to bring this project to where it is now.”
Educated at Cabra College, Susan believed her commitment to wanting to “give back” to the community was influenced by the social teachings of her Catholic education and one of her teachers, Phil Lewis, who encouraged her to follow her dreams.
To find out more about In2Ed Africa and the In2 Eradicating Period Poverty project, go to www.in2edafrica.org/Jump to next article