In Summary
  • Menstrual hygiene is the education, hygiene, and even being able to change in a safe environment
  • According to Unicef, two out of three Kenyan girls cannot access sanitary products.

In the beginning, it looked like a crazy idea: riding his bicycle alone from Kenya to the Netherlands across 14 countries.

Now, as he pedals for a good cause and the inevitable adventure, there seems to be no turning back.

Adrian Dongus, a 30-year-old Dutch national who has worked in Kenya for the past four years, is clear-headed about his mission: to raise at least €10,000 (Sh1.1 million) towards buying hygiene kits for refugees.

SANITARY PADS

He plans to put in the hands of every beneficiary a kit consisting of underwear, soap and, most importantly, reusable sanitary pads.

“Menstrual Cycle” is the name of his epic trip that started in Nairobi on April 13 with inspiration from a book written by a Scotsman who broke the world record cycling from Cairo to Cape Town in 2015.

When Lifestyle talked to him this week ahead of World Menstrual Hygiene Day on May 28, Dongus had been riding across Sudan with his eyes set on completing the African leg of the trip.

“I’ve never had a problem talking to Western men about menstruation because they do not think it’s a big issue. But whenever I travelled across East Africa, I always encountered men that weren’t necessarily comfortable talking about the topic. However, they were aware of the challenges the women in their lives go through,” said Dongus, who was having a night’s rest before heading to Bahir Dar in Ethiopia.

According to Unicef, two out of three Kenyan girls cannot access sanitary products — something Dongus says he observed on his travel across the country.

NEGATIVE IMPACT

A recently released research from Afri-Can Trust indicated that 65 per cent of women and girls in Kenya are unable to afford sanitary pads, with many forced to use cloth or other makeshift solutions.

It showed that menstruation increases absence from school, leading to Kenyan girls missing school and low-income women missing work — which further diminishes their income.

Dongus is aware that his single-handed effort will change only a few lives but he hopes to raise awareness. The business studies graduate has particularly been touched by the plight of displaced people he has met in camps across East Africa.

He noted on his visits that despite the best efforts from non-governmental organisations, whether in Kenya’s Kakuma Refugee Camp or South Sudan, sanitary pads remained a big challenge.

“What I wanted to do is use my bicycle ride to support South Sudanese refugees to receive a hygiene kit,” he says.

REFUGEES

The trip covers roughly 8,000 kilometres over 14 countries — Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan, Egypt, across the Mediterranean Sea into Greece, then onto Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovenia, Italy, Austria and Germany. The final leg is to his hometown — the central Dutch town of Utrecht.

“Two-thirds of the trip is in East and North Africa over only four countries and I think it goes to show the immense size of this continent, which is absolutely stunning. I’m planning and trying to keep at cycling an average of 100 kilometres a day, whether it is flat terrain or going up and down steep terrain,” he says.

Dongus expects the trip to take 80 days of cycling “with a couple of days rest in certain places where I have to stop and arrange to get a visa”.

GLOBAL CITIZEN

The cycling enthusiast describes himself as a citizen of the world. He was raised by a German father and Dutch mother, who worked in various countries across Africa and South America.

“Actually, when my mum was expecting me, she was working in Angola during the civil war. So, I was already in Southern Africa before I was born,” he says, laughing at the idea.

After graduating from university, he had a start-up in the food industry and worked for Rabobank before venturing into consulting.

In 2011, he chanced upon AfriPads, a social enterprise that some of his friends were involved in, and he realised he knew the Dutch investor.

He was intrigued and began to track the project’s progress. Dongus was struck by just how much menstruation separates boys and girls from an early age.

REUSABLE PADS

“Two years later, they were looking for someone to open the Kenya office and at that time I had closed my own business in the Netherlands. I decided that I’d love to contribute my skills to this. After some conversations with the team in Uganda, they decided to take me on to start on my journey to grow AfriPads in Kenya,” he says.

The organisation was started by an American-Canadian couple that travelled to Uganda to do voluntary work.

About two months into their stay, when the wife ran out of sanitary pads, getting new stock turned out to be a tedious process.

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