Millions of young girls in South Africa, and across the African continent, miss days of school because they cannot afford sanitary products during their monthly menstrual period cycle. Some of them must resort to using old pieces of cloth or newspapers as an unhygienic substitute, which in turn could cause them to lose more days due to health complications. This shocking fact is what drove Amanda Smith to start her Running4Pads campaign when she was training for her first marathon. She wanted to use her love of running to make a difference in the lives of others and when she found out about the lack of access to sanitary pads for schoolgirls, the idea to make a difference was born.
“These girls, many from disadvantaged backgrounds, have to face enough hardship without having to deal with this problem and how it affects their academic lives. Missing a couple of days at school because of something that is out of their control is not helping them achieve their goals. It shocked and saddened me that this is even still an issue in 2018.”
Amanda fell in love with running in 2015 and it changed her life so much that by August 2016, while training for her very first marathon, the annual Sanlam Cape Town Marathon, she wanted to run it for more than herself. This decision made her start a campaign called #Running4Pads with the goal of collecting sanitary pads for girls at school. Using social media as a tool, she was successful in collecting almost 2 000 packs of sanitary pads from friends, family and the public. Her campaign not only motivated her to train and then run the marathon, but it helped to change her perspective on social issues that are not receiving the necessary public attention.
“That first campaign was so successful because it hit home for many women. I felt that I needed to do it again when I was planning to run my first ultra race, the Two Oceans Marathon. This time, I not only wanted to collect the pads, but I also wanted to deliver them myself to make sure that they reach the schools and girls who need them most.”
This decision changed the direction of her life.
“With the help of my small circle of volunteers the second campaign was also successful, and I drove the pads – all packed up in my little car – to a school in Manenberg, a place that I never thought I would ever see. It was an eye-opener when I heard the shocking and sad stories that the staff shared with me about the struggles these girls face. I knew then that I couldn’t stop. I had to find a way to continue my efforts as the problem was bigger than I previously thought and there was no solution in sight.”
This ordinary working woman, who is a mother to a teenage boy and has a nine-to-five office job, decided to investigate how she could transform her pad campaign into a formal NGO and effect consistent change in the lives of young girls in need of support.
She mobilised a group of volunteers to help organise awareness campaigns and collection drives. Some of them have been with her from the very beginning and others have recently become part of the team. Most of them are runners who have decided to assist young women who cannot afford sanitary pads and products.
“We use various races to collect sanitary pads which are then distributed to schools by the volunteers as part of the Running4Pads delivery teams. To date we have covered 29 schools and 8 community organisations across the Western Cape, distributing 25 000 packs of sanitary pads among them. I could not have achieved this reach without my team who believe in the cause as much as I do. Running4Pads is currently operating as a registered Non-Profit Company (NPC), and we are in the process of registering it as a Non-Profit Organisation (NPO). We are operating on a shoestring budget, but we are determined to keep growing and extending our reach. We have helped many, but there are still many more who need our assistance.”
One of the things that Running4Pads wishes to change is the view that sanitary pads are a luxury item for women. It should be viewed as a necessity, not a luxury item. This will also make it easier for government to drop the taxation on sanitary pads and help achieve the goal of providing this essential female product to all women free of charge.
“We want to change the perception that this is just a girl or woman problem. It is much more than that. It is a human problem and we, both men and women, have to find a solution for it. These girls are the future, and poverty, plus the fact that they are females, should not be a reason that they cannot attend school.”