Let it Flow: Denver Girl Brings Menstrual Cups to Women and Girls of Uganda

Kyle Dyer | @kyle__dyer

At an age when most girls conform to what their peers are doing, a 13-year-old Denver girl is stepping--nay, leaping!--out of her comfort zone. She is sticking up for girls in Sub-Saharan Africa, helping them improve their lives by solving an issue that is taboo, to say the least.

Kiah May spent two weeks last January visiting villages in Uganda along Lake Bunyonyi, near the Rwandan border. Kiah went with her mother, Dr. Kim Warner, who specializes in obstetrics & gynecology. Dr. Warner provided healthcare to women of the village upon the invitation of the Denver-based Global Livingston Institute.

Kiah knew she would learn a lot by tagging along with her mother and expected to bond with the local children.

“What happened is, I got really mad and I knew I needed to help,” Kiah said.    

Kiah met women of all ages who suffer emotionally, socially, and physically because they have no access to any kind of supplies to control the flow of their monthly menstrual cycle.  

Girls do not go to school for an entire week every month just to avoid being ridiculed by boys. Many girls just drop out of school altogether.

“The girls want to stay in class and they want to learn but they just can’t deal with being bullied and feeling dirty,” Kiah said.

The women do come up with alternatives to pads--many of which are not safe: strips of cloth, paper from schoolbooks, a torn off piece of a mattress . . . even cow dung.     

Infections are common. Forty percent of all cancers in Uganda are related to the cervix.  

“The lack of respect the girls and women receive begins a downward spiral,” Dr. Kim Warner said. “Aside from the health risks, girls who are Kiah’s age give up their dreams, don’t receive an education, and have no opportunities for a rewarding future.”

Kiah and Kim spoke before a Ugandan women’s council and proposed menstrual cups as a solution. The silicon devices have been around for 80 years but aren’t as well-known as tampons and pads.   

The reusable, bell-shaped cups sit low in the vaginal canal where they collect blood.  Most women empty the cups in the morning, wash them thoroughly and wear them for another 12 hours before emptying, cleaning and reinserting before bed. The cups last for 10 years.

With the blessing of the council, Kiah started to research menstrual cups as an option to help women and girls in Uganda. As soon as she arrived home to Denver, Kiah sent letters off to manufacturers and partnered with Blossom Cup.

Kiah is now collecting funds to bring menstrual cups to Uganda. For every donation of $15, a woman or girl will receive a menstrual cup. Kiah has collected over $4,500 between her GoFundMe page and other donations.

When Kiah returns to Uganda at the end of July, she plans to hand out 500 menstrual cups to women, and with her mother’s help, explain how to use them.

As a doctor, Dr. Warner expects a drop in gynecological infection rates, stating the menstrual cup is a safe and proven device.  

“Kiah and her mom Kim are great. . . .  Kiah especially is what we are all about,” GLI Founder and Executive Director Jamie Van Leeuwen said.  “We learned about this initiative by listening to women, thinking with them, and acting together to address an important health issue that can significantly improve their quality of life.”

“This should empower the girls,” Kiah said. “I’m excited to see their faces light up. If the girls can stay in school longer, they have a chance at a better future.”