After graduating, there are a number of different routes which students often take, ranging from gap years to grad schemes. However, 2013 Pharmacy graduate, Christine Mwangi, opted to do something completely different. Upon returning home to the United States, Christine put the wheels in motion for the creation of her very own charity, ‘Be a Rose’. Here, she discusses what inspired her to set up the foundation and the steps she took to turn her ideas in to a reality…
Life as a Pharma
During my time as a Pharmacy student, I was drawn to leadership by my desire to help other students. As an international student with a global outlook on life and education, I found great satisfaction in collaborating with staff in the Pharmacy Department to provide solutions to issues that my peers were having. Meanwhile, at my halls of residence, I served as a tutor for first-year students. I was very grateful and took all the opportunities available to me very seriously to ensure that I was in a position to make an impact on the university experience for fellow students.
As a 2013 graduate, I was enthusiastic about opportunities at the intersection of health and service. As a pre-registration pharmacist during the height of the Ebola outbreak, I had great compassion for the women in affected countries who were quarantined by local officials as they experienced period poverty (lack of traditional materials to manage their period). My own cousin, who was volunteering as a missionary, was one of those stranded in Sierra Leone–a country hit hard by the epidemic. It was in that summer of 2014 that my passion for improving global health and providing hope to marginalised women was born. Period poverty was only one of many plights women in Sierra Leone faced during that dark time.
I moved back to the United States and applied for a year of service through AmeriCorps, the domestic arm of the Peace Corps in the United States, in a refugee resettlement agency. There, I gained invaluable experience conducting focus groups to learn how widespread the lack of feminine hygiene products was and the real impact it was having on women’s lives. The results of my study consistently proved that not enough was being done to end period poverty. This work served as a foundation for me to organise a team and launch Be a Rose in June 2016 as a charity organisation in Grand Rapids, Michigan USA that addresses period poverty. I chose to name the organisation after my grandmother Rose, who served as a great source of hope and inspiration during my pharmaceutical studies at Manchester. To “Be a Rose” is a call to action to empower women and give them hope.
With the help of a dedicated team of professionals and financial backing from friends and family, Be a Rose is able to create a safe space where marginalised women of different races, cultures, and religious backgrounds can openly discuss important but neglected issues. These include puberty, cultural barriers in menstruation management, proper use of reusable/ecofriendly products, pain management, female genital mutilation, and menopause. I have led this organisation through community partnerships to address hygiene and health issues for refugee women as well as homeless, runaway, or domestically abused women. We also seek to help young girls transitioning out of foster care, women adjusting to reentry to society from prison, and girls in inner-city schools. These women are often an afterthought in the community, and I intricately designed the mission of ‘Be a Rose’ to lend them dignity by offering women’s health workshops and providing them with feminine hygiene products.
And we are having an impact: In 2017, ‘Be a Rose’ established 29 community and corporate partnerships, raised over $40,000 (approximately £28,825), and received 1,300 volunteer and internship hours (valued at approximately $31,000 USD, or £22,340). We served 140 women through our health workshops and 1,335 women through product distribution.
The Road Ahead
In 2018, I project that the number of women served by the Be a Rose Women’s Health curriculum and product distribution programs will steadily increase, and women within our partnerships will lead much healthier lifestyles. To sustain our work, our hope is to provide greater visibility for our mission through our social media platforms, website, fundraising campaigns, and community partnerships.
In the current economic and political climate, life has taught me to hold steadfast in being an ambassador of change. A quote by my favorite actor, Denzel Washington, comes to mind: “Don’t aspire to make a living, aspire to make a difference.” Small actions with great faith go a long way in making a positive impact in our communities and in the lives of those around us.