February 26, 2018
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The Ebola outbreak inspired this pharmacist to serve marginalized women in her community

Christine Mwangi founded Be a Rose in west Michigan to provide health education and feminine hygiene products to underserved women

Be A Rose founder and president Christine Mwangi, right, receives a donation of feminine hygiene products at one of the nonprofit organization's drop-off sites, Adored Boutique in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Photo courtesy of Be a Rose

EDITOR'S NOTE

Meet the finalists for The Renewal Awards, a project of The Atlantic and Allstate. These individuals are the forces behind the 25 nonprofits competing for $150,000 in grant money. Ten winners will be announced March 27 at The Renewal Summit in New Orleans, on TheAtlantic.com, and here, on The Renewal Project.

Christine Mwangi founded Be a Rose, Inc., a year and a half ago with “the singular purpose of empowering women.” The nonprofit’s mission is to provide health and wellness education and feminine hygiene products to underserved women and school-age girls in her west Michigan community. Named in honor of Mwangi’s paternal grandmother, Be a Rose works to “eliminate period poverty—a time in a woman’s life when she has no access to feminine hygiene products and is forced to resort to unconventional and often unsafe products to manage her period.”

We asked the British-trained pharmacist to tell us how she became dedicated to helping women find their strength. The following is an edited and condensed version of that conversation. Learn more about the organization by following Be a Rose on Facebook at Facebook.com/bearosetoday.

Tell us about your community.

In Grand Rapids, Michigan, Be a Rose partners with local organizations positioned to serve the basic needs of marginalized populations. Such organizations include homeless and domestic abuse shelters, transitional homes for foster care youth, homes that rescue single pregnant mothers, programs assisting runaway homeless youth and women re-entering the community from incarceration, food pantries, churches, inner city schools, and refugee resettlement agencies. The community we serve is comprised of women from a variety of backgrounds. The women we serve are marginalized and lack access to clean and safe feminine hygiene products. When unable to access proper products to manage menstruation, the women we serve have been known to barter food stamp benefits for tampons.

How did you become dedicated to community work?

As a young girl, I worked each summer at the local library’s Summer Reading Club, volunteered with my church, and helped at school events. In college, I actively pursued opportunities to help other students. I ran for student offices and worked as a resident assistant. I was raised with the ambition to leave any place I go in life, professionally, academically, or personally, better than I found it.

What inspired you to do this work?

As a recent pharmacy graduate, I was enthusiastic about opportunities within the intersection of health and service. As a pre-registration pharmacist during the height of the Ebola outbreak, I harbored great compassion for the women in affected countries who were quarantined by local officials, as they experienced severe period poverty. My own cousin, who was volunteering as a missionary, was 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 marginalized women was born.

Period poverty was only one of many plights women in Sierra Leone faced during that dark time. I decided to use my medical education and professional experience to impact the lives of marginalized women who have limited access to health education and feminine hygiene products.

What ways are you helping to make your community thrive?

By educating women and girls about their bodies, assisting them to establish medical care within our city, and providing them with feminine hygiene products, we foster a sense of hope and dignity as they manage their periods during financially and emotionally challenging times in their life. Most of our clients are in transition from poverty to independence, and we ensure that those transitions are easier when they have the confidence of health, wellness, and self-esteem.

What do you love about your community?

I love the empathy, support, and generosity within my community. As a transplant, someone new to the state of Michigan and the city of Grand Rapids, I can testify to the kindness of the people of West Michigan. My community has rallied behind our mission and supported the Be a Rose team each step of the way in growing the capacity of the organization to meet the needs of the women we serve.

What’s one thing you want outsiders to know about your community?

The community of Grand Rapids, Michigan, is altruistic, issue-oriented, and has a heightened socialawareness. I appreciate that the people I have connected with thus far are willing to help solve complicated problems in our community with the realistic understanding that there are no immediate solutions or simple answers. The people of this community have taught me to be resilient, optimistic, and hopeful.

What leader or leaders inspire you?

I am inspired by Mary Dailey Brown, founder of SowHope. She leads a global organization that has positively altered the lives of tens of thousands of women living in poverty in 15 countries. SowHope believes that improving the lives of women, by extension, improves the lives of their families, villages and countries. Mary is now a mentor. Her journey was similar to mine, as she was a professional in a different field before deciding to respond to the need to support women and provide them with opportunities to better their livelihood and their families’ situation. When I relocated to Michigan, Mary took me under her wing and mentored me on what it would take—professionally, mentally, and emotionally—to start a nonprofit. What she did not know was that I was learning from her personal journey about character and values, and about how strong I would have to be to not look back on the pharmacy career I had given up, to respond to God’s calling. Her experience helped me realize how open-minded and flexible I would have to be to not be discouraged by challenges and obstacles, and instead learn and adjust my course of action, and lastly how to be a humble leader of a diverse team of professionals so that our mission can succeed. Mary continues to be a role model and inspiration for working hard to accomplish the goals that we at Be a Rose hope to achieve.

Margaret Myers

Margaret Myers is the editor of The Renewal Project.