Peace Corps Volunteer Works To Keep Girls In School, One Sanitary Pad At A Time

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Last week, in a desperate attempt to stay in school, more than 1,200 girls petitioned the Ugandan parliament to draft a law compelling all schools to provide girls with sanitary pads.

In their petition the girls said, “the agony they go through during menstruation periods opens them up to ridicule and bullying from boys, adding that the fear of staining one’s clothes and the shame they endure ‘when it happens’ affects their self-esteem and confidence, forcing many of them to opt out of class or sports activities.”

Research indicates that more than 30% of girls in Uganda are absent from school for lack of sanitary supplies. Studies show that girls who are forced to miss school have a higher risk of adult poverty and unemployment, sexual exploitation and HIV/AIDS.

These statistics are unfortunately not isolated to Uganda, but are pervasive in developing countries around the world.

One of many organizations working to solve this problem is Huru International. They provide hygienic, reusable sanitary pads to girls who are unable to afford them. Huru’s Sanitary Kits are locally produced, creating jobs in the girls’ communities. Each kit, which also includes life-saving HIV prevention information, keeps a girl from missing school during her period.

Girls with their Huru kits

To date, Huru has produced 1,000,000 Huru pads and distributed Huru Kits to over 100,000 girls in all 8 provinces in Kenya, and now beyond.

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That brings us to our friend Sarah Munteanu, a Peace Corps health volunteer who has been stationed in the small village of Matamba in Tanzania for the past year and a half. Sarah, along with two teachers from the village’s primary school, worked with Huru to provide education and supplies to their village. Here’s what she told us:

Tanzania is only the second country utilizing Huru’s incredible assets. This is such an important program for young girls and women to help educate them about their menstrual cycles, use of proper materials during their periods, safe sex, their power to say no to sex, and proper hand washing.

To start off, I handed out a survey to the primary school girls in order to get a sense of where they are with the topic and how they handle their periods. All you have to read are these first two questions to get some insight.

Q: What do you usually use while on your period?
A: Trash, ripped up books, grass/hay, torn up pieces of clothing
Q: Do you feel comfortable talking to anyone about your period?
A: No

The families here do not have enough excess money to purchase necessary sanitary products, so they make do as with everything else here.

Seeing first hand the necessity of a program like Huru, I wrote a grant to gain the funding to support two of my primary school teachers, Neema Ndumbalo and Beata Mwalongo to attend a training with me in Dar es Salaam.

The training lasted 3 days, complete with each counterpart receiving a kit. Each kit contains 8 re-usable sanitary pads, 1 bar of soap, a 3-pack of underwear, ziplock bag, and pamphlet in Kiswahili about female health education.

The first Huru training in my village was with standard 6 & 7 students as well as two female family members from their households. Education or even talking about periods or any other form of health related girl issues are not normally discussed here, but with the training, we were able to help break down this cultural barrier.

Following the success of the first program, we hosted another intervention with the secondary school girls, 187 of them! This was a really fun training because the girls felt comfortable enough to open up and get some discussions going.

Both the women and the men were so passionately grateful for providing such a necessity and for speaking out loud about something they have wanted to talk to their growing daughters about, but were never given the “cultural permission” they needed to do so.

And the girls… well, seeing them going to school and not staying home because they “feel to dirty” is the greatest result possible. Also knowing that they are now empowered to openly discuss periods with their future daughters, I realize that this is the beginning of a new cycle… one filled with hope and opportunity.

Check out Huru International to learn more.

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