In February 2014, a team from TBC went to the World Shine Primary School in Rwentobo, SW Uganda for a life changing two weeks.
In February 2015, we went back.
One of the projects that I was focussing on this time around was the issue of feminine hygiene. A friend had pointed me in the direction of Irise International and the work they do to educate and empower girls about their own bodies, so that something like menstruation doesn’t hold them back and impact their education.
‘Periods’ are a seen as a dirty word in much of the world; they are something to be endured, preferably in silence and with as little fuss as possible. It’s pretty easy to just ‘get on with it’ here in the UK where we have easy access to sanitary pads, tampons, painkillers, hot water bottles and chocolate. But what about those places where you can’t just pop down to the local shop, nick supplies from a friend or buy horrifically overpriced supplies in a public toilet?
The more I researched and read, the more shocked I was. It had never occurred to me that girls were missing a week of school EVERY SINGLE MONTH because of their periods. Fortunately, Irise had the answer; pages of brilliant resources that enabled a team of us to educate 150 young women and their teachers on some of the basic biology surrounding menstruation and feminine hygiene (No, a tampon does not take away your virginity) and lead a sewing workshop in which every girl made a reusable sanitary pad*.
On the day we ran the first workshop, a member of the team spotted the headline of the national newspaper. It read ‘Schools must provide pads for girls’ and explained how the government were bringing in new legislation that required schools to provide sanitary pads for their female students. They had a few suggestions of where schools could purchase these Western style, disposable pads in bulk. Now maths is not my strong point so bear with me……..
I visited a local girls high school that had 400 students. Each of those students will require pads every single month. One option is to buy the bare minimum (risking infection for the girls) and give them just 1 pad per day.
1 pad each day for 5 days x 400 girls = 2000 pads.
As we know, a pad should be worn for no longer than 8 hours, so each girl should really receive 4 each day.
4 pads each day for 5 days x 400 girls = 8000 pads.
There’s just one catch. Schools have to find the money for these pads within their existing budgets; they will not receive any extra funding.
The great thing about the Irise pads is that they can be made with materials found at a typical Ugandan market for a fraction of the cost of a disposable pad. We donated the initial materials along with 15 hand sewing machines to the school in order to get them started with this project.
It’s amazing to think of the impact that something so simple will have on this community. Before we left, we met a number of teachers from neighbouring schools who had heard about the project; one even walked 12 miles to find out how he could implement this in his own school. The teaching staff at World Shine are currently discussing and deciding the best way to move forwards; either by providing training workshops, or by producing and selling the reusable pads to other schools (non profit.)
It was a wonderful experience thanks to the brilliant Irise resources, the openness of the World Shine staff, and the hard work of the TBC team who spent many hours cutting out the fabric needed for this project. I can’t wait to go back in 2016 and find out what impact it has had!
*Obviously just one pad is not sufficient, so materials, templates and instructions were left at the newly established Sewing Center. The Sewing Teacher learned how to make the pads and will continue to make them with the girls at the school.