My home in Western Uganda lies on the foothills of the Rwenzori Mountains. Surrounded by rolling hills of tea plantations so verdant that it mocks any preconceived notions of Africa, is the community of Kyakatara. I live here as a Peace Corps Volunteer but I have been welcomed as one of the Batooro people. The people of Uganda are known for their friendly demeanor but it is the unparalleled sense of compassion of Gladys and Marian – my counterpart and supervisor – that has made my job as a Peace Corps Volunteer one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life so far.
When I arrived at Kyakatara Primary School to serve as a Literacy Specialist, one of the first things I noticed was the disparity between the number of male and female pupils in upper primary classes. Marian, who is also the head teacher of the school, explained to me that menstruation brought on a slew of new obstacles for girls in the community. We agreed that the fact that pupils were missing school due to something as natural and beautiful as getting your period was unjust. I worked with Marian and Gladys to come up with ways to mediate this problem. They understood that females were the backbone of the community and they were passionate about empowering girls to stay in school.
We decided to conduct a needs assessment and sent out a sexual reproduction survey to 60 girls from P6 and P7. We found that female pupils who have started menstruating missed 3 to 5 days of school every month due to improper sanitation methods, embarrassment and shame. They had little to no knowledge of the menstruation cycle. With these findings, we developed a workshop on sexual reproduction, a portion of which would be dedicated to teaching girls how to make Reusable Menstruation Pads (RUMPS) from cheap, local materials. Since we would be conducting separate workshops for girls from P4-P7, we planned to mold participants from the first workshop into facilitators for the next workshop. We wanted girls to leave the workshop feeling empowered – not weakened – by their bodies.
The entire staff, males and females alike, joined us in preparing for the workshop. Teachers gave up their break time and spent their weekends cutting out pad shapes out of bed sheets, assembling needles and threads, and measuring towels for RUMPS kits. Their enthusiasm never faltered.
On April 6, 2016, 55 female pupils from P6 and P7 came together in a girls-only workshop to learn about menstruation. They were given the opportunity to ask questions about reproduction, sexual intercourse and sexually transmitted diseases in a safe space. As Gladys taught them how to make their own RUMPS, the room transformed into a flurry of activity; the excitement was palpable. Each girl received enough materials to make two pads and they showed them off proudly with radiating smiles. A sense of ease permeated the room and as I looked around for possible facilitators for the next workshop, I realized I was standing in a room full of leaders.
You can find more pictures here.