Keeping Girls at School

You might think that this is an odd title for a blog post, so let me explain. In some countries girls have difficulty getting a supply of sanitary towels for when they have their periods, and the result is that often during this time they don’t go to school. This can mean up to a week off school every month, and that would be a serious interruption to anyone’s education. This can also mean that the girls get further and further behind with their learning and then they don’t bother going to school any more. They stay at home and often marry early, starting families early, which then turn out to be large families with many mouths to feed. Then because the girls have not completed their education, they aren’t able to get good jobs to support their families and they rely on earning money by doing domestic work and working hard to grow their own food. Growing lots of food to support large families in turn puts demands on the local environment.

In some parts of Uganda this is definitely true.

Before our trip this year I did some investigating into the possibility of getting some re-usable sanitary towels for the girls at the QE Parks Project schools. I wanted to be able to support them to stay at school through their periods, and re-usable sanitary towels would be much better than disposable ones which can only be used once. Also, disposable sanitary towels would be adding to the terrible problem of waste and rubbish in the villages.

Believe it or not, litter and waste is dreadful in some of the Ugandan villages that we have visited, particularly plastic waste. There is no system of waste collection and so it all lies around on the floor, and if it is collected it is burned which can release toxic fumes into the environment. It really is a problem! The QE Parks Project teams have taken part in several community litter picking activities in Uganda over the various visits, and I can tell you from my own experience of doing this that the litter problem is awful. Reusable sanitary towels would be much more useful and long lasting as a way of keeping the girls in school for many months, AND it would be kinder to the environment! Re-usable sanitary towels are definitely the better option!

My research led me to a company called ‘Earthwise Girls’ found just outside Oxford at Abingdon. I contacted them and explained what I was hoping to do, and they agreed to sell me the sanitary towels for half price! Hooray! I immediately set up a crowdfunding page explaining all of this, and the response was quite staggering. It seemed that many people, never having thought about this problem before, were really taken with this idea of supporting girls’ education in this way. It is such a simple thing to do but something that could have such a big effect on a girl’s life.

Thanks to all of the wonderful supporters of my project I was able to buy over 200 reusable sanitary towels from Earthwise Girls.

The parcel of re-usable sanitary towels arrives!

Counting and sorting them on my kitchen table.

When the parcel arrived (I had them delivered to school), all of the teachers agreed how lovely the fabrics were, and how well made they were. We were definitely impressed. Coincidentally, the year 5 children had just been having their PSHE lessons about changes in adolescence and puberty, and so I took the sanitary towels in to show them and explain what I planned to do. They too were impressed with the towels, and thought the whole thing was a very good idea.

Next stop Uganda! The towels took up half of one of my suitcases but luckily didn’t weigh very much, so alongside all of the teaching and learning resources I was taking for Bukorwe School, and my own clothes and equipment, I was still under the weight allowance for my luggage. I was just hoping that I wouldn’t be asked to explain the contents of my luggage at customs! It would be a long story!

With several members of the team supporting me (Mrs Peach, Amy Peach and Ranger Jan, Liz and Meg), we were able to talk to 82 girls from three schools from P6 and P7, age range of 12 to 15 years. We hoped that by talking about ourselves as teachers and by showing that the girls in our group, Amy and Meg, are still in at university into their twenties, we would be demonstrating the possibilities for girls in education.

The girls at Bukorwe (the first school) seemed quite shy and reserved but they were able to tell us that, yes some of them found it difficult to stay at school during their periods. One girl told Mrs Peach that she did have money to buy disposable sanitary towels which she got from the shops in Kihiihi, but that she knew most of the other girls didn’t. Vicent told me that the cost of a box of disposable towels was between 3,000 to 4,500 Ugandan Shillings, but compare that to the average daily wage of 3,500 and you can see how expensive they are. I also learned that one box isn’t enough for a one month supply, and that the cheaper ones are really not very good. It also occurred to me that families with more than one daughter would find it totally impossible to buy towels! The fact is that most girls just use rags that they wash and re-use. And, another thing we discovered was that many of them only have one or two pairs of pants!

Mrs Peach giving out the towels at Bukorwe

Mrs Buckle, with Christine helping to share towels with the girls.

Explaining about re-usable towels.

Later in the trip we were able to repeat the process at Katunguru (twinned with Hart Plain Juniors) and Kafuro (twinned with Liss Juniors).

The girls at Katunguru with Mrs Buckle, Meg and Amy

I am in regular contact with the teacher at Katunguru (Ramathan) and he had already told me that the school had taken part in workshops to show all the children how to make their own re-usable sanitary towels, so this subject did not come as any surprise to their girls. He showed me the materials that they had used, which was towelling and a kind of polyester cotton.

Ramathan and the Katunguru children at the sanitary towel making workshop.

 

This is great news because, while I never doubted for a moment that Ugandans are the most resourceful people on Earth, it helps the children to know how to overcome the problem. And by doing this kind of thing with both boys and girls it helps everyone to understand that this is a ‘fact of life’ and not something that needs to be kept a secret, or something that girls in particular should be embarrassed about. Yay! Go Ramathan!

However, the people at Earthwise Girls will be relieved to know that the Katunguru girls say the home made towels are a bit scratchy and their new towels are super comfortable and effective!

The last school we visited was Kafuro Primary School. You can read a full account of their teacher exchange visit this year on the Kafuro and Liss blog.

kafuroliss.primaryblogger.co.uk

Girls at Kafuro Primary School

The girls at Kafuro were definitely the most shy of the three schools we visited, maybe because Kafuro is very much off the beaten path and away from the main roads, so they hardly ever get to meet people from other places.

We hope that all this will do some good, but at this stage it is very difficult to say exactly what the impact of this project will be. At the very least it will make a total of 82 girls in a small corner of Uganda a bit more comfortable during their periods, and we are being told by some of the teachers that they are already finding it easier to stay at school. (In each school we also left a supply of pants in a range of sizes.) We also hope they will realise that there are other people in the outside world who care about them, (even if they are a strange bunch of Muzungu ladies who turn up suddenly to talk about personal issues!) and that this will help them value themselves and their education.

Watch this space for the future of this project! Due to even more generous donations coming in at the last minute before our trip, we still have some money to spend on re-usable sanitary towels. We hope to continue fundraising before next year’s QE Parks Project trip to Uganda and continue supporting Ugandan girls in education.