Challenging the Barriers to Education
One of our main concerns, whilst experiencing the reality of working in Uganda, is how do we encourage and support girls to go to school and stay in education?
There are 10,500 schoolgirls aged 12-16 in the Kumi District. Over 6,300 will drop out of education before they graduate. One of the biggest reasons for this is the estimated minimum of 24 school days a year each of them lose because of menstruation. The rural shops don’t sell sanitary towels and even if they did 1 pack costs more than 1 person’s daily wage (employment rates as low as 1 in 7 in Kumi) and are absolutely no use if the child doesn’t own underwear.
At the end of 2015 a trip from Teams4U visited the Kumi district of Uganda to work with some of the school girls who regularly miss an average of 3 school days a month due to lack of proper sanitary protection.
Whilst Dave’s daughter, Sarah Sankey, was in Uganda in 2017 she pioneered our Develop with Dignity programme across the Kumi district to produce a training model that can hopefully be replicated in other areas. Sarah spent some considerable time conducting a survey, partly funded through Hub Cymru Africa, interviewing over 600 girls who have benefited from our distribution of sanitary wear and underwear to gauge the impact of the programme whilst looking at ways to improve it.
What have we learnt?
The survey has firstly shown us how effective our Develop with Dignity programme has been with a 45% jump in school attendance from the distribution of sanitary wear and underwear! However, it has also taught us much about the attitudes to Menstrual Health in Uganda and the mindsets we have to overcome.
Sanitary pads are brand new in Kumi. When I went to school all I wore was three pairs of knickers during my periods
We’ve discovered that parents, and even teachers, are not aware of the benefits of supporting schoolgirls with sanitary products and have been wildly misinformed about Menstrual Health. Here are just some of things we’ve heard whilst talking to the girls and their senior teachers:
- Periods are the vagina getting rid of “bad” blood from the body
- Periods are the vagina crying because it is disappointed in you
- To get rid of period pain you should have sex
- Periods are a sign that you should be sexually active
- You shouldn’t stand near boys whilst on your period because it will cause you to bleed more
- Using condoms give you cancer
This survey suggested that 83% of girls aged from 12-19 have no clear idea why they have periods or how to manage them.
Where do we go from here?
In October 2017 we did our first training seminar with teachers to equip them to deliver an accurate lesson plan on Menstrual health. Following on from this we were delighted to secure funding from the Small Charities Challenge Fund and receive UK aid from the UK government to extend this program to run training seminars on puberty, menstrual and reproductive health including sex education to 240 teachers in the district from 2018-2020.
In the classroom
Though we know how important these training seminars will be, we also know that we need to work closely with the teachers to enable them to translate the education into their classrooms regularly so no child gets left behind. Through funding secured from the Welsh Government we have equipped our partners in Uganda to visit 40 schools in the Kumi District between 2019-2021 to work directly with teachers in preparing and delivering lesson plans to their pupils.
Menstrual health and sexual reproductive health rights are still some of the least talked about issues, leaving many young women around the world at risk and fearful at what is happening to their bodies. Please help these young girls by helping us better educate their support network of teachers and peers so that they can continue to develop with dignity!