Maracha lies in the north-western corner of Uganda, just on the border of Democratic Republic of Congo. It is a small and rural district settled into the West Nile Region of Uganda. A dry and arid setting, the landscape is both beautiful and vast. And within Maracha District resides an especially spectacular lady – Jane, and beautiful and determined school-teacher with a passion for both girls and for health. Jane attended the November 2015 Session of DfG University – our two-week residential training program that helps women launch their own small businesses making and selling DfG Kits (washable pads). From the moment she arrived, Jane emerged as a leader in her class, generating smiles and laughter in every session.
Admittedly, we were a little bit nervous about Jane’s business prospects when she returned home. The West Nile region is one of the poorest in Uganda, and many families do not have disposable income for items other than the necessities. On top of that, gender equality is a particularly challenging issue in this area, where women are given little agency to advocate for their needs within the home. So, we were nothing short of blown away when we checked in with Jane just 4 months later.
A site visit to Jane showed us that she had mobilized a small army of women to help her sell the DfG Kits all over her community. She had sold her entire starter pack of 50 Kits – and not all in one go to a big organization, but one by one to the actual women and girls who would go on to use them. That is 50 women and girls who no longer have to worry about what they will use. 50 women and girls who can go about their days with ease and comfort when they are menstruating. 50 women and girls who lift their heads high with the pride of having purchased their very own DfG Kit. This was an incredible turning point that showed us the possibility and the potential of empowering women with business to improve health and hygiene in their communities!
We have worked tirelessly in the past year to refine our Enterprise training resources so that we can promote sustainable, long-lasting access points for menstrual hygiene products and education. It is our vision to see local women owning this process and being the ambassadors for menstrual hygiene in their communities, and with women like Jane, this is coming to fruition. The support from Global Giving has helped us employ local Ugandan women to go out and train other women, and to provide critical reproductive health and hygiene education to girls and mothers.
In the northern part of Lebanon, the Akkar District is home to over 100,000 Syrian refugees. According to the UNHCR, "On average, refugees earn 20,000 LBP (USD 13) per day, with women much more likely to be paid less. With earnings reportedly too low to cover basic expenditure needs for the household, many refugees relied on alternative sources of income to support themselves and their families - sometimes deploying negative coping mechanisms and strategies"
In partnership with ANERA (American Near East Refugee Aid), we are proud to report that there are now two established DfG sewing teams in Akkar. We recently returned from a trip to Lebanon where we saw firsthand the dedication of these women and the high quality of their work. These teams will be sewing and assembling DfG kits to be marketed to the many NGOs that operate inside Lebanon. This will give women in Akkar an opportunity to earn income for their families, allow aid workers to access feminine hygiene supplies quicker and more efficiently, and provide sewing training for other women in the communities who are interested in learning that skill.
We have trained staff members of ANERA, Mercy Corps, IRC, and several local Lebanese NGOs regarding the proper distribution and awareness sessions that accompany the DfG kit. These sessions provide not only a beautiful DfG kit that a woman can use for years to come, but they also provide a safe space to discuss menstrual hygiene and reproduction with trained leaders and other community members. Many women tell us at our distributions that they had never had a thorough explanation of their menstrual cycle! One highlight of the awareness session is the menstrual chart that each woman receives in her DfG Kit with instructions for how to use it. This helps a girl to plan ahead, knowing when to expect her period and to be prepared with her supplies. It allows a woman the opportunity to know when she is most and least likely to become pregnant.
With the support of our many GlobalGiving donors, we have been able to supply the new DfG teams with enough fabrics to complete 250 shields. Each team received a hand snap and removal tool, a large supply of plastic snaps, a fabric die cutter, and the printed menstrual charts to accompany the DfG Kits. Recurring and new donations will allow us to purchase more supplies for the teams, hold more extensive sewing training sessions, business and marketing trainings, and the opportunity to travel to Lebanon to assist with supply chain development and quality control.
The sun was shining brightly through the branches, and the grass was prickly on our legs, but we were all excited to be sitting there together in Karamoja – a captivating, but economically devastated region in northeastern Uganda. Our team had traveled to conduct a training with out-of-school girls on reproductive health and making of the DfG Washable Hygiene Kit as part of our 3-year partnership with Samaritan’s Purse. During this visit, we had the opportunity to sit with a small group of girls who had received the Kits 6 months prior. We were conducting an important follow up focus group discussion to learn more about the actual impact of the DfG Kits on these girls’ lives.
We sat under a tree in the middle of a large grassy field, with tall mountains in the background and thatched roof huts dotted around the landscape and well disguised by their thorny fences. Six out of the seven girls we spoke to that day had received the DfG Kit, and one girl had not, as she was not originally recruited for the program.
Yet we learned something amazing. Not only did each and every girl remember nearly every detail of the training program – demonstrating to us how she washed and dried her Kit, explaining the phases of the menstrual cycle, and talking about personal hygiene – but they all still had and faithfully used their DfG Kit. The one girl who had not been part of the program actually learned how to make her own Kit from her friends who had participated in the program.
These stories and testimonies shattered our greatest expectations. After distributing Kits, there is always a lingering thought; will the girls really use these Kits? Do they really need them? Well, we learned first hand that the answer was a resounding yes!
As we go out and conduct more and more trainings in our vision of reaching Every Girl. Everywhere. Period, we are also focused on answering these tough questions about impact. We are doing this through new mobile-based surveys, through focus group discussions, and through site visits to the girls and women we work with. The support of the Global Giving community is what makes this mutual learning possible!