Empower African Girls with Hygiene and Education

by Days for Girls International
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Jane at her graduation from DfG University
Jane at her graduation from DfG University

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. 

Close up of DfG Kit Components
Close up of DfG Kit Components
DfG Team discusses program strategy & planning
DfG Team discusses program strategy & planning
Samantha teaches girls to sew the DfG Kit
Samantha teaches girls to sew the DfG Kit

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! 

Focus Group discussion taking place under a tree
Focus Group discussion taking place under a tree
Sewing the DfG Kit in Karamoja
Sewing the DfG Kit in Karamoja
Training in Nakapiripirit
Training in Nakapiripirit

 Cissy** sat in the back of the class, fidgeting quietly and glancing uncomfortably at her peers. She wore the same beautiful skirt that all the girls had – knee-length, bright, multicolored, swinging, and full. It had been hand-sewn by her from strips of cloth. She was among her friends, but still she look nervous and unsettled.

 Our team was in the Nakapiripirit district of Uganda providing a training to out of school girls in women’s health and an introduction to Kit making. Each girl would learn to hand sew her very own washable pad using the tried and tested Days for Girls pattern. In partnership with Samaritan’s Purse and with the support of Global Giving, Days for Girls will be training 3,000 girls in total across one of the most remote, low-income regions of East Africa over a period of 3-years. 

 But on this day, our lead trainer, Dianah, could tell that something wasn’t right. As the training assistants began passing out materials to begin sewing, Dianah approached Cissy to find out what was wrong. Shyly, Cissy revealed that she was menstruating. Cissy did not have a pad, and she did not even have underwear. She was rotating her skirt to absorb the flow. Normally, Cissy would have gone to the river and sat on the rocks throughout the day. She would have returned home at night to sleep, and gone back to the river the following day until her period ended.

 At the end of the day, Cissy had sewn her own Days for Girls Kit. Her smile revealed everything. Utter joy, happiness, and most of all, relief. Relief that she would no longer face long days missing out on her life because of something as natural as a period.

 Along with the Kits, each girl had gained valuable knowledge and a rare opportunity to share their stories and experiences in a safe space with Ugandan women who they could see as mentors. To express their gratitude, the entire class of girls gathered together and began singing and dancing. They composed an original song about their new knowledge of menstrual hygiene.

 This is just one example of the incredible work that has been possible because of your support! In addition to this program, Days for Girls Uganda has trained over 2,000 girls so far in 2016, they have supported 13 Micro-Enterprises across the region to sell Kits. And the data shows that these Micro-Enterprises are already selling Kits even in the most rural communities. This would not be possible with the incredible support from our Global Giving community. You are helping us to reach girls like Cissy every day, with long-term, sustainable solutions!

 

**Name has been changed to protect her privacy

Training girls to use a treadle machine
Training girls to use a treadle machine
DfG staff capacity building
DfG staff capacity building
Sewing shields through a DfG Micro-Enterprise
Sewing shields through a DfG Micro-Enterprise

Your ongoing support is making huge strives in empowering women and girls... and communites in Africa. We usually give you the specifics personally, but this time we thought you might enjoy hearing it from someone TRAINED by Days for Girls Uganda in Kampala, Uganda to take things to the next level. Proof that all we have been working toward and all that your support is making possible is working. Days for Girls Uganda trains groups from near and far... thanks to you.

Here it isin a blog just out today entitled:

Simple innovation keeps girls in school, away from child marriage, in DRC

By — February 17, 2016

Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo—The mountains of Itombwe are home to some of the rare gorillas of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. An area about the size of Rwanda and Burundi put together, the Itombwe Plateau is one of the poorest parts of one of the poorest countries in the world. It is also home to 23,785 adolescent girls, according to Maman Shujaa, a women’s empowerment organization based in the South Kivu capital of Bukavu. And 85 percent of these girls, who are under 20 years old, says the organization, have children—up to five children each.

The problem often starts when girls drop out of school, which happens for many literally on the day they get their periods. So maybe at 12 years old.  

“The girl will go home and the next day she’ll be ashamed to go back [to school],” said Ariane Moza Assumani, 28, a team leader at Maman Shujaa. “She’ll say, ‘Everyone will say I dirtied my clothes.’ And maybe four months later she gets pregnant. No more school.”

Assumani explained that in Itombwe, mothers tell their daughters when they get their periods: “You’re no longer a child. You’re now a real woman. Find a man to marry you.” And a girl of 15 can marry a man of 60, she said. A girl of 18 can marry a man of 80.

Some remain in school once they get their periods but miss up to five days a month because of the bleeding and infections associated with using unclean material to catch the blood, according to Neema Namadamu, head of Maman Shujaa. Girls in many parts of the world, said the U.S.-based advocacy group Days for Girls, “use leaves, mattress stuffing, newspaper, corn husks, rocks, anything they can find.”

Ariane Moza Assumani shows one of her team’s handmade, reusable shields next to a store-bought sanitary pad. (Lauren Wolfe)

Deep gender discrimination in DRC is a huge challenge, as are connected practical deprivations such as a lack of access to clean water and sanitation—and sanitary pads—that would allow girls to receive an education. Access to education in the first place is a right that is hardly enforced for girls: One 2014 government demographic study estimated that less than 6 percent of women in South Kivu province have completed a primary education, and it’s a safe bet that for women in remote, impoverished areas like Itombwe, that number is even lower. (The country’s constitution, however, guarantees equality for men and women in its first two articles. DRC has also ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.) School fees are often prohibitive for families with many children, and giving boys an education takes priority in most cases, according to multiple Congolese activists and women I spoke to.

But it is the one-two punch of the unstoppable reality of women’s menstrual cycles and the lack of respect given to women in DRC overall that keep them from advancing in their homes, their communities, and in greater Congolese society. Girls, Namadamu said, “remain uneducated and enslaved to an oppressive patriarchal system, all because they don’t have any sani-pads.”

The time has come, fortunately, in which this is finally beginning to change, thanks to an effort by Maman Shujaa. The organization has headed up a program that uses a model created by Days for Girls, which teaches women how to make and distribute reusable sanitary kits. In its first adaption of the program,previously used in Uganda and Kenya and a number of countries throughout the world, Maman Shujaa chose Itombwe as its pilot area—it’s where Namadamu grew up and watched these problems escalate up close. Assumani, a team leader, received training in Kampala on not only how to construct the supplies, but how to make soap to keep the reusable pads clean. She demonstrated in Maman Shujaa’s Bukavu offices how she first makes a cloth shield that snaps onto underwear and then reusable liners that can be fitted one, two, even three at a time in the shield, depending on the extent of the monthly flow. The kit comes with two shields and eight liners, as well as a cloth bag to carry it all discreetly.

“I consider these liners and shields like life,” said Assumani, “because if I don’t use this I’d be forced to use dirty fabric that can make me sick and even die.”

The reusable shields snap into underwear and can be washed with homemade soap. (Lauren Wolfe)

In Bukavu, Assumani along with two of her colleagues made 300 kits and took them to Itombwe, where they conducted training on how to make them and use the pads, and the importance of keeping them clean. After a few meetings, however, men who’d first attended stopped showing up. They had decided that these women from Bukavu—Assumani and her colleagues—were “prostitutes” because they were talking about periods in front of men.

In fact, the disdain for what they were doing was becoming an impediment to distributing the supplies, the women found. As was the money. The group decided they needed to charge $5 a kit in order to be able to continue to purchase all the materials necessary to expand the program. Even so, they were losing money at $5 a kit, Assumani said. She also said that people were able to pay in installments, and that all 300 kits sold, as did the 300 more they made on-site.

While the group found many women willing to purchase the kits for their daughters, in one case, there was a…complication. Assumani met a girl who told her that her mother couldn’t afford $5 for one, “but my dad has many cows,” the girl said, implying his wealth. “Go and tell my dad.” When the group went to talk to the father he said he’d pay the $5 but added, “When you give it to my daughter, don’t mention that I’m the one who bought them,” Assumani said. “Go to the church and say that it’s a donation from the church. Don’t say it’s me who bought it.”

Kits come with eight reusable liners, like this one. (Lauren Wolfe)

Pascal Byamungu, 27, who also works at Maman Shujaa, explained that in a village a girl can’t tell a boy she’s got her period. “The mother yes, the father, never.” It’s a taboo, Assumani stressed. When you wash the pads, she said, you have to dry it in a place where the father can’t see—“If it’s out in the open he’ll think you’re a prostitute.”

Overall, the program has been a huge success already, said Namadamu. In addition to women purchasing kits for their daughters, they have begun to buy them for themselves. Policewomen have bought some too, she said. These pads “have become a stigma eraser, a confidence builder, and a girl-power enabler,” Namadamu said.

At the end of January, Maman Shujaa set off again for Itombwe with 750 more kits, as well as 600 bras for girls and women. “Keeping all those adolescent girls in school until they graduate will have a tremendous impact on the transformation of the area,” Namadamu said.

With barely passable roads, the journey took a difficult 31 hours, the center reported. Yet, to Namadamu, Assumani, and the rest of the team, knowing that even one more girl will complete her education is worth it.

 

There you have it.

Here's the link so you can refer to it again if you'd like.

Thank you for the difference you are making every month.

And... PS: These ongoing efforts won the African SEED Award!

Links:

Girls at Rafiki Thabo training in Kabale, Uganda
Girls at Rafiki Thabo training in Kabale, Uganda

Meet Christine K. of Kenya recently completed training to launch her own Days for Girls Enterprise in Kenya. She says, “I'm glad I went. My life was never the same. I loved the training…. Now I have three enterprises: Butere, Masai Mara, and Zariel [and I’m] an Ambassador for Days for Girls… to keep girls in school with Days for Girls Kits. I had no one to protect me… (Her full story is honest, frank and graphic. The link is below), but now as Days for Girls Zariel Enterprise I stand for girls. I’m so proud of what my purpose in life is. My gratitude goes to all who made it possible.” That would be supporters like YOU making Days for Girls kits and training available.

What if Days for Girls could empower women like Christine everywhere? Days for Girls Uganda has been answering that question with action.

Tanzania Training

It’s a good thing the Uganda team never gets tired of traveling to reach more girls, women and trainers. Two of our team members also traveled to Nyaishozi, a rural community in north-western Tanzania, to conduct a health and kit making training for girls. In total, the team trained 150 girls to make their own Days for Girls Kits, and the participants also received a pre-made kit to complete their pack. Though the language barrier was tough (Tanzania is predominantly Swahili speaking, while Uganda is English speaking), the team was able to prevail with the help of translators and passionate students. Such training has been happening for DRC Congo, Mozambique and more.

Seguku Training

The Days for Girls Uganda team trained of a small group of girls in Seguku, Uganda. The team spent a few days training in women’s health and kit making, and the girls all successfully made their kits. To our surprise, we learned a few days later that all of the girls had been able to sell the kits they made almost immediately; showing incredible business acumen in the group and interest in the community. This group is scheduled to attend Days fro Girls University in January 2016 to build on their business knowledge and create a clear business plan for their Days for Girls Enterprise.

We won! SEED Africa, Gender Equality Award & Workshop

In September, Days for Girls Uganda won two SEED Africa Awards for Gender Equality hosted by Adelphi and UN Women because of the proven difference this program is making and the award comes with support to make it even better.

Creating a small business is not an easy task, especially when the business is based in a low-income community, and even more so when the women are selling a new kind of product. So our trained Days for Girls Enterprises have the added challenge of providing education and awareness to their potential customer base about the environmental, economic, and health benefits of washable pads that work well.

That’s our report. A whole lot of good… thanks to you! 

DfG Training in Nyaishoki, Tanzania
DfG Training in Nyaishoki, Tanzania
Christine K
Christine K

Links:

 

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Organization Information

Days for Girls International

Location: Lynden, WA - USA
Website: http:/​/​www.DaysforGirls.org
Project Leader:
Celeste Mergens
Lynden, WA United States
2016 Year End Campaign
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1,520 donations
$5,752 to go
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