In honor of Education Month, this week we’re taking a deeper look at barriers that students face when it comes to getting an education.
So for this blog we want to highlight a huge barrier for half the student population: periods.
In Congo, women and girls show all new meaning to the word “strength.” They work non-stop—cooking, cleaning, and child rearing—all without electricity or running water. They also have very limited access to basic amenities like soap, lack variety in their cooking or diet, and are without other basic household items.
They are our heroes.
So do you ever wonder, in the middle of the jungle, what girls do while they’re on their period? They can’t just run to the store and pick up a pack of tampons.
As a part of our Water, Sanitation and Health (WaSH) program, we train girls and women how to stay clean and safe during their monthly cycle.
This month, I (Co-founder Cassandra Lee) loved getting to sit in on the training. Here are some golden moments from our trainees during the lessons:
"When you look down and you see your period for the first time, you can be proud! You can say—‘I am a woman. I am courageous. I can carry children!’ Having your period is not a shameful thing. Talking about your period is not a shameful thing. You must be proud of who you are!” -Mama Rachel, JR WaSH Director
It’s estimated that one in ten girls miss school because of their period. By some estimates, this equals as much as twenty percent of a given school year. (UNESCO / World Bank)
"See, you must be courageous as a woman. Courageous and clean. You are so special with all the things your body can do. You must make sure to take care of it. You can make your own sanitary pads and don't let your period hold you back. Don't let it keep you out of school."
Instead of instructing our girls to buy pads, which are expensive and often hard to find in the villages, our trainers teach them how to make their own pads out of things they can find in the market.
It usually involves a small, inexpensive piece of mattress/sponge-like material, fabric, and string to sew with. They make their own reusable pad out of a pattern we give them. During the lesson we also give them everything they need to make their first pad, including needle and thread!
"Water is your best friend when you have your period. What's your best friend?”
This was stressed many times throughout the training. Many girls don’t know how to properly clean themselves during their cycles, either. It’s usually shameful to discuss, so women don’t talk to each other about it. They don’t talk about it with their daughters, and when their cycle arrive, they just stay home and wait until it passes.
“Now that you know how to make your pads, you can wear it knowing you are protected! You can go to school. You can go to the fields. There is no need to miss anything! If you ever need help, you can courageously talk to your female teachers, or other girls in this group—we are all in this together!”
It was actually really incredible watching our team work. They crossed into culturally uncharted territories, and every girl in the class loved it, and hung on every word they said.
In Congo, it’s also very difficult to go to school if you are girl, and there is a clear discrepancy when it comes to literacy education. The literacy rate for girls sits at just 50%, while the literacy rate for boys in the DRC is nearly 80%. Teaching girls about something as simple as how to take care of their bodies while on their periods can help keep girls in school throughout the year and lowers dropout rates as they grow older.
At the end of the women’s health and safety classes, we also gave each participant a new pair of underwear, and a package of Kotex with instructions for how to use them. In our group for child mothers, many had never been taught this before. Some girls already had one, two or even three children, and yet, the majority had never really discussed their periods or basic care and hygiene during their cycle!
We are so proud of our team’s boldness and the work they continue to do with respects to women’s health and girls’ education. Period.