Five things I learnt about periods... from Ugandan school kids

on
1 September 2017
Esther and her friends in Karamoja, Uganda WaterAid/Eliza Powell

As kids around the UK go back to school after the summer holiday, WaterAid Digital Editor Florence tells us about a school where the pupils could teach us a thing or two about periods...

I'm not exactly a stranger to periods. At 28 years old I've had a fair few of them myself. But have I ever written a rap about them? Have I ever sent any of my three brothers to the shop to buy me tampons? Have I ever performed in a school play all about the p word? The answer to all three of these questions is an emphatic, "no"!

So when I visited a school in rural Uganda, where WaterAid works with local partners to equip schoolchildren with the skills needed to manage their periods, I was astounded.

Here's what I learnt from the girls – and boys – I met there.

1. Not everyone has access to the basic facts

Several times people told me they'd heard that women and girls on their period should not stand on groundnut fields, because it would destroy the crop. Or that when they started menstruating, they must get married.

But the girls I met weren't buying it. "Girls are not supposed to get married when they get their period!" Esther (pictured above, second from left) told me. "Some girls start getting their periods at age nine. At that age, the person will not marry because she is still young."

Attitudes are changing thanks in part to WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) clubs where girls and boys at St Mary's School learn more about hygiene and sanitation. 

2. And the message spreads...

What the kids learn at WASH club travels! Armed with their new knowledge, the pupils can teach younger children, friends and even their families.

I spoke to Esther, 16, a member of WASH club at St Mary's School.

"From the hygiene club we learn how to make sanitary pads. We were taught this by our senior teachers, then we go and teach it to our fellow sisters and mothers. My mother really appreciates that I told her how to make pads."

Esther, 16, WASH Club member (L) teaches Rosemary, 12 (R) how to make sanitary pads at St Mary's School, Namalu, Karamoja Region, Uganda, July 2017WaterAid/Eliza Powell
Esther (left) teaches Rosemary, 12, how to make sanitary pads at St Mary's School.

3. Boys care too

Meet Dennis. He's a passionate advocate for period education, and a budding rap sensation:

4. It's a family thing

Beatrice, 15, told me how traumatic it was when she got her first period.

"I realised blood was on my clothes. I started crying."

But her little brother came to the rescue. "My sister told my young brother to buy pads. The shop is nearby so she wrote it down on a piece of paper and sent him. He didn't understand  he's five years old!"

Fiona and Beatrice during lessons at St Mary's School, Uganda.WaterAid/Eliza Powell
Beatrice, right, in the classroom.

5. 'Periods are normal and healthy!'

This is practically a mantra here at St Mary's. And it shows. Both girls and boys are more open about periods than any 15-year-old in the UK that I've ever met. Menstruation is no longer something to fear, but a simple fact of life. 

Sharon, WASH Club member, stands outside the newly built WaterAid latrine block at St Mary's School in Uganda.WaterAid/Eliza Powell
Sharon, a member of St Mary's WASH Club, stands outside the newly built WaterAid toilet block.

The WASH Club and improved WASH facilities at St Mary's School were supported by WaterAid's partner Welthungerhilfe, through funding from players of People's Postcode Lottery.

Incredibly, 1 in 3 schools around the world don't have decent toilets. Simply put, this is a deal-breaker for many girls, who miss out on school as a result. Help change this - sign our petition today before we hand it to the UK Government on 15 September. Thank you.

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