It is difficult for girls to receive education in the North of Uganda. There is a very high drop out rate. One of the many factors, but an early and important one, is an inability to manage their periods while attending school. This means missing 4 or 5 days a month from school.
What the team does
The Acholi Girls Fairer Future Team visits Primary Schools to teach about menstrual periods; encouraging and instructing the girls. Psalm 139:13-16 forms the basis of the talk, about how they are wonderfully and uniquely made by God and are important to Him. Each girl is provided with four washable pads, made by a local tailor and four pairs of knickers.
In every school, we invite all the girls of 12 years and over to join our sessions and they can number from 40 to 140 depending on the size of the school. We prioritise the smaller schools away from the towns and main roads, since they are in the poorest communities.
In a typical group of 60 girls, 40 will have started their periods but only around 9 are wearing underpants. Here in the UK, disposable pads and underpants are the norm, freely available and relatively affordable. In rural Northern Uganda, most people are on a very low income and exist mainly outside the cash economy. A girl can not just ask her father for money for pads, and children simply do not have money of their own. The girls manage their periods by staying home for four or five days. Unless they are unusually bright and determined, they fall behind and are seen as dim by their teachers and parents. When it comes to which children should get their school fees paid, the parents usually choose a son before a daughter for cultural reasons. If the daughter’s school report is poor, then the decision is even easier to make.
What we hope to achieve
The purpose of this ministry is to help the girls to stay in school and receive the education they so badly need for a better future, for themselves, their children and their community. And also to point the girls towards the God who can be trusted for the whole of life.
Milly used to work only as housekeeper in Pader, but had a heart for the girls of Pader and instigated the restarting of the Pads Ministry.
Read more about Milly in the Prayer Calendar September 2014.
“Even though I had heard about menstruation, when it happened for the first time, I thought I was going to die, and the secret was just within myself, I couldn’t share it with my parents, it was only because a friend was having the same thing that I could tell someone, and so I realised it was normal.”
“Since we received the information and the pads we are able to participate in class work and other work well without fear, and games, so I can finish P7 without any problem, and when girls who don’t come to school any more hear about the pads being provided, some will return to school.”
“I would like to give thanks to Emmanuel Pader for this support to the girls education, girls are now playing, feeling happy and free, like boys, and doing activities inside the class, like group working, the support has helped our parents to help our education very very much, I’d like to stop here by saying thanks, thanks.”
Senior Teacher in Pader District
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Frequently Asked Questions
How much does it cost for you to give 4 washable pads and 4 pairs of knickers to a school girl?
It works out that the cost per girl is about £2.50 (depending on the exchange rate). We expect that the pads and pants will last them for at least a year with reasonable care.The cost includes all material, transport, labour, teaching time etc, except that Tom’s time is NOT included because he is separately supported.
Why do the girls in the schools all have shaven heads or very short hair?
It is a rule for all Ugandan government schools that all pupils have shaved heads or at least very short hair. Schools enforce the rule and send the message home to the parents by shaving a ‘parting’ in the offenders hair if it gets too long. (Shaving is normally done with a ‘safety’ razor blade held in the fingers, which most people buy new for each use for fear of sharing sharps and getting HIV.)
I (Tom) have heard at least three reasons for this rule:
- That it cuts down on communicable infections and infestations like ring worm (a common fungal scalp condition) and head lice.
- Girls should be studying not spending time fussing with their hair.
- It is not good for girls to make themselves look attractive (to boys) in their school years.
For what its worth, here are my opinions:
For boys, shaving the head is OK, especially as the current fashions in male hair styles are very short or shaven. Afros are not in vogue!
For girls, I think it is depersonalising and has the opposite effect to that intended.
Among girls and women out of school, only a few chose to have shaven heads. Quite a few have sort hair but it is normally shaped at least a bit. Many grow their hair, comb it out and braid it or clip it into various styles; lots have braided in extensions or hair pieces of many different styles if they can afford them. But female hair care is very often social and co-operative and can take a long time.
My Canadian colleagues have a similar view to mine but about school uniform: depersonalising!
So maybe it all depends where you are coming from and it is not for me to criticise what is normal here. Either way my opinion is not going to change anything for the 6 million or so school girls in Uganda!