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.
Frequently Asked Questions
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.
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.)
Schools reopened in October 2020 but only for candidates – those sitting for exams, like the P7 students sitting their Primary Leavers Exam. This means most children are still not in school: one school had only 41 P7 students, compared to their normal complement of 1,097 students! But some students are there, and those students definitely need our support in this unique time. And now those girls not only need washable sanitary pads, they also need masks! So starting in November 2020 Milly resumed travelling to primary schools, teaching the girls about menstruation and their worth before God, distributing washable sanitary pads to the P7 girls and distributing masks to both P7 boys and girls (we are distributing masks to both boys and girls because masks work best when everyone is wearing one).
Phionah received washable sanitary pads from EI in 2017, when she was in P5, and she was very happy to receive a new set in November 2020. She said that the washable sanitary pads are much better than the disposable pads they sometimes buy in the trading centre, because they last at least a year and save a lot of money.
She wants to continue her studies and become a nurse, and she said that the teaching and support she has received from EI has given her courage. When she first started to menstruate she felt guilty and ashamed, but now she feels normal because she has the knowledge and materials to control her menstruation.
“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.”
“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)