Ella is a returned Restless Development volunteer from the International Citizen Service (ICS) programme in Uganda. In her time there she became passionate about menstrual health and today, on National Menstrual Health Day, she writes about how she took action on this issue when she returned home.
You may have heard lots about the International Citizen Service (ICS) programme and about young people’s experiences of volunteering overseas. Did you know that there’s another element to the programme called ‘action at home’ – where you use the passion you have developed overseas to make a difference in your own community?
My passion for my action at home started in Uganda, where some other volunteers and I found that many girls and women did not have access to sanitary pads, and as a result were missing school while menstruating. We learnt how to make sanitary pads from simple materials and taught girls in schools and youth groups how to make them. On return to the UK, I spoke to several NGOs about this issue and helped to put together some lesson plans on Menstrual Hygiene Management which were hopefully some use to Restless!
The photos in this blog were taken at an all girls boarding school called ‘Ibun Baz’ based in Nakalama, Uganda. We organised for two local nurses to deliver a session on menstruation and menstrual hygiene,and around 300 girls came.
The nurses started off by explaining why we menstruate, and it surprised us that very few of the girls knew or had any knowledge on what happened during their cycles. The nurses then gave out some tips and advice on menstrual hygiene, before ending with a Q and A to dispel some common myths. By the end of the sessions the girls were very openly asking questions and really engaged. We later went to the school to teach girls how to make reusable sanitary pads.
At Nakalama primary school, Florence Patricia gave us a note to say that she was an orphan and her grandmother never taught her about having a period and wouldn’t pay for her to have sanitary pads. This is how we found out how big the problem of poor access to menstrual health management is for many girls in the rural Uganda. We ran a session with Florence and some other students and teachers, on how to make reusable sanitary pads from old materials. The plan was that then they could go and teach other girls at the school too.
I also spoke with the headmaster at the school about how this was an issue many young girls were facing, and asking what support there was available. I was happily surprised to find that the next time I visited him he had printed a lot of research he had done on menstruation, and had also designated a room in the school to be a safe space for girls. I will be following up with him to see if he keeps it up the good work!