Under the shade of a large tree, the senior 1 girls of Nyenga Senior Secondary School are looking at one of their classmates stretching her left arm to the sky, then her right. She starts waving them from side to side, and WoMena Uganda trainer Pinky joins her. The students start laughing, and after a few more stretches the girl rejoins them. Another girl walks up to Pinky and Faith, the other trainer. She begins to roll a water bottle gently op and down her stomach as Faith explains how many women use that method to alleviate menstrual pain. Several more girls stand up and share their own ways of reducing pain and uncomfortableness, when they have their period; each one to a soundtrack of laughter from herself and her classmates.
Having recently joined WoMena Uganda’s Kampala office as a volunteer, I didn’t know what to expect from the training on the trip to Buikwe District, where WoMena Uganda is currently implementing a menstrual health component in selected schools as part of the wider Buikwe District Fishing Communities Development Programme (BDFCDP). The programme targets rural fishing communities through WASH and Education Solutions, run by the Icelandic Embassy in Kampala in collaboration with the district, under the Icelandic Development Agency (ICEIDA). WoMena Uganda has introduced menstrual health education to all girls in the four secondary schools that are part of the BDFCDP, around 1300 girls in total. After the menstrual health training, the girls received a menstrual cup and a package of reusable pads. WoMena Uganda has completed follow-up visits in all schools, and we are now doing data col-lection to track the girls’ menstrual experiences after the intervention has started.
I was especially not sure what to expect in terms of engagement and participation from the girls: How engaged would they be in the training? Had they used the reusable pads and menstrual cups distributed to them a few months earlier? And if so, would they dare to share their experiences in a group setting?
Pinky and Faith had told me beforehand, that participation is a crucial part of the WoMena Uganda training approach. So when the first group of the day – the senior 2 girls – seated themselves on the grass with an air of adolescent shyness, I was interested to see how Pinky and Faith would create a space that felt safe for the stu-dents and would encourage them to participate. The trainers started off by asking them how many had tried to use the reusable pads and menstrual cup. Tentatively, some of the girls raised their hands. However, as the trainers asked for help demonstrating how to use the products, all remaining hesitancy quickly evaporated. Even though the girls haven’t been using the products for long, there was no shortage in willing volunteers. One poured red soda on a reusable pad to demonstrate how much it can actually absorb, another demonstrated how the menstrual cup can be cleaned between periods by putting it in a tin container and filling it with boiling water
I was impressed to see that the girls felt comfortable and confident enough to raise intimate questions, and that they helped each other in answering them. One girl voiced her concern that the menstrual cup would be too big for her to insert, and so another showed the group how she folded her cup to make it as small as possible. “Fear is normal, so we don’t blame you for being afraid to use the cup,” Pinky told them. “But what we see from other schools is that the girls who get comfortable using it are pleased with it.” The open atmosphere even survived the noises from a nearby football match featuring a large group of the schools’ boys.
A lot of ground was covered during the 75 minutes each session lasted. Besides hands-on interaction with the menstrual products, and the demonstrations of techniques to manage menstrual pain, Faith and Pinky also talked about – among other things – the hymen and its relation to virginity. Each new subject was accompanied by materials and tools that kept the students visibly engaged and curious – resulting in a wide variety of questions and comments. When the girls were finished, I spoke to 14-year old Liz on her way to the afternoon school assembly: “When we first got the menstrual cup and reusable pads, we didn’t pay that much attention to what was being said,” she explained. “But now, because we’ve started using them, it’s very different. We weren’t bored today, because now we know how the products and information can help us. I even get asked by friends back home, who go to other schools, to share what I’ve learned, since they’re also very interested,” Liz told me before being swept away by a group of her laughing friends.
Blog Author: Rasmus Hauge
Rasmus is part of the communications team and based in WoMena’s Kampala office. He holds an MA in Literature and has worked with communications for different organisations and companies.