The first time I had my period...

The first time I had my period...

In Uganda and around east and southern Africa, SNV works with schools and communities to help break down taboos around menstruation and help girls complete school and reach their full potential. Here Ugandan girls share their coming of age experiences ahead of Menstrual Hygiene Day on May 28.

My name is Arong Robinah. I was shocked when I first had my periods. I felt dirty and thought I had acquired a dangerous disease since I had never seen it before. After seeing blood, I decided to escape from school and go back home. I was afraid to tell my mother about what I was going through. I instead lied to her that we had been sent back home early. I was sleepless the entire night because I feared going to school the following day. Something came to my mind that perhaps other girls that often missed school were going through a similar situation. I remained in bed and lied to my mother again that I was sick. I remained home until I saw no more blood on the sponge that I was using to pad myself.

Fortunately, my school was visited by CARITAS, a local capacity builder, the following week. They said they were partnering with SNV and were sent to work with our school. Days later, a girl’s education movement (GEM) club was formed to help girls with their problems in school. As girls, we took the lead in various school activities. The most memorable one was the making of reusable menstrual pads (RUMPs). Boys and girls were requested to bring old clothes like bed sheets and towels, while the school bought some cloth, needles and buttons. We were joined by some parents and Opio Janet Oye from CARITAS, who taught us how to make RUMPs. Boys also became actively involved in the process after learning that all women, including their mothers and future wives, had to go through this experience every month unless they were pregnant.

I am no longer scared of having my periods since I have pads. I hope to teach my brothers, sisters and neighbours at home how to make RUMPs.

- Arong Robinah, student at Amuca Primary School in Soroti District

Joan Anyango is a 16-year-old primary seven student who dropped out of school after conceiving in 2010. After delivery, she joined primary six in 2012. Because she came from a poor family her parents could not afford to buy commercial sanitary pads for her.

“I used to use cloths that I would cut from my old t-shirts to keep the blood from staining my dresses but they were not enough and blood would still stain my clothes. Boys used to laugh at me and I eventually simply stayed home whenever my periods started. One day some people came to our school and taught us through our school health club how to make re-usable menstrual pads. They encouraged us to bring our old clothes from home and they taught us how to cut and stitch these clothes together to make a pad. To avoid the blood from staining the panty we were encouraged to always line the inside of the pad with polythene paper and change our pads whenever they became wet. Now I don’t get ashamed or embarrassed when I get my menstruation periods because I know how to make my own re-usable pads. I even attend classes during my periods and nobody notices.

- Joan Anyango a student at Ayito primary school.

My name is Auma Milly. I attend Okwaloamara Primary School in Lira District. I come from a family of 9 children, and after only a few years of schooling my parents could not afford to pay my school fees anymore. Believing that girls are not worth educating, my father decided to find me someone to marry. My sister was married at a young age and only completed Primary 4. Thankfully, she saw the value in educating me and decided to spend some of her very small income to send me to school. I wanted to make her proud, but I was about to face another challenge. When I started menstruating, I had many hard days. I could not get myself any materials to use to stop myself from soiling my clothes. It was better for me to stay at home rather than go through that shame at school. Last year, I missed many days of school and even had to skip my final exams because I had my periods. As a result, I had to repeat Primary 6 so I could perform better.

Since Divine Waters Uganda introduced RUMPs training at my school, I no longer have to worry about my periods. RUMPs have made my periods manageable and I can focus on school. All members of a community need to be involved in helping the girl child in Uganda stay in school. Parents, teachers, boys and girls can all unite to support girls to not feel shame. I am thankful that  With menstruation under control, my educational future is now looking bright again.

- Auma Milly, a student in Okwaloamara Primary School in Lira District

My mother and sisters were so open to me about menstrual cycle and taught me early enough about what to expect. This made me secure when I started my periods. It all started one day when I was in school, I felt as though I wanted to vomit and I became dizzy. After a few minute I felt blood coming, and since I was well aware about it, I rushed home and got my sisters pads and put it on.

- Immaculate, a student in Omito primary school, Lira district.