The joy and laughter of the women and girls could be heard metres away, bellowing through the mud-and-wattle classroom block of Kakopo primary school in Rwamutonga internally-displaced persons’ (IDP) camp in Hoima.
To a person far away from this class, one would think the pupils were holding a party with lots of food and drink. Instead, some 300 women and girls had filled three classrooms at the school to receive the much-needed reusable, hygienically and environmentally-friendly sanitary pads.
The pads were donated to the 314 women and girls of Rwamutonga IDP camp by AFRIpads, following a request from Global Rights Alert, part of a fundraising drive for school children of some 1,051 families displaced from their land, in the oil-rich Hoima district.
AFRIpads are a reusable option of sanitary wear made from soft textile, leak-proof material with buttons to secure the pad onto a pair of knickers. The pads can be reused up to 12 months, making them cost-effective and environmentally-friendly.
This was no ordinary donation to this camp to the women and girls that have been in the camp for two years, with no clean water or money to help them buy basics such as pads. It was the first time that a donation targeting only women and girls was coming to the camp. So, the men stood around outside, craning their necks to see what was getting their women excited.
Inside, Betty Akol and Everse Munguryek were training the women and girls how to use the sanitary pads, how to wash, dry and keep them stored away. And the women’s enthusiasm was infectious.
“They have said that this blue one, you use it at night and sleep and sleep and sleeeeeep, no leaking,” one of the women explained, before the rest burst into laughter.
This was the first group training about their reproductive health that had brought mothers and daughters together under one roof. And the younger girls (those aged 10 to 15) giggled and looked on in amusement, listening attentively.
Each pad can be reused up to 12 months, making them cost-effective and environmentally-friendly. The pads, manufactured in Uganda, are made by rural women of Kitengesa village in Masaka district.
The life of an internally-displaced person is often of survival, where to get the next meal, drink of water, shelter and medical care. That much-needed care for a girl’s monthly menstruation period is often considered a luxury. Many girls in the camp admitted missing school during their menstruation period, as it is culturally-unacceptable for another person to know that a girl is having her period.
“When I get my period, I wear two knickers because this is what I have. I cannot afford pads from the shops,” says 13-year-old Sharon Anirwoth.
Just like many other women in the camp, Lucy Onyera says she has been using a cloth to manage her menstrual cycle. On such days, she has to be careful about her movements, for fear of dropping the cloth and getting embarrassed amongst her peers.
“I’m really grateful for these pads, as I can use it for a year. They have said that when I tie the buttons on the knickers, the pad doesn’t fall. This is very good for me. It is in this camp that I have learnt about these pads. Before this, I only knew about cloth,” Onyera adds.
Everse Munguryek, the gender secretary for Hoima district, thanked Global Rights Alert and AFRIpads for supporting the women and girls in the area. She said that while it might seem as a small issue to people in urban centres, a natural occurrence like a menstrual cycle is keeping many girls in rural areas out of school because this is a sacred time in many cultures.