Written by CorpsAfrica/Malawi Volunteer Ms. Mildred Chirwa
“Bekako skirt yane, ndazinangisyira yaye?” asked one of the girls to her friend to check if her period had tainted her skirt. Volunteering as a teacher at the local community day secondary school has exposed me to some of the challenges that students face, especially my female students. I have realized the things I take for granted are a major concern to the girls in my school.
The anxiety of the possibility of being humiliated every month in front of the whole class and the discomfort and unhygienic nature of traditional materials used during menstruation all became so real. With the GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) Club I work with, Kelsey, a Peace Corps Volunteer, who helped us source materials and trained some students in reusable sanitary pad-making skills. These pads have proved to be cheaper, hygienic, more comfortable, and sustainable (since they can be used more than once).
The reaction I got from the girls when I told them they were going to learn how to sew reusable menstrual pads was overwhelming. So instead of having only one training, we scheduled another session of pad making, but this time around it was the girls teaching other girls how to make the pads. We called this “Girl-to-Girl Pad Making Day.”
Throughout the session, the girls discussed the need to build positive self-esteem for young women. We also discussed safe space and I told them what it is and why it is important to have whenever we are meeting. This made more girls open up on the issues they face surrounding menstruation, and basically it all came down to menstruation being seen as a taboo. No one talks about it in their homes and if they have questions about it, they have no one to ask. I answered some of the questions they had, one being that if you take pain killers during painful periods will your flow stop for good and you won’t be able to have children. Some villages believe that as soon as girls start menstruating, their bodies are naturally ready to start conceiving, hence the rampant cases on early marriages. Health-wise, this is dangerous to girls who start having their periods at an early age, as young as nine.
Some of the misconceptions on menstruation were cleared up, but I know there’s still a lot of work to be done. Since some of the misconceptions put the girl’s health and future at risk we think it is important to have these conversations. The skills that the girls have gained at this training are invaluable, and everyone is required to bring a pad made from local resources at one of our meeting next month.
Finally, an Exchange Volunteer from Morocco, Mouhiddine, visited my site during this session to see how the club is run, with plans to start a GLOW Club in his community. He also learnt how to make reusable sanitary pads and he said he would definitely do the same at his site. Of course the girls were also excited to have a male visitor and an excellent photographer while they worked on their pads.