Written by CorpsAfrica/Malawi Volunteer Ms. Tusayiwe Sikwese
My last activity as a CorpsAfrica Volunteer was to train the girls in my community in how to make reusable sanitary pads. This was well after I had first learned how to make them after assisting my colleague Sarah with one of her training sessions at her site, and of course during the International Volunteers Day function last December. The training went well, all in all, but there was a bit of a problem.
A day before the scheduled day of training, I was told by the school’s headmistress that another organization was coming to distribute uniforms, pens, notebooks, and sanitary pads to a few girls who were benefiting from their project. As much as I think what they are doing is absolutely amazing and thoughtful, it drained me. The part where they were going to dish out sanitary pads to a selected number of girls is what drained me. Where is the aspect of sustainability?
To be clear, I already knew of the organization’s activities and I have always wanted to ask them if they thought of the sustainability aspect of this particular activity and all these other evaluation related questions that I wish not to delve into. Sadly, I never got the chance.
The reason why I wanted to ask these questions is because these girls only receive the sanitary pads up until their final year of secondary school, and maybe twice a year. My question is, what do they expect the girls to use after they complete their secondary education and are no longer beneficiaries of their project? Wouldn’t it be more effective to join the on-going global activity of teaching these girls how to make reusable sanitary pads? It is great to show them other options like the disposable pads so they know what else is out there, but to simply give them the disposables and not teach them something to fall back on after, something just as comfortable and clean as that is quite unfair and unprogressive.
All I’m saying is, it is better to give these girls the skills to make reusable pads (considering the fact that disposable pads are not really sold in rural areas and they are quite expensive for them) than to give them for some time and just leave them to go back to the unhygienic and uncomfortable ways of managing their monthly periods.
In this case, fishing rods are far cheaper than the fish itself in these rural communities. The reusable pad making materials are readily available in the rural communities, the girls and women already have sewing skills, they just need to be trained.
As drained as I was, I decided to just do as I had planned because I knew for sure that the skills the girls and women acquired will go beyond the community I served in to the surrounding communities. It will help more than the 27 girls and women that I trained.