March 20, 2010
SHE’s not just about pads. SHE’s about sparking conversations with girls and women about their periods, their bodies and their health. We had the pleasure of having one such conversation this past Saturday in a small village boarding school in Rwanda.
Early in the morning, Elizabeth and I met Justin and Dorothy, two of SHE’s interns (see picture), at the bus station in Kigali (it was so early that Bourbon Coffee did not yet have their ice for the day so we tried their hot coffee…divine!) We headed off to Nyamagabe, a district in the southwest of Rwanda, passing thru Butare, the major university town in Rwanda. From Nyamagabe we traveled another 30 minutes by mini-bus to a village called Tare where the menstruation management training session was being held.
We jumped off the crowded mini-bus and met the community health worker. Accompanied by a throng of small children (we learned several useful phrases from Justin to keep the little ones at bay), we strolled over to Tare’s boarding school, a secondary school for boys and girls from all over Rwanda sitting atop a hill overlooking gorgeous lush green valleys. Several students were playing volleyball when we arrived. It was, in a word, idyllic.
We were greeted at the school gate by a very handsome, very friendly young man who we learned was the school’s disciplinarian (talk about perverse incentives!). Within a few minutes, 70 or 80 students, both teenage boys and girls were packed three to a row into a classroom with a blackboard and wooden benches (reminiscent of the schoolroom in Little House on the Prairie). The previous day’s lesson (in French) was still on the blackboard. Apropos our visit, the students had been learning about the
As soon as the discussion began (and reference was made to menstruation), all of the boys streamed out of the room (which was fine, since it allowed the conversation to flow better – pun intended!). The community health worker and SHE’s interns led the discussion (in Kinyarwandan-which I have picked up in my 2 weeks here, just kidding, the interns were taking notes in English and a lot could be gleaned from observation).
The students had a lot of questions – about irregular periods, about condoms, and about getting cheaper pads (most of the students currently use rags). Two students gave a lively demonstration on how to use a sanitary napkin (see photo). Justin, Dorothy and the community health worker answered the questions they could on the spot and the rest were collected for follow up.
Although I did not catch every word, the take away was that the girl students were bursting to talk about their periods, their health and how to protect themselves. Next steps are to provide feedback to Fatima, the training guru, on how to fine tune the menstruation curriculum and training approaches to address the questions and concerns we heard at Tare.
Guest Blogger and SHE Legal Extraordinaire Adviser