Anyone who knows me will tell that I can be, er, verbose. Read: I use too many words. Particularly when I love something as much as I love Mother Nature Partnership – and when I believe in something as strongly as I believe in our impact – I can tend to ramble. So I thought I would put faith in the old adage that a picture is worth a thousand word. (By extension, twenty photos are worth twenty thousand words, right?)
Here is a look at our girls’ program in Wabane District in Cameroon. This community has welcomed us in to work with girls in high school, by providing access to information and reusable supplies for menstrual care. Because when you have quality menstrual care, you are free to stop worrying about your period and start living your life freely. Enjoy this snapshot of the moments that shape our work, and the people we are privileged to work in partnership with.
Girls are at the centre of everything we do. Maybe one day this beautiful baby girl will participate in our program when she is a student! Her mama is a teacher who will be able to guide her through her own menstrual evolution.
Girls watch the program with rapt attention. Students often congregate outside of the classroom doors and windows to see what the program is all about. In each school we work with, the program is open to girls students from every grade.
A local shopkeeper in Wabane District provides supplies for the community. Sanitary pads from this shop cost about $10 USD – a cost that is universally prohibitive to girl students. The result? Most girls use nothing at all or makeshift unhygienic supplies for menstrual care.
Principals welcome us into their schools and make us feel proud to be a part of the community. They have their students’ best interests at heart. Working with these school leaders is important to making a lasting impact and being a part of the individual fabric of that school. But – male teachers and principals are asked to leave the girls’ program, to much laughter from the girls!
A teacher from Wabane District congregates with other women for a group conversation that is focussed on the needs, challenges and solutions in the community. The conversation over dinner touches everything from the students, to family planning, to menstrual care, to marriage norms. This woman and I connected as we were both in our third trimester of pregnancy at the time.
Elders from the community are pivotal to understanding how we can make a lasting impact. Community leaders like this man care deeply about the girls in their community. In partnership with them we discuss tactics for increasing graduation rates among girls, as well as providing every girl student with the materials and information she needs to fully participate at school and realize health and happiness.
Every participant has the choice between reusable cups from Femmecup or a reusable Afripads kit donated from Lunapads’ One4Her program. This choice is based on each girl’s personal preference, and comes with training on how to use the supplies safely and keep them clean for years to come.
This teacher is quickly rifling through supplies to make sure that girl students have their choice of reusable menstrual cups or pads.
Underwear are provided to all participants so that they have a hygienic, reliable pair to wear during menstruation.
The teachers in Wabane District are a smart and talented group, and they drive how to best bring the programming to their students.
A teacher guides her student in learning how to use reusable pads. This girl was in a classroom where no one knew what menstruation was – but it turned out that 6 girls had already experienced menses without knowing what it was. Access to information is essential: armed with knowledge, a girl has incredible power.
Tracking and reporting our impact is important, so that we can learn what has huge impact and what needs to be improved for future programs. Surveys are distributed at the beginning of the program and then 6 months later, to measure changes and impact over time.
A flurry of activity! The sessions with the girl students are fun, engaging and very loud. The room buzzes with excitement.
Never has “going to the Principal’s office” been so positive: before every workshop, we meet with the school’s Principal to discuss the students and the best approach for that particular school. Informal dialogue continues with the Principal at other opportunities, to make sure we have as much information as possible.
Girls and boys from every grade flock with excitement to a school-wide assembly that emphasizes the importance of getting an education. This theme is a thread that goes throughout our programming.
We believe it is important to bring our program to the hardest-to-reach schools. A day-long journey over hostile terrain brings us to the most remote school in Wabane District, and the response from the girl students makes it worth the trip. We continue to be committed to reaching every girl, regardless of geography, income and other factors.
Three students examine a reusable menstrual pad, smiling and in awe. For many of the girls, they have never seen or heard of these before, and there are audible “oohs!” and “ahhhs!” from students during the demonstration of how to use and care for the supplies. This is particularly true from the older girls that have already started menstruating.
To grow and learn, we need to track what works as well as where we fall short. This is a late night stapling session as we put the finishing touches on the pre- and post-program surveys, the night before our first workshop. These surveys track a whole host of information about the participants, from menstrual health knowledge to available income for menstrual supplies to behaviours around school attendance and menstrual care.
Girls thoughtfully fill out their pre-program surveys, to help Mother Nature Partnership learn from them about their needs, behaviours, thoughts and preferences. These an important tool for us to improve our programming every year.
We come full circle: at the heart of our program is the freedom, access and happiness of each and every girl that we have the privilege to work in partnership with.
All photographs and text by Irene Whittaker-Cumming, Executive Director of Mother Nature Partnership. This is the first in a series of blog about Mother Nature Partnership’s girls’ program in Cameroon.