At Mungere, There Are Days for Girls
It’s Monday morning in Tanzania, and the students of The Mungere School are filing into their first lesson of the day. With an approximately even ration of male to female students, the room is full of learners in bright red sweaters ready to begin their week. Not an empty desk can to found at Mungere, with its proper sanitation facilities that ensure all female students have access to hygienic feminine options. This is a stark difference to many government schools, where the week-long absences of female students is routine, resulting in an estimated total of up to 40 missed days per year for each girl. This also results in females falling behind in their studies and often drop out of school altogether. With a lack of adequate hygiene products and under garments, embarrassment is a common problem and contributes to already established cultural taboos. Thus, female students are often left behind simply for being a female. Expensive commercial brands of sanitary protection are often out of the question, costing an entire day’s working wage, and are often unavailable for many women in rural areas.
A half a world away in Vancouver, Washington, Rotarian and midwife Kathleen HenschFleming and her friends are chatting while the sewing machines in front of them whirl away. Their fingers busily pushing fabrics through the machines, the women are focused and enthusiastic about their current project. They inspect each finished garment carefully, knowing the importance of the quality of each piece. Kathleen and her friends have partnered with the Days for Girls movement, an international organization that aims to grant women in developing countries access to quality, safe, and sustainable feminine hygiene. Following the previous successful efforts of hundreds of kits sewn and donated by supporters Betsy Alderfer and Marga McKay, the women have sewn over 200 feminine hygiene kits.
Following her arrival to Tanzania, Kathleen enters the classroom on a hot and dusty afternoon with three suitcases of kits in tow. The girls look on with anticipation, and founder Ashley Holmer explains that they will each be receiving a feminine hygiene kit, consisting of pads, underwear, washcloth, travel soap, all in a sewn cloth drawstring bag. The girls cheer with appreciation and, as the kits are placed on the table, get more excited about the various bright floral and colorful geometric patterns of their new items.
Kathleen explains that the portable, reusable kits now mean that the girls have whatever they need to take care of themselves, whenever they need it. The students listen as the directions and instructions for caring for their kits are explained and then open for discussion of a quality dialogue on any issues related to women’s health.
While the immediate benefits of these reusable feminine hygiene kits are clear, The Mungere School will take the concept one step further with the creation of a student-run enterprise center. A space to train those to produce items such as these kits from local sustainable materials, the goals are access and empowerment. Reusable products, such as solar lights and mobile phone charging are already sold in the school campus store at affordable prices.
- by Marci Rivera