A group of students from Rice University USA were engaged with the FSD Uganda Global Service Trip program to carry out a health project for addressing menstruation challenges among school going girls in Uganda.
The group comprised 14 global health and social development scholars. The global scholars wanted to understand and gain hands on experience of how to facilitate a menstrual hygiene program in a cross-cultural setting, using locally available resources, social networks and social capital. They also wanted to apply community-based development principles and tools within a Ugandan context. Their program lasted three weeks.
While in Uganda, the global scholars worked with Women and Development foundation (WADF) – FSD Uganda host organization - to start a pilot project on menstrual health. The goal of the project was to engage school communities of Nakibbizi primary school and Namwezi secondary school in promotion of menstrual health for the girls in these schools and initiate social clubs for menstrual assistance. This project targeted teachers, pupils, students, parents and local leaders. The 14 students divided amongst themselves into two groups so as to cover both schools.
The scholars began by assessing the prevailing menstrual health situation in the locality to generate primary data on insights of menstrual health issues. Thereafter, the global scholars started supporting WADF to mobilize communities for constructing separate girls’ washrooms at the two schools, to promote menstrual hygiene and confidentiality amongst school going girls. The scholars concurrently acquired suitable Information, Education and Communication (IEC) materials for menstrual health sensitization and education. The IEC materials focused on: (i) Menstrual and general personal hygiene, (ii) Peer mentoring skills, (iii) Sanitary towels access channels and, (iv) Making personal re-usable sanitary towels which were to be used in sensitizing the school communities and training school health clubs.
After securing the IEC materials, the scholars embarked on creating awareness about the importance of menstrual health to the school communities and forming a Menstrual Health Peer Educator Clubs in each of the schools. The scholars then sensitized and supported the two Peer Educator Clubs with knowledge and skills to independently transfer the acquired knowledge to the rest of the school community and stakeholders using formal and informal channels.
Starting a pilot project was one of the best ways for the global health scholars to assist WADF organization and community stake holders in bridging the gap between the challenges of menstrual health and school going girls in communities of Nakibbizi primary school and Namwezi secondary school. The experience of Rice students on the project exposed them to learning first hand the nature of inequalities that affect young girls in developing countries like Uganda. The experience also offered the scholars an understanding of a true picture of the challenges urban school going girls in towns like Jinja face amidst growing up; and the importance of awareness creation, education and support in community based programs, when dealing with the most vulnerable sections of the community.