Beatrice Achola, 18, exhales as she arrives from school to join the women amidst the clatter of sewing machines, which are surrounded by a muddle of pink and blue material, scissors and tape measures. Behind them, heaps of pink fluffy cross-shaped cloths are draped across the veranda.
In this remote village of Mogas in Magwi, some 145 kilometres south of Juba, Achola was among the first pupils to learn how to make Reusable Menstrual Pads (RUMPs), a bid to enable pupils to attend school even during their periods.
Achola was so fascinated by the innovation, designed by the Hope for Children and Women Foundation, with funding from Netherlands Development Organization and UNICEF, that she quickly shared the knowledge with her mother and together they taught other village women how to make the pads.
I would not go to school during my periods because I would end up having boys shouting at me.
“Before we learnt how to make RUMPs, and there was no money to purchase pads, I would not go to school during my periods because I would end up having boys shouting at me,” Achola says. “I prefer the RUMPs because I can use them many times and be able to be in school always.”
This resulted into the women forming Ribe Ya Teko, or “Coming together is strength”, a group which meets every afternoon to make pads.
In Magwi, sanitary supplies are expensive and beyond the means of most young girls and women. A disposable pack will go for just about 50 South Sudanese pounds (about one U.S. dollar), which is unattainable for rural families with little or no income. Aba Alice Joseph, the women’s group chairperson, explained that the women make the RUMPs with the intention of promoting girls’ education and improving hygiene.
Typically girls use various materials including pieces of mattresses, leaves, tree trunks, other girls dig holes in the ground to collect their menstrual blood while others use herbs to reduce blood flow, according to a Netherlands Development Organization research into studies on menstrual hygiene. These are ineffective, uncomfortable and can lead to infections.
Young women who lack the knowledge and resources to manage their menstruation, not only miss school, but also face stigma and shame from their male and female peers. Appropriate latrine facilities where girls can wash themselves during the day make it more convenient for girls to attend school during their periods.
The funders have also sponsored the construction of a girl friendly toilet with running water, a pit latrine with wash rooms as well as a changing room to make it convenient for the girls to attend school during their periods.
Menstruation is treated as a private issue and not spoken about, this leaves girls shy and only able to discuss it among themselves in hushed tones.
We are now completely self-reliant.
The pads are made of cotton or flannel and are soft, absorbent, and breathable and fit to the body. The women’s group that makes the RUMPs has seen their lives improve greatly since they began the project in 2014.
“We are now completely self-reliant – from the RUMPs sales we are able to pay our children’s school fees and save some money to invest in our agricultural projects as well,” says Amal Jackeline, the group’s coordinator.
The Hope for Children and Women Foundation makes sure the women have a continued supply of the material needed for the production. The project has gained widespread appeal in schools, for example, the Magwi Primary School plans to purchase the pads from the women to supply school girls. “We have a school gardening project which creates an income for the school to be able to purchase RUMPs for the girls so that they can request them when in need from the senior woman teacher,” explains the Head Teacher, Ochan Mike Oyet.