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Sanitation, hygiene for girls

Can you cook books and feed them to your husband? Stay at home with your mother. Learn to cook and clean. Grow vegetables.

That is one of the many lines from Tsitsti Dangaremba’s famous novel Nervous Conditions that touches on the female role and position in a patriarchal society.

Girls and education were considered a taboo during the pre-colonial and colonial era as they were groomed for marriage and motherhood. Little girls watched their brothers and male cousins go to school to get an education while they stayed at home and prepared themselves for the suitor that brings the bride price that is most satisfying.

But times have changed and, now, there are many organisations in the world with one goal in mind: educate the girl child. One such organisation is the Joshua Foundation, whose mission is “Assisting orphans and their communities in Malawi”.

Established in 1998, the organisation started implementing activities as a Community-based Organisation in Pensulo Village under the leadership of Winnie Kapalamula. It has been involved in different projects, the most recent being the construction of toilets and changing rooms for girls at Chilaweni Day Community Secondary School.

Now, some may wonder and question the necessity of building toilets for girls because, if anything, the foundation should buy books that will further their studies. But picture this: imagine not being able to attend classes because of a monthly period. Yes, of the many factors that hinder girls from pursuing their academic dreams, the biological process known as menstruation stands out, becoming the reason girls fail to attend classes.

You may ask yourself how can a period stop someone from going to school. Well, the girls at Chilaweni will tell you that their inability to take care of themselves during “that time of the month” has been stopping them from attending classes. The girls needed clean toilets and changing rooms which would be helpful when they get their monthlies.

The construction of the toilets came at a special time in the year as 28 May is World Menstrual Hygiene Day. Menstrual Hygiene Day is an annual awareness day that was started by the German NGO, WASH United, whose aim is to dispel notions and misconceptions surrounding menstruation. The day was set up in order to teach girls about menstrual hygiene management as well as raise public awareness on the various effects of menstruation on girls.

Menstrual hygiene management is specifically targeted to girls in developing countries because one in three women do not have access to working toilets. In addition to this, girls face an even greater challenge when they get their menstrual periods and skip five or more days due to lack of, or no access to, sanitary facilities such as sanitary pads, water in schools and disposal bins during their menstruation.

This is exactly what the Country Director Gema Clark and Project Manager Louisa Tsonga of the foundation set out to do. After examining the environmental conditions of the school, Clark and Tsonga embarked on the project of building toilets for women.

Speaking on why t h e organisation decided to build toilets Louisa Tsonga said:

“We, at Joshua Foundation, focus on education and Chilaweni is one of our impact and focus areas. We looked at the issue of absenteeism at the school and discovered that girls were missing classes because of their periods and the pathetic state of their toilets. Not only that; they did not have enough education on menstrual hygiene management. It is our duty to ensure that girls are adequately educated,” Tsonga said.

A Form Three student, Chrissie Kumwenda, said she was delighted that the school has toilets that are in good condition.

“I am very happy because, as a girl, I experience different problems, including menstruation. We did not have toilets that helped us take care of ourselves but, now that we have them, I am happy,” Kumwenda said.

Among other problems girls face, Kumwenda cited that of being in a class with boys, who laugh at girls who ruin their uniform skirts. A s such, the Malawi Girl Guide Association (MAGGA), engaged the students, both boys and girls, in a three day workshop that taught them about menstruation and menstrual management.

Gertrude Binali Ndhlovu, one of MAGGA facilitators, said among one of the topics they taught the students was the ability to make their own reusable sanitary pads because not all the girls can afford shop-bought pads. The association also taught them the physical anatomy of boys and girls and how best the boys can assist a fellow classmate should she be on her menstrual period.

Joshua Foundation together with MAGGA also engaged the girls in a designing exercise on how they would want their toilet to look like.

The toilets were decorated with different paintings inspired by the students and the project.

In order to ensure that the toilets would be kept clean, the girls were taught how best to clean the toilets and how to manage them.

The organisation sponsors over 250 students from primary to tertiary education and plans on expanding their projects to other schools.

There are many ways people can educate the girl child and this is just one of them. This is true symbolism that not all heroes wear capes.

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