A brave group of Ugandan schoolchildren have made it their mission to break the taboo around periods in their country.
The teenagers from the remote region of Karamoja dub themselves the Period Club and sing, rap and perform plays about menstrual hygiene in a bid to debunk menstruation myths.
They are also teaching their community to make reusable sanitary pads to help improve women’s health – breaking down menstrual taboos and restoring women’s dignity, while also getting girls back into school.
The inspiring youngsters, from St Mary’s School in Namalu, used to go to the toilet in the bush and girls often skipped lessons when on their period – but now they are working closely with WaterAid to change that.
These brave Ugandan students are helping transform lives in their community with their WASH Club (water, sanitation and hygiene) – and using drama, music and games to spread the word
The charity has helped improve school life by building latrines and teaching students about the importance of good sanitation and hygiene, as well how to safely manage their periods and make reusable sanitary pads.
The students are now helping transform lives in their community by forming a WASH Club (water, sanitation and hygiene) – using drama, music and games to spread the message.
One in 10 adolescent girls across Africa misses school due to menstruation and then eventually drop out, according to UNESCO.
Oxford University found that absence among girls is 17 per cent higher in Ugandan schools where sanitary pads or puberty education are not provided; equal to nearly three and a half days of school a month.
Student Dennis Lopeot, 14, is passionate about performing songs about menstruation. He said: ‘It is good for boys to know about periods too so that they can teach their sisters’
School girls act during a performance to raise awareness of hygiene practices. In Uganda, a staggering 32 million people don’t have access to a decent toilet
WASH Club member Ether Longok aged 15 (left) shows Martha Ibilat, aged 11 (right) how to sew together the fabric to make a sanitary towel at St Mary’s School, Namalu, Nakapiripirit District
Materials used to make sanitary pads are shown at St Mary’s School. In Uganda, 32 million people don’t have access to a decent toilet and women often miss school while on their period
Vivian Akol, aged 15, holds materials used to make sanitary pads at St Mary’s School. In her village, some believe that sitting on rocks would relieve period pain
Sixteen-year-old Esther Longok, 16, a student at St Mary’s, said: ‘Before, when we told our parents to buy us pads, they told us to just use our knickers. Disposable pads are expensive, and when girls didn’t know how to make pads they would have to miss school, maybe for three days.
‘In our hygiene club, we have learned how to make sanitary pads, and also teach our friends about menstruation. Now things are changing!
There are many myths around menstruation in Karamoja, such as the belief that stepping on groundnuts while on your period would stop them growing, and sitting on rocks would relieve period pain.
Students sing during a performance to raise awareness of hygiene practices in Namalu. Some students have built latrines at home after learning the importance of good sanitation
Youngsters walk through Namalu town during a march to raise awareness of good sanitation. Boys as well as girls have embraced the initiative, making it more normal to talk about periods
Sharon Chelimo, aged 14, holds up a sign during a march to raise awareness of hygiene practices in Namalu last month – reading ‘Wash your hands regularly’
Fellow student Fiona, 15, added: ‘In villages, some say that if a girl starts menstruation she is ready to marry.
‘It’s true that you can bear children but you are not ready to marry because you are still young. I first want to finish my studies, get my job, then marry.’
Boys as well as girls have embraced the initiative, helping end the stigma and making it more normal to talk about periods, bringing change throughout the community.
Student Dennis, 14, is passionate about performing his own songs about menstruation.
Former St Mary’s school student and Welthungerhilfe facilitator Ritah Lokol (centre) sits with pupils in class (L-R) Abraham Aleper, aged 18, Dennis Lopeot, aged 14, Esther Longok, aged 15, Beatrice Ajok, aged 15, Fiona Anyakun, aged 15 and Sharon Chelimo aged 14
Esther Longok, aged 15 (right) helps her mother Maritina Akol wash the dishes at her home near Namalu. The teen has been learning to make sanitary pads in her hygiene club
Esther walks to her home near Namalu. One in 10 adolescent girls across Africa misses school due to menstruation and then eventually drop out, according to UNESCO
He said: ‘It is good for boys to know about periods too so that they can teach their sisters. In my songs I talk about menstruation and other things.
‘Spreading my message about hygiene through songs is good. Here, many people defecate out in the open; if they hear my message, they may dig latrines at home.’
In Uganda, 32 million people don’t have access to a decent toilet. Fiona’s family built a latrine at home after she learned the importance of good sanitation at school.
Her mother Alice, 62, said: ‘I am proud of Fiona. She is the one who told me to construct a latrine and taught us how to make reusable pads. The knowledge that Fiona has brought me is really helping all of us.’