April 9, 2024



No more stains for girls in northeastern Uganda

By Irene Best Nyapendi
At Kalotom Primary School in northeastern Uganda, Patricia (full identity withheld) started her menstrual cycle with no knowledge what the blood discharge was about and that it had stained her skirt. The girl, age 14, was not only confused but shattered emotionally by classmates who mocked her. 

Gerald Emmanuel Abura, the brains behind the “Pad a Girl” initiative
Gerald Emmanuel Abura, the brains behind the “Pad a Girl” initiative

“I was in class when I heard the girls and boys laughing at me, saying my dress was stained,” Patricia said. “I didn’t know. When I saw the blood, I felt embarrassed. Tears just flowed down my cheeks.”

At home, Patricia’s mother says she has no money to buy her daughter sanitary pads. As a result, the teen resorts to catching the discharge with old pieces of cloth. On days when the flow is too heavy, she stays away from school, hence missing class. 

Patricia is not alone. Hers is a story of many. 

Elizabeth (full identity withheld), a Senior Four student at St. Daniel Comboni in Napak District, also uses old pieces of cloth.   

On days when Elizabeth runs out of cloth, she relies on more frequent bathing. Additionally, for her, this first period marked the onset of a battle against cultural pressure to be a woman – get married, have babies. This, she is told, is a solution to the embarrassment of bleeding and no money to afford pads.

To finance her education but not pads, Elizabeth brews and sells local alcohol.

“My friends always tell me to get a boyfriend who will buy me pads,” Elizabeth said. “Sometimes it gets really hard and it hurts when I don’t have any spare clothes to use.” 

Students of Matany Primary listening to the UCU team
Students of Matany Primary listening to the UCU team

Lillian, a pupil at Matany Primary School in Napak, has relied on pieces of cloth from her mother’s old bed sheets every time she’s in her periods.  When the periods of the 16-year-old start unexpectedly at school, she ties a sweater around her waist and immediately returns home. 

The stories of Lillian, Elizabeth and Patricia exemplify the silent suffering of many adolescent girls for whom poverty denies the basic dignity of menstrual hygiene.

A 2020 report by Uganda’s Ministry of Education and Sports says one out of every four girls aged 12 to 18 drops out of school upon the onset of menstruation, leading to the increase in absenteeism rates from 7% to 28% during their menstrual cycle.

Jackline Atim, the Deputy Headteacher of Matany Primary School, is a witness to the harsh reality faced by adolescent girls.

“It is a common thing here for girls to lack pads,” Atim said. “Desperation drives some of them to consider dropping out.”

However, amidst this suffering, somehow, Good

A pupil shows off a pad she received from the UCU team
A pupil shows off a pad she received from the UCU team

Samaritans, once in a while, provide hope. One example was the recent visit to the area by students of Uganda Christian University (UCU) under the “Pad a Girl” initiative. This initiative helps financially-stressed girls in their menstrual periods stay in school by providing for them and teaching them how to make reusable sanitary towels.

Led by Gerald Emmanuel Abura, a UCU student pursuing Bachelor of Social Work and Social Administration, the initiative was borne by the experience that Abura’s female classmate faced many years ago.

“My friend got up from her seat, and little did she know that her skirt was stained,” Abura narrates. “I was in shock when other students started laughing at her, instead of helping her.”

Abura’s friend didn’t return to school again. 

On March 22, Abura and 26 other UCU students visited three schools in northeastern Uganda — Matany Primary School, St. Daniel Comboni Secondary School and Kalotom Primary School. For this outreach, UCU provided transport and contributed towards meals and accommodation for the team that traveled to northeastern Uganda.

A UCU student donating household items to members of the community
A UCU student donating household items to members of the community

They taught both teachers and students how to make reusable pads, and also distributed the materials for making pads. The outreach also involved lessons on the law, menstrual health and the importance of education

The students distributed 600 reusable pads and 768 packets of disposable pads, ensuring that no girl misses school due to lack of a sanitary towel.  The charity benefited more than 300 students, over 100 community members, including 41 widows, and more than 100 church members. 

Irene Nabwire Ojambo, UCU’s head of the Counseling Department, said the “Pad a Girl” initiative extends beyond supplying pads. The initiative teaches girls how to track their menstrual cycles, empowering them to take control of their health and education.

Miriam Teko, one of the teachers at Kalotom Primary School, said: “Some parents do not provide for their children. I’m so grateful to UCU students who have given our students pads.” 

Grace Agape Asiimah, a final-year student of Bachelor of Laws at UCU, used the opportunity to teach the students about their rights. “You have a right to education. Don’t work when you should be in school.”

The UCU students also reached out to the members of the community, distributing shoes, clothes, and other household items. 

Asiimah Onyang Lillian, a mother struggling to make ends meet after her husband abandoned her, expressed gratitude for the support received.

“Every day is a struggle for survival, but thanks to the UCU students, who have given me clothes, pads, soap and sugar,” she said. “I feel blessed amidst my hardships.”

Last year, the “Pad a Girl” initiative was in Buikwe, central Uganda, for the same purpose. This year’s campaign was funded by Period Equity, Kisoboka Africa – It’s possible, Compassion Uganda, UCU students and staff.