Mapalo Chungu, a 14-year-old grade 9 pupil from David Kaunda Secondary School, was gripped with fears of menstruation when she first attended boarding school. There was basic knowledge of maintaining good menstrual hygiene practices at the school, and this always sent chills in her.
However, having the confidence to attend school all the time can make the difference between succeeding and dropping out for many adolescent girls. Thus, CIDRZ came up with a Menstrual Hygiene Management course and toolkit for teachers which is being used to educate pupils, both boys and girls.
While some people treated this opportunity with derision and opted out, curiosity got the better of Mapalo and she decided to attend. Today, she is an inspiration to many at her school.
MHM Crisis due to Lack of Knowledge
Mapalo confessed that at first, she was not comfortable going to school during her menstrual period days. Though she attended class despite the distress, many girls who lack knowledge of how to manage their menstruation are reported with recurrent absenteeism in school every month which subsequently affects their studies.
For, they would not even take part in extra-curricular activities, stay away from the playgrounds and never take part in outdoor activities during their menstrual days due to the possible embarrassment and the pain it brings.
The school matron in charge of the sick bay, Ms. Ikowa Ida, says,
“Previously, when the girls would stain themselves the boys would laugh at them. I used to find sanitary pads in the shower, on the soap racks, sometimes they would try to flush them down the toilets. It used to block somewhere then open on the other side of the fence. As a result, there would be infections that came because someone could not change the pad or dispose it in the right way.”
This poor sanitary condition contributed to dysentery, at some point in time, at David Kaunda National Technical School in Lusaka.
Introduction of MHM Toolkit brings revival
During the training, the facilitator taught on what menstruation is, the different cycles, what you use when you are undergoing this process and most important part of all was breaking the silent taboo of discussing the topic between boys and girls.
“They taught us how to be more open and free about the topic without having any feeling of regret, doubt or fear. I shared the information with my roommates and they were like, ‘Ah! The boys didn’t laugh and start making jokes when you were done?’ When I reassured them that was not the case, the next day I came with one, the next day another one, then the last day everyone came. They also appreciated the programme.”
Matron Ikowa also recalls,
“What we found very interesting and what was not there before is the involvement of boys. We found the teaching useful for everyone! The boys said they were going to help their sisters at home. The MHM toolkit has helped keep our environment clean. It has helped the first-time girls be aware of what is happening to them. The course has helped the big girls manage their menstrual cycle whether they have light or heavy flows. Apart from that, it has helped us know that when girls are on their menstrual they should not just rely on the sanitary pads that they buy in the shops. That they can also improvise using the washable pads that they were taught to make and use.”
The girls were also advised on precautionary measures to take the pain away such as taking warm water and painkillers that came along with the MHM toolkit supplies.
“I realised that there are people in boarding in similar situations who also go through menstruation and still manage to have a normal life. It shouldn’t be something that drags you down or affects other school programs. It prepares me for adult life and some other intense circumstances,” says Mapalo.
At the hostels, there has been a lot of change. There has been an improvement in the disposal of sanitary pads and general hygiene. Now the girls change their pads regularly and infections have reduced.
Preparing for a Hygienic Generation
Matron Ikowa says,
“I now freely talk about menstrual hygiene management regardless of who is there. I would recommend that it should be implemented in the school curriculum so that the children can grow up with it and the next generation can be better than ours.”
Today, Mapalo serves as an example to rest of the students. They started taking interest in maintaining the sanitary blocks and making the students aware of the best hygiene practices.