Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Village Girl's Initiative Attracts Global Attention

TWS||Vincent Buruga in Torit|Nick Waigwa

As the echo of the International Women’s Day (IWD) 2015 fades away, the audible voice of Achola Beatrice, a young South Sudanese woman remains high as is told by her visible determination to ensure that the dignity of women in her village and beyond is secured and sustainably preserved. 
 
Achola Beatrice_Pic Credit_ Vincent Buruga
Her efforts further highlight and amplify the voice of poor women living in challenging post conflict environments. The call by such women for a woman sensitive Financing for Development beyond 2015 may never live to be heard.

Encounter Achola Beatrice, a 15-year-old primary school pupil from Magwi County in Eastern Equatoria State, one of the 10 regional administrative States of South Sudan. Beatrice is revolutionizing Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) in her Lobure village located in the outskirts of Magwi Township. 

She introduced Re-Usable Menstrual Pad (RUMP) production. Her inspiration came from the need to improve the general hygiene of girls and mothers in her village. Achola learnt the skills of RUMPS production from the health club at Magwi Central Primary School.

Beatrice started producing RUMPS as a part time activity. After a busy day in school, she and her two girlfriends meet to make reusable sanitary pads. It never occurred to her that her par time activity would one day command a global attention.

“I do this to maintain our personal hygiene and also to keep the skills, we also need to improve our village. I called my two friends Tugulu and Flora Ajango and started to teach them how to make the re-usable pads,” narrated Achola when asked about how her initiative began.

Achola recalled how on one evening her mother tasked her to explain why she called in home late from school. Her explanation that it was due to a training session on RUMPS production she was attending triggered her mother’s interest in interrogating her further about the project.

The new skills her daughter had acquired impressed Achola’s mother to a point that she expressed willingness to learn and even suggested to her daughter to consider sharing her skills with other women in the village. 

This is how you stitch it it_ Achola teaches her mother how to make a RUMP
 “I told my mother we delayed for training on production of re-usable pads. She then asked me to bring the RUMPS material we use at school to teach her and that I should tell our trainers to visit our home as well. My mother then told me that since most women in the village have little income; we could share the initiative of re-usable menstrual pads for them to keep their hygiene” Achola.

As Achola’s mother implored her to teach as many women and girls in the village as possible, Achola in return posed a challenged to her mother to mobilize the women.
“I told my mother to mobilize her peers as I do to the young girl and the women were willing to acquire the skills of RUMPS production,” says the initiator of the village RUMPs group.

Achola Beatrice also co-opted 16-year-old Obina Sovan, who is also a member of the school Health Club to her team with the aim of sensitizing boys and men on Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM).

“We don’t only look at RUMPs and general hygiene alone but also breaking the silence on menstruation and to eradicate teasing of girls by boys. That is why we needed Obina’s presence,” she said. 

Obina is happy to be in Achola Beatrice’s RUMPS production project, says his role is to sensitize boys to stop laughing at girls when they are undergoing their menstrual cycle, and fathers to offer help to their daughters during menstruation.

Achola’s RUMPs trainees in Lobure village include: housewives, civil servants and university students. Armed with a note book and a pen is Amal Jackline, a beneficiary of Achola’s RUMPs production lessons.
 The second year student at Uganda’s Bugema University explained to the visitors the components of a RUMP as well as how it is used. 
 
Amal Jackline in action at Lobure Village in Magwi County
“Achola has taught us that the RUMPs comprises of three elements; the liner with 16 x11 cm, the Wing pad measures 11 x 8 cm and the Straight pad measuring 11x 6 cm. At the beginning of menstruation when the blood flow is high, one fixed the wing pad in the liner, attached to the pant with a button and wears it and when the blood reduces you fix straight pad to use”. Amal

Amal describes Achola Beatrice as creative initiator with a heart for a village she believes has been abandoned and left out in many government’s development projects due to its distance from the town centre. 

Members of Achola Beatrice’s women group named “Reber Aye Teko” in Acholi language with its motto “Let it happen”, plan to grow the project to an income generating activity.

They are appealing well wishers to help them secure a sewing machine and offer support for further training on tailoring to boost the skills they have already received from Achola on Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM).

Unexpected project impact attracts organization’s attention

SNV-Netherlands, a development Organisation contracted Hope for children and Women Foundation to implement the project after a study revealed that poor menstrual hygiene management was contributing to the high number of truancy from schools among girls in the area.

Ms. Atim Veronica, a trainer with Hope for Children and Women Foundation, explains that Re-Usable Menstrual Pads are made of special cotton materials. These materials are readily available from the local market and customers could be linked to suppliers for materials, which are not available in the local market.
It is the economic viability of the re-usable menstrual pads that the SNV project anticipated that it would improve school attendance and general hygiene of girls in poor rural areas.

“The advantage of the RUMPs is that one can use and then wash it to be used again another day after drying it in hygienic environment” Atim

Impressed by Achola’s initiative, the Hope for Children and Women Foundation’s Director, David Makubi commends Lobure Village mothers for embracing the project. 

Achola Beatrice with her schoolmates at Magwi Central Primary School
 “Our object was that the girls share the knowledge with other girls who might have dropped out of school and others from schools where the project is not implemented. I’m overwhelmed by the involvement of the mothers!” Makubi.

Achola’s initiative fascinates SNV’s Eastern Equatoria State’s Menstrual Hygiene Management Project Officer, Pasquina Acidria who led the Organization’s Communications Specialist to Lobure village.

Describing Achola Beatrice as a real agent of change in her community, Acidria thanked Beatrice for her remarkable effort revealing that her organization never expected that the project’s impact would go beyond her school to transforming mothers’ life in Lobure village.

Ms. Acidria noted that the community initiative was not with the SNV project scope but Achola’s creativity had impressed and pulled the organizations’ officials to the village.

She explained that the expected impacts of the project centred on increased enrollment and retention of girls in schools, improvement of their attendance and performance in classes but not on extension of the skills to the community. 

“This project was mainly focusing on schools. That’s why we never engaged the communities in the rural areas but Achola has made us drive to her village to witness the wonders she has done to her people by sharing the knowledge on RUMPs production. I must say that this is an impact we never expected. I congratulate Achola for transferring the knowledge from school to transform the women in this village” Remarked Acidria.

The SNV Menstrual Hygiene Management Project officer took the opportunity presented by Achola Beatrice’s efforts to remind parents of the importance of taking their children to school.

Reber Aye Teko RUMP Initiative Group Members in Lobure Village
 “You can now see for your selves how children can be powerful in educating us in our homes? Most interestingly, your daughter, who learnt from school, has brought the skills you have acquired to you. You might have not gotten the opportunity to attend the training on Menstrual Hygiene Management directly from SNV, but at least through your daughter, you have acquired the skills,” she told the beneficiaries of Achola’s Initiative.

Acidria assured the group of SNV support towards strengthening Lobure village’s women capacity in their ambition to grow the “Reber Aye Teko” RUMP production initiative to a sustainable income generating project.

 “It’s encouraging that you are thinking deep and broad to commercialize re-usable menstrual pads production. We do not provide hand-outs but we will continue to strengthen your capacity to achieve goals for the skills you have acquired” Ms. Acidria

SNV’s Global Communications Specialist, Nick Greenfield who was visiting the village to document SNV projects confessed that although the organization implements similar projects in other countries, the impact of the of the Lobure Village RUMP project is amazingly outstanding.

“Menstrual Hygiene Management is implemented in Ethiopia, Tanzania, Uganda, Zimbabwe and South Sudan, but around these countries, we had many great stories of change but nowhere have we had a story quite like the one that is happening here” Said Nick

He congratulated Achola Beatrice and her mother for opening the doors of their village to the rest of the world expressing hope that their village’s success story would go a long way inspiring other women across villages South Sudan and in other countries. 

Reber Aye Teko Women group members may not be aware of the up coming Financing for Development FfD Conference between 13th and 16th July in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia but they, just like other women elsewhere in the world hope that world leaders will live up to their commitment to address the challenge of financing for sustainable development. They hope that their leaders will make real their ambition to eradicate poverty and ensure gender equality and promote all human rights including the right to development.  
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