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Breaking barriers of period poverty

JACK ZIMBA, Lusaka
WHEN Mrinalini Nautiyal visited Zambia a few months ago as part of an educational tour for students from an affluent school in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, she did not know she would leave a lasting impact among some vulnerable girls at a community school in Lusaka West.
Although separated by culture, perhaps religion, too, and definitely economic status, the girls from JESS Arabian Ranches and those from Mothers Without Borders community school had one common issue to deal with – menstrual hygiene.
One of the aims of the team of 11 pupils and two teachers from JESS school was to initiate a period empowerment project that would help girls manage their menstrual hygiene better.
And they targeted Mothers Without Borders orphanage and community school.
The orphanage, established in 2001, has 59 children in residence, including special needs children and some who are HIV-positive.
Some of the children at the centre were rescued from abusive homes, while some were born from mentally challenged women.
Mothers Without Borders also runs a community school that has 760 pupils, of which 480 are girls. According to Josephine Daka, who manages the centre, the girls at the community school had a lot of difficulties dealing with menstrual hygiene.
“For the girls attending our school, it was very hard to protect themselves during that time of the month, so you would find a lot of absenteeism because the girls stayed home because they didn’t have something to wear,” she said.
“Menstrual hygiene was a big challenge,” said Josephine.
The pupils at the community school come from hard-up homes and most of them could not afford sanitary wear.
She said the change came when Mrinalini and her friends from Dubai taught the girls how to make their own sanitary pads. Josephine said it was interesting to see girls from another part of the world share knowledge about menstrual hygiene.
“It was very interesting because it was peer-to-peer. The interaction started with the girls from Dubai sharing their experiences, telling the girls ‘I also go through this every month’.”
“It was nice for the girls to hear it from girls from another part of the world,” she said.
Josephine said the girls at the community school still talk about the interaction with fondness.
But it has also had a great impact on the education of girls. According to Josephine, since the initiative started, the class attendance for girls has improved a lot.
The noble work of the pupils from Dubai attracted the attention of ETG Parrogate, a leading agro processing and supply business, which got involved in the project by buying sewing machines and materials to use in making the sanitary pads.
ETG Parrogate, itself, has a strong corporate social responsibility footprint in Zambia. The company has supported various communities in Zambia with clean and safe drinking water through the sinking of boreholes, as well as improving access to education through the building of school classrooms and provision of teaching and learning aids.
ETG Parrogate also provides economic empowerment to women clubs through funding of income-generating projects, mostly in rural parts of the country where it mostly has a business footprint.
“The visit of Ms Mrinalini Nautiyal and her fellow pupils and teachers from JESS Arabian Ranches for the period empowerment project opened the organisation to a whole new dimension of the unique needs of a girl,” says Emmanuel Mbewe, who is cmmunications manager for ETG Parrogate.
“The conviction with which the team shared their mission with Mothers Without Borders left no doubt in the mind of the director of ETG Parrogate of the nobility of this cause.
Parrogate graciously donated towards the costs of buying sewing machines, laundry soap and undergarments for the girls at the orphanage. Thus, was born in ETG Parrogate a true interest in the activities of the Mothers Without Borders orphanage,” he said.
The challenge now is getting more fabric to make more pads for girls at the school and the community.
“We need fabric all the time so that we can make some more,” Josephine said. But the girls at Mothers Without Borders at least have one lasting solution to a pressing problem.
And it was all thanks to the sincere, caring, and loving efforts of Mrinalini and her fellow peers and teachers at JESS Arabian Ranches in Dubai who undertook the journey to visit Mothers Without Borders in Lusaka and created change. Back in Dubai, the team are happy that they left a lasting impact thousands of kilometres away from home.
They shared their memories on the school Instagram page. “We cannot thank Emmanuel and the team from Parrogate Group enough; who went out of their way to meet us and the girls at Mothers Without Borders. They have made life-changing impacts on these young women by supporting this project,” they shared.