Stories 4 Your Heart
Increasing Opportunities for Teen Girls in Rural Uganda
by Amy Schulz
Nyakabungo Girls Secondary Boarding School
When students from the Feather River College Enactus team (social entrepreneurship student organization) traveled to Nyakabungo, Uganda to complete a water pipeline project in January 2013, we learned how many high schools aged girls miss excessive days of schools due to their menstrual cycles, which results in high dropout rates, early marriages and teen pregnancies. The United Nations Children’s Fund estimates that one in ten school-age African girls either skips school during menstruation or drops out entirely because of a lack of hygiene solutions. Studies in Uganda and Ghana have shown that absenteeism decreases significantly when girls have access to sanitary pads and underwear. Girls who complete secondary school are less likely to get HIV or become pregnant when they are young and more likely to have fewer children, earn higher wages in their jobs, and educate their own children.
In Uganda, drop-out rates are high for rural girls. Up to 80% of girls entering primary school will never complete their primary education. Uganda has the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Sub-Saharan Africa with over 30% of Ugandan girls having their first baby by the time they are 18 years. HIV infection rates are 9 times higher in girls than boys the same age and Uganda has one of the highest maternal death rates in the world, 25% of which are from unsafe abortions.
This is a topic that makes most people uncomfortable, but it boils down to providing girls with access to feminine hygiene products could alleviate many other challenges, such as HIV/AIDS, teen pregnancy, lower birth rates, better access to education and health care for children. After realizing that such a simple solution of having access to sanitary pads could mean the difference between a girl continuing her education or forcing her into a life of poverty and few choices, my students decided to act.
Feather River College Enactus students spent the 2013 fall semester researching the issue and possible solutions in Uganda. In our Project-Based Learning with Enactus class, students identified solutions and educated our local community about the issues, resulting in fundraising. Through a project partner in Uganda, we identified a company that produces low cost sanitary pads using recycled newspapers and locally sourced papyrus. Using Pollination Project grant funds, we purchased one thousand sets of pads to serve the 300 girls as Nyakabungo Girls Secondary School to help with immediate needs. Realizing that this was not a long-term solution, we interviewed the girls upon our return to Uganda in June 2014. We learned that the girls were thrilled to have access to the pads, and that their attendance rates have already improved.
To address the challenge of long-term access, we are partnering with Great Lakes Regional College in Kanungu, Uganda (about 10 km from Nyakabungo) to bring a sanitary pad factory to the region. In September 2014, we are funding two people from Great Lakes Regional College to be trained in Kampala on the factory process. When a strategy is in place to start the factory on the college campus, we will assist with fundraising the modest start-up capital of about $4000, which will result in expanded access for girls and women all around the Kanungu District.