Overcoming Obstacles to Keep Girls in School: Sustainable, Environmental, and Economic Practices
by Anita Henderlight
August 18, 2009
Shortly after NESEI opened our first girls' boarding secondary school in South Sudan, we observed that many of the girls skipped classes routinely each month. Why? Because they did not have necessary supplies for comfort or cleanliness during menstruation. Most were using leaves or old rags to absorb their flow.
We began to supply the students with "comfort kits" - disposable sanitary products imported from more industrialized countries. They met our primary goal - keeping our girls in school.
We soon realized that we would eventually spend more on comfort kits than tuition fees and that we were creating a disposal and environmental problem in a community that had no functioning way to deal with garbage. We needed a financially and culturally appropriate solution - one that would keep girls self-assured and in class.
Thus, the NESEI sanitary pad sewing project was born. A generous group of people from York, South Carolina, invested $250 in a treadle sewing machine and donated patterns, fabric, thread, and needles. Our students begin making their own sanitary pads.
The locally-made pads are absorbent, soft and inexpensive to make. And because they are reusable, they are environmentally and community friendly.
In the first two months of the sewing project, the students made 500 pads. School attendance and personal hygiene have improved. And now the girls are coming up with a plan for a small business packaging and selling surplus pads to girls and women in the surrounding villages.
NESEI hopes to build capacity so we can help the girls market pads to other NGOs working in South Sudan. The girls will use the extra income to purchase additional scholastic materials and other needed items.
The sanitary pad program is another NESEI example of empowerment at work - a small investment is giving our girls the opportunity to find practical solutions to real problems.
In September, NESEI will launch a new, updated website (www.nesei.org) with information about the sanitary pad project and other programs which are contributing to the improved health and welfare of our young Sudanese friends.
**NESEI is a proud partner of the HTHH Global Health Coalition.