In South Sudan, girls must overcome many obstacles to enter and stay in school. Sometimes, for those coming from low-income families, lacking basic hygienic supplies, such as soap or sanitary pads, can tip the balance and cause them to forfeit their right to education.
Teen girls interviewed by UMCOR staff members in South Sudan confirmed that many girls choose not to attend school during their menstrual periods, mostly to avoid ridicule by male students. To reduce the risk of girls missing out on classes, UMCOR South Sudan, through its Girls Education in South Sudan(GESS) project, partnered with the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) to provide “dignity kits.” Through the three-month project, 18,863 teenage girls from 476 schools received in-kind hygiene/dignity kits from UNICEF. Martha A. tells her story in Aweil Town.
Photo by UMCOR South Sudan.
My name is Martha A. I am a class 8 student at Aweil Salam Girls Primary School in Aweil Town. I come from a poor household. I remember before the GESS project, I would miss school because my family couldn’t pay my school fees. Through the GESS project, I received a grant that made it possible for me to pay my examination fees and buy books and a few personal items.
While the GESS project helped, the high cost of sanitary pads and the lack of the pads in the market meant I had to skip some days of school. Other challenges I have experienced include: several men asking my father for my hand in marriage, which he has so far refused; the lack of scholastic materials; and other needs—such as soap for bathing and washing my clothes.
Many times, when I didn’t have the money to pay the examination fees, I was forced to stay home and miss classes. This affected my performance. Often, I contemplated dropping out of school altogether—but something inside of me told me to keep trying, hoping that everything would work out.
While staying at home during my menstrual period spared me abuse by male students and provided temporary comfort, I was constantly worried that I was losing the battle to stay in school. I felt like the world was against me. My father has given me the opportunity to study, but there were just so many other obstacles along my way. It seemed hopeless, and I am sure many other girls experience the same.
But then, through the UMCOR GESS project, I received a hygiene kit from UNICEF. It included a comb, two towels, six black underwear, a clothes’ rope, four bars of bathing soap, a flashlight, a reusable sanitary kit, and a UNICEF bag. I also attended a talk on how to ensure good hygiene during my menstrual period. I was informed that if I don’t take good care of myself, I run the risk of infection.
While at the beginning of the talk, I was uncomfortable, I later appreciated it because I learned so much. In my community, it is very difficult for people, even for your own mother, to talk to you about your menstrual period.
Photo by UMCOR South Sudan.
While all the items in the hygiene kit are important, for me, the most important is the reusable sanitary kit. Now I will not miss any more school days because nobody will even know when I have my menstrual period. I am hoping that my performance will improve because I won’t have to miss any more classes.
I want to thank UNICEF and UMCOR for this support. It may not seem like a big thing to people in the United States or the United Kingdom, but I can tell you, for me, these small things have greatly improved my life.
*Martha A’s full name has not been disclosed. UMCOR established operations in South Sudan in 2006, before the new country’s independence from Sudan.