From the US to Uganda: Change Making

When I first applied for Insight Global Education, I was questioned by others and myself on what my purpose was in going to Uganda. Most trips I had looked into were involving building houses or serving medical clinics, which are both needed, but definitely not within my skill set. I asked myself frequently why I wanted to live in Uganda and being sure of my intentions.

After discovering Uganda For Her, I felt much more relieved in my decision. I had just completed a course solely focused on facilitation and even created my own programming for a workshop in one of my organizations. I was going to learn a lot from working at U4Her, but also contribute my own skills from my experiences.

While I knew it would be different working with children, discussing menstruation, and cultural/language barrier, I’ve mostly learned how little I know. I’m very fortunate to have such a supportive team and family within Uganda For Her to turn to when I don’t have the answers.

On the morning of my first workshop last week, I walked to the office and made a small child cry upon the sight of me, so I was nervous to say the least when I was going to teach a class of Grade 7 girls! However, the students were so excited to have us there and were very attentive and welcoming.

 

I shared the session with my coworker Prisca, who helped me through the parts I was shaky on. We discussed puberty, the female reproductive system, how to track your menstrual period, how to stay healthy during menstruation, and answered any and all questions they had.

We also led some ice breakers and songs, like If You’re Happy and You Know It. Upon leaving, one girl told me that her family was too poor to afford pads and asked if she could have some from us or that she would be leaving school. Due to limited funding, we didn’t bring any to this school and I just took her name down without making any promises. I haven’t experienced extreme culture shock here until that moment. It’s really hard to comprehend leaving school due to a period and nothing I ever had to think about, but it’s a reality for millions of girls around the world. We are in the midst of planning a return visit to hopefully bring pads to this girl and more who need them desperately.

The next day, I led my second session solo. I felt much more relaxed having the first one go so well, and expected it to be similar. At this school, we also delivered reusable pads and gave a demonstration on how to use and clean them. This group was around the ages of 15 to 19 who already received a session the year earlier.

(I look like I’m teaching but in reality showing the class how to play Heads Up 7 Up)

Once the lesson had concluded, we opened the floor for questions. The questions many of the girls had I felt entirely unequipped to answer. “When we air dry our reusable pads, how do we clean out the dust?” “Our male teachers won’t let us go to the washroom during class, how are we supposed to change our pads?” “I only have one reusable pad, can I share with my friend in that case?”

While sometimes pricy in the US, disposable tampons and pads are not feasible for many young girls due to insufficient funds and resources. How am I supposed to give these girls answers and comfort when I myself don’t use the advice I am giving?

Fortunately, Prisca helped me through and answered the questions with confidence and ease. I felt somewhat unsure leading the reusable pad demonstration for the same reasons listed above.

Even before starting the demo, we had to dismiss half of the girls as they were not most in need for the limited supply of pads we had. It was devastating to watch the girls leave the class, and still be gracious to us for providing the lesson. The teacher promised them that they next time we came, they would receive pads too.

While one half of the class was excited, I couldn’t stop thinking about the other half. On one hand, it’s very challenging to only provide for half of the students. On the other hand, I was so glad that the girls most in need would receive a pad and be able to stay in school. I was able to tell myself that it was better to provide some rather than none at all.

My coworkers Rogers and Prisca with some students learning how to use their reusable pad

As a political science major, most of our proposed “change” is coming from theories and policy. It’s easy to dismiss campaign strategies like door knocking and phone banking as ineffective and meaningless. However, the work with Uganda For Her reminds me of the story of the old man on the beach throwing starfish individually into the sea. A young man says that there’s thousands of starfish out there and he won’t make a difference. The old man holds one starfish up and says that he made a difference to that one.

This interpersonal work is invaluable and incredibly challenging, humbling, and rewarding. I’m very grateful to have such a supportive and wonderful family in Uganda For Her to teach and guide me throughout my time here.

Just $5 covers the cost of one reusable pad for a girl in need. Please consider donating here through our secure website HERE.

Written by Danielle Jahnke, USA – Peer Educator (Intern)