Meet the ohne babes in rural Zambia

Oct 17, 2019 | All, Our Women | 1 comment

Did you know that Nikki, ohne’s co-founder, used to live in Zambia? And that, while she was there, she worked with an incredible organisation called School Club Zambia, AKA ohne’s partner in fighting to end period poverty? So Nikki knows the organisation and the people in it pretty bloody well – and we thought it was about time you got to know ’em too. Quick recap for any new ohne babes reading this: for every ohne product you buy, you’re directly helping to fund SCZ’s Girl’s Programme. We’ll chat more about the Girl’s Programme in a sec, but you can find out more about the organisation and our work with them right here.

Why am I bringing this all up now? Well, aside from taking the opportunity to share fun facts about our founders or to shout out SCZ, ‘just because’, today happens to be International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. If you think that’s a great cause to rally around but is also a bit of a mouthful, wait til you hear this year’s theme: ‘Acting Together to Empower Children, their Families and Communities to End Poverty’. It might be a tongue-twister, but the 2019 theme is one we’re particularly passionate about here at ohne.

Why do we care so much about this theme, you ask? Okay, you probably didn’t ask – caring about kids isn’t exactly niche – but it means a lot to us to be able to take this opportunity to shine a light on our partner, School Club Zambia, and celebrate the amazing changes they’re making to the lives of kids living in rural Zambia.

We’re excited to introduce you to some of the girls who have participated in School Club Zambia’s programmes. Maggie, Perciviah, Catherine, Esther, Perculiar, Mwiinga, and Nchimunya were all kind enough to share their time with us to give you all a little window into their lives and experiences with the programmes run by School Club Zambia.

What is the Girls Programme?

“I really enjoy the Girl’s Programme because I have learnt to take care of myself”

 – Catherine, 13

The Girl’s Programme takes a three-tiered approach to tackling period poverty: building brand new, clean toilet blocks in every school they work with; educating the students about menstruation; and equipping the girls with the skills they need to make their own reusable, sustainable sanitary pads from local resources. This is where ohne babes’ donations go.

While toilets are provided for students of all genders, the idea is that giving girls a safe, clean, and secure place to change their period products and go to the bathroom while they are on their periods (and, obviously, at other times of the month too) will help them to feel less anxious about coming to school while on their period, as well as making the process safer and more hygienic for them. This part of the programme is clearly having a positive effect, as Maggie, who is 15, specifies that she wishes “every school had designated toilets for older girls to use as we have different needs.” She goes on to say “it makes me feel sad when I think that most girls do not have access to sanitary wear or knowledge of their bodies.”

A popular workshop within this programme is Young Tailors, which both Perciviah and Catherine say is their favourite of the classes they’ve participated in so far. “Young Tailors is my favourite SCZ programme as we learnt how to make reusable sanitary pads for our friends!” Catherine says. Perciviah says her favourite programmes with SCZ are the “programmes for girls as [they] teach us what to expect when our periods start and how to look after our bodies.” Of the Young Tailors workshop she says, “we make reusable pads for girls and other women in the community,” and even though she doesn’t yet need them herself, she says “I am happy that I know how to make a reusable pad so that when I start my period I can use one.”

The Girl’s Programme is, in simple terms, making periods accessible for the schoolgirls they work with. From access to the actual products girls need (not ‘luxuriate in’, Mr Taxman, but need) to the understanding required to manage them properly, periods are being demystified, one step at a time.

Keeping girls in school

“There are a number of things I didn’t know which I am learning”

– Mwiinga, 17

Maggie has been participating in the organisation’s programmes since 2015, when she was in grade 5. She says that, of the programmes she’s participated in, the Girl Council programme is her favourite so far, because it “taught us how to encourage other girls to come back to school, which was a very good thing.” She indicates that one of the reasons behind girls leaving school at a young age is that they get married. “Many of the young girls who marry in our community aren’t happy and their husbands often mistreat them.”

School Club Zambia report that “there are currently 650 million women around the world who were married under the age of 18.” Due to circumstances of poverty and a lack of education, Zambia has one of the highest child marriage rates in sub-Saharan Africa. The organisation reports that the geographical location is partially to blame for this: “In drought years, marrying off a daughter and having one less mouth to feed around the table can make a huge difference to a family.” Because of this, School Club Zambia focuses on teaching about sexual and reproductive health as well as menstrual education. Important topics for any young person to learn about, it’s especially pertinent in communities like the ones the organisation works with, where young people are more likely to be expected to start families before they’ve even fully understood what that might mean or how it might happen.

Marriage is, of course, only one of many reasons it can be hard for a girl to continue her education. Mwiinga, who is now 17, is no longer enrolled at school, but has just started her first classes with School Club Zambia. She had to leave school in Grade 11 “due to lack of finances.” Her favourite subject at school was Religious Education; she’s now enjoying the menstrual hygiene classes taught with the programme. Similarly, Esther had to leave school due to lack of finances, and hasn’t been since she was in Grade 2. She’s now 14.

Teach us about our bodies

“I like learning how things work, especially the human body, and learning about plants and climate change.”

– Maggie, 15

“I really enjoyed all of the girls programmes,” Maggie says, “but especially the workshops where we learnt how our bodies work. Before the workshops I thought that when I got my period I was sick. I finally spoke to my mum about it, who explained that I had become a woman.”

Perciviah and Catherine haven’t started their periods yet, but they both seem comfortable with the prospect. Perciviah says the workshops made her “excited to start” her periods, whereas before, the prospect scared her. “I used to fear starting my period as I didn’t want to come to school when I was bleeding, so I am happy that I now know what to do.”

Catherine agrees, stating “I feel really good about my body now… I used to think that girls who had their periods were sick and it may be something I could catch, like HIV and AIDS. I am now excited that having my period means that I can one day be a mother, as I would like a family.”

Let’s talk periods

“I would love for all girls to feel normal when talking about periods,” 

– Perciviah, 14

Maggie has been participating in programmes with SCZ for four years now, so says she feels “ok” talking to her friends, mum, and aunty about her periods; Perciviah, who has been participating in them since 2017, feels a little less comfortable discussing periods, saying “I only talk to my friends who were in the workshops with me. I feel too shy to talk to my mum or relatives, as we do not discuss such things until a girl begins her periods.”

Period taboos are a pervasive problem worldwide, and they can seriously impact how people who menstruate, particularly young girls like the ones we spoke to, feel about their periods. If we’re not taught that it’s okay to ask questions and shown the best ways to manage them, how can we be expected to feel confident and capable of managing them in a safe, anxiety-free way? We’ve all felt the shame of feeling unable to ask questions for fear of being ridiculed, whether it’s because we don’t understand a maths problem or because we don’t understand what our bodies are doing. Only education can fill the silence in which shame festers. Ester, Perculiar, and Mwiinga are three girls who have all only been participating in the Girl’s Programme for one day (one! day!) and yet they all say that, already, they’re now feeling more comfortable talking about periods.

Nchimunya, whose favourite subject at school is Religious Education (“I enjoy Bible stories”) has also been participating in the course for just a day. She says “I used to feel uncomfortable talking about menstruation, but now I can, freely.”

Talking about periods not only helps women and young people who menstruate learn about their own bodies, it is also the only way that harmful misconceptions in society are going to change. “I would like people to do away with taboos and myths about menstruation,” Perculiar says. For example? “Not picking vegetables when you are menstruating because they can die out. I don’t think that’s true.”

Cycle tracking

“I’m learning how to take care of myself.”

– Perculiar, 15

Ride or die ohne babes will know that cycle tracking is one of our all-time favourite topics, so we were delighted to hear that this is one of the things that Esther is loving most about the programme so far. “I’m excited about counting the days of my menstrual cycle to know the day I’m supposed to start my period again.”

Knowing when to expect your period is one of the most important factors for any person who bleeds in order to feel comfortable and confident in their ability to be prepared for their period. Maggie explains how the workshops have also contributed to her understanding of cramps. While she wishes she’d known about periods before she started hers, the workshops have helped her learn how to manage them. “It felt good during the workshops when we learnt how to exercise to ease period pain and what to eat to help us.” She also appreciated learning about the different product options available; “I like using the reusable pads compared to the disposable pads as they are very expensive.”

Here’s to continuing to create change in Zambia

School can be a period of dizzying learning curves for all of us. It can be easy to forget how it feels when you’re left in the dark about things like menstruation, reproduction, and sex. Even if you’re born into privilege, these things have always felt heavy and dark at times. Here’s to making them lighter, one conversation at a time.

When you support School Club Zambia, you’re not supporting a girl for a few hours of her period with a single-use, disposable product (though that’s great too!). You’re supporting an entire generation of young girls and their community, which also benefits from the long-term change that comes from education, innovation, and investing in the upskilling of Zambia’s youth that their programmes focus on.

In honour of the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty and the wonderful girls who have taken the time to chat to us (and all their friends at School Club Zambia) ALL profits from today’s orders will be going directly to SCZ. If you’re already a customer and you still wanna support, why not turn a friend onto ohne, or consider donating directly?

A huge thank you to Maggie, Catherine, Perciviah, Esther, Perculiar, Mwiinga, and Nchimunya for agreeing to share their stories with us, as well as SCZ’s Founder, Lois Cochrane, and Gender and Youth Officer, Alice Simakala, for facilitating these conversations and for all the incredible work their organisation does.

All images courtesy of School Club Zambia.

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