Keep­ing African girls in school a sim­ple mat­ter of un­der­wear

Central Leader - - NEWS - By EMMA WHIT­TAKER

A group of Kiwi women is help­ing to change the lives of thou­sands of African girls, one pair of knick­ers at a time.

An alarm­ing num­ber of girls in the con­ti­nent’s most poverty-stricken ar­eas stop go­ing to school each year when they start hav­ing pe­ri­ods be­cause they don’t own un­der­wear and don’t have ac­cess to fe­male hy­giene prod­ucts.

Al­most half of the girls en­rolled in pri­mary schools in Uganda’s Gulu Dis­trict will drop out when they hit pu­berty.

It’s a grim out­come for the area, where only 40 per cent of girls at­tend school in the first place.

Aid agency Wa­toto set up the Keep a Girl In School pilot pro­gramme in 2011 to pro­vide girls in the dis­trict with free prod­ucts.

Auck­land women have got be­hind it by do­nat­ing 2000 pairs of knick­ers at the LIFE churches’ 2012 an­nual Sista’s women’s con­fer­ence.

A con­tin­gent of eight woman is leav­ing for Uganda on Fri­day.

‘‘It’s a bit dif­fer­ent to the old child spon­sor­ship and things like that. When we tell peo­ple what we’re do­ing ev­ery­one is so shocked that you can ac­tu­ally change some­one’s life by giv­ing them some undies,’’ Green­lane res­i­dent Sh­eryl Gar­den says.

Mrs Gar­den is a coun­sel­lor at LIFE cen­tral in Mt Eden.

Church pas­tor Sharon Bo­hane says the suc­cess of the pro­gramme has been ‘‘in­cred­i­ble’’.

At­ten­dance rates have sky­rock­eted to al­most 100 per cent in classes where the pro­gramme run­ning.

‘‘It wasn’t that girls didn’t want to learn, it’s just that by the time they missed school for a week ev­ery month be­cause they had their pe­ri­ods they got so far be­hind that their par­ents,

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been who were in such poverty, were say­ing ‘if you can’t get an ed­u­ca­tion you need to go out and work or get mar­ried’.

‘‘It’s pro­found to think that we’ve over­looked some­thing so sim­ple,’’ Mrs Bo­hane says.

Aid agen­cies have tra­di­tion­ally put the high drop-out rate down to girls need­ing to help out in the home.

The Keep A Girl In School pro­gramme is now be­ing ex­panded to other schools in Gulu.

The group is also do­nat­ing money that will fund sani- tary prod­ucts for 120 girls for the year. Po­ten­tial is­sues around cor­rup­tion and theft within Ugan­dan cus­toms prompted the women to hand-de­liver the 1500 pairs.

‘‘We’re lit­er­ally tak­ing as many as we can fit in our suit­cases,’’ Mrs Bo­hane says.

‘‘Some of us that are go­ing have nurs­ing and ed­u­ca­tion skills so apart from just giv­ing them gifts we’ll do a lit­tle talk around hy­giene, health, worth, and all those kinds of things.’’

The other 500 pairs of knick­ers do­nated at the con­fer­ence are be­ing given to the A21 Cam­paign against hu­man traf­fick­ing in Europe.

Young woman res­cued by the cam­paign live in shel­ters and need cloth­ing.

‘‘We've still got peo­ple want­ing to do­nate knick­ers. We can’t keep tak­ing undies to Africa, but it's the rais­ing of aware­ness that helps. In­stead of buy­ing them why not do­nate the $5 to Wa­toto,’’ Mrs Bo­hane says.

Photo: JA­SON OXENHAM

Knicker aid: Sh­eryl Gar­den, Sharon Bo­hane, and Vanessa Brown are leav­ing for Uganda on Fri­day to hand de­liver 1500 pairs of un­der­wear which will help keep girls in school.

Go to cen­tral­leader.co.nz and click on Lat­est Edi­tion to see a video about the Keep A Girl In School pro­gramme.

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