Keeping African girls in school a simple matter of underwear
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,
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.
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.