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Friends Irene and Winfred with their arms around each other

A scary start

Winfred and Irene were both 13 when they got their first period. They felt terrified. They didn’t know what was happening to them, they had nowhere clean to manage their periods and they missed school every month.

Irene recalls: “I got my first period while in class five, I was scared because I did not know what to do. I requested permission to go back home, even the following day I did not come back to school.”

They both go to Kyenjojo Model Primary School - a government-aided school located in Western Uganda. There are over 400 other girls in their school and, up until a few years ago, there were very poor toilet facilities, poor clean water access and hardly any education about good hygiene.

Small change - big effect

WaterAid supported the school to build new toilet facilities and to create a school Health Club where girls learnt how to take control of their personal hygiene, manage their periods and even make their own reusable sanitary pads. This meant they were able to improve their wellbeing, as well as learning that periods were nothing to be afraid of - but were actually a special part of womanhood.

Irene and Winfred holding up one of their homemade reusable pads they made in hygiene club

Winfred says: “I‘m no longer scared of menstruation because I now know they are a normal thing every girl goes through. In case I need any assistance while at school, I go to our senior woman teacher. She always keeps with her emergency sanitary pads, changing dresses, soap and pain killers in case of abdominal pains.”

A teacher at Kyenjojo Primary School, teaching her class about periods

The ripple effect

Irene, Winfred and their friends are starting to spread the word. Irene says, “When I get home during the holidays I also teach my friends at home how to make reusable sanitary pads and about washing hands after using the latrine.” Winfred also shared with her mother how to make reusable sanitary pads from the skills she picked up in her Health Club showing how the effect of education can really cross generations - in both directions.

Winfred showing her mother the sanitary pads she made at school

Looking forward

Having cleaner facilities and access to help when they need it is just the start of a bigger change. Providing the facts on menstruation and access to clean toilets in schools will create a huge impact on women and girl’s futures - futures where they are free to live their lives without limitations. This creates a knock-on effect, liberating women to start paving a new path for themselves and future generations.

This means girls like Irene and Winfred spend less time away from school, feeling frightened, alone and unable to manage the blood flow. Instead they stay in school, socialising with friends, learning and discovering their potential.

Irene now dreams of a bright future for herself, and for her friends.

“It’s important for girls to go to school because they become important people in future. After school, I would like to become a medical doctor and I will always study hard to see my dream come true."

Your Fempowered subscription helps WaterAid build new toilets and run education projects so that every girl learns the facts about menstruation and can have their periods safely and with dignity.

September 13, 2019 — Team Fempowered