Can you imagine waking up in fear believing that you are bleeding to death or hiding in the toilets all day at school too ashamed and frightened to come out until everyone has gone home? For many girls in The Gambia this is their experience of their first period and many of them struggle to manage menstruation.
1 in 10 girls miss school or drop out due to lack of sanitary products or sanitation facilities in schools. On average girls miss 48 days of school a year during their periods. In a typical poor Gambian family where there is not enough money to buy food, shelter and other basic needs sanitary products are not a priority. Many girls are forced to use paper, leaves or old bits of cloth. This situation increases the likelihood of teenage pregnancy, health complications, early marriage and limits a girl’s future career and economic opportunities.
Project Gambia believes that menstruation should not be a barrier to any women or prevent them from reaching their full potential in education, work and everyday life. We believe that women should have access to affordable, reusable sanitary pads and high-quality menstrual education.
Working in partnership with The Gambia Teachers’ Union (GTU) the ‘Let’s See Red’ project was launched in 2022.
Through the project we aim to:
- Provide Gambian women with the education and resources they need to manage their periods in a safe, hygienic and dignified way.
- Help reverse the negative trend of girl’s education in The Gambia tackling the gender disparity experienced by many girls.
- Remove many of the taboos and stigmas around menstruation.
We are providing:
- High quality menstrual education to groups of identified leaders and teachers (male and female) who will then use the information and resources they receive to train and educate others in schools and communities across The Gambia.
- Materials and equipment to support the development of long term access to sustainable and environmentally friendly menstrual products. Men and women will be taught how to make reusable sanitary pads and supported to establish micro businesses.
- Packs of reusable sanitary pads to schools and communities across The Gambia.
In May 2021 and June 2022 packs of sanitary materials, sewing machines, rolls of materials and assorted sewing materials were shipped to The Gambia. Training was organised for 40 Home Science Teachers from Regions 1 and 2 using the machines and then later teachers in Region 3, 4, 5 South were trained.
Janet Mansell Gender Officer for The GTU writes:
‘The objectives of the training and making of re- usable sanitary pads included but not limited to the following:
- To improve girl’s access to effective, sustainable, affordable, eco-friendly and safe menstruation products.
- To help retain the girls in class during the menstrual periods.
- To provide training on the production and management of re-usable sanitary kits to girls and women.
- To increase access of vulnerable adolescent girls to comprehensive menstrual hygiene management.
- To reach teachers that live in rural settlements and give them an alternative product that fits their budget.
- To improve girls’ self-esteem and confidence.’
Each of the seven Regional Chairs in all the 7 regions have now conducted two or three trainings in the clusters in each regions as follows:
Region 1: Abuko Cluster and Kanifing Cluster
Region 2: Brikama Cluster and Foni Cluster
Region 3: Farafenni Senior Secondary, Essau Cluster and Kerewan Cluster
Region 4: Regional Education Directorate 4 and Soma Cluster
Region 5 North: Kaur Cluster and Wassu Cluster
Region 5 South: Bansang Cluster, Regional Education Directorate 5 and Armitage Senior Secondary School
Region 6: Basse Cluster, Fatoto Cluster and Sandu Cluster
‘Participants were happy about the training and promised to carry out grassroots trainings of other female teachers, mother’s clubs and adolescent girls in their respective schools and clusters. After each training each participant was given a set of materials to start with when they go back to their schools. The purpose for which is to enable them conduct step down trainings. The Pads will help girls have a reliable and sustainable solution to their menstrual worries hence enabling them avoid infections, exploitation, shame, low self-esteem, stress and they will remain in school. This process included educating girls on matters of reproductive health, self-esteem, personal hygiene, and sewing lessons.’ Janet Mansell
Impact of The Project
The testimonies we have received demonstrate the positive impact that the project is having in helping to change girls lives and in improving their attendance at school.
Jainaba; almost dropped out of school as a result of soiling her uniform in the school during her menstruation period. Because she was constantly mocked by the students, she decided to stay at home and never go to school. Her class teacher on making follow up about her absence was told the reason. Now one of the teachers from Jainabad’s school attended one of the trainings so as to be able to train other teachers on how to make re-useable sanitary pads. It is believed that other students like Jainaba will be helped.
“One of my students did not come to school for almost seven days because she started her menses and could not approach her father and tell him about it and did not know what to do. She used dirty rags to protect herself on the first day but felt itching and stopped using them and tried tissue papers. She realised that the tissue papers could not hold the flow for a longer period. So she was always in door and missed school for three days.
When I knew the reason why she was absent from school. I sent for her and even though it is expensive I bought her a packet of readymade pads because she is the most intelligent girl in my girls and I know what being absent from school will cost her as an orphan. Now with this training I have a solution to her problem and many others like her.”
“Binta is a student in my class, in the only boarding school in the Gambia, one day I noticed that she was extra quiet in class which is very unusual, naturally she is an extrovert when I forced her to tell me why, she explained that she does not have sanitary pad as such soiled her uniform. I gave her my head tie to use as a wrapper and went to my house in the quarters and gave her some of my readymade pads. ‘
‘This has been the norm in the school and I have always been worried about the sustainability because they as expensive so to say that this training will be very useful to me will be an understatement.’
‘I have students in my class who do not come to school during their menses claiming to be sick because they cannot afford sanitary Pads and are afraid of soiling their uniforms. Teaching them how to make sanitary pads will go a long way in helping the girls’.
‘The pads are easy to use they have a higher rate of absorption than the disposable pads and heavy flow, can be managed by adding more layers. They are made from natural fibers (cotton) hence are soft, comfortable, free of irritation.’
‘The pads are safer than any local substitute e.g. leaves, paper etc.’
You can help us by:
- By making a donation to the ‘Let’s see Red’ project via this website
- By donating any of the following resources:
- Material (anything from 20cm x 20cm)
- Sewing items: thread, needles, pins, scissors, towels, press studs, sewing machines, microfibre cloths
- Underwear: knickers (new please) and bras (these don’t need to be new)
- By making some sanitary pads and bags (They are really simple to make. We have patterns that you can use)
100% of any monies donated will be used to support this project. We do not take any money for salaries or administrative costs.
For the latest information about the project check out the ‘Latest News‘ section of this website.
Interested in getting involved, or want to know how you can help then contact Bev Hodt: firstname.lastname@example.org