Ulemu Dignity Update

Since last year, Free Range Chicks has been partnering with the African Child Trust (ACT) and The Girl Leadership Empowerment Programme (GILEP) on an (initially) one year project, called Ulemu or Dignity. The aim of the project has been to empower girls, and women in two particular communities in Malawi, Blantyre and Mulanje. Many of these girls cannot attend school during their monthly periods due to lack of basic sanitary provision. As a result, their education suffers and many even drop out of school altogether leading to further problems for them and their families later in life.

The late Vicky Taylor (founder of FRC) had heard God’s heart for these girls and wanted to do something about this most basic of needs. FRC Dignity was birthed and fundraising began in earnest for Life Packs – packs that included reusable pads, pants and other items to give these girls some dignity and, vitally, enable them to stay in education. Vicky and others went out to Malawi to see the problem for themselves and work out the best way to address it. It soon became clear that simply handing out pads, although appreciated and much needed, wasn’t the only thing needed.

Training women in Malawi

A plan was made with our partners to train up women in the community, especially widows, to make these pads and no sew pants for themselves as well as provide education on HIV/AIDs. The hope being that these women could then start their own businesses and therefore generate their own income as well as training others to make them.  To date, the Dignity Project has trained 120 women from 12 villages in making the reusable pads. Training sessions have included education on HIV/AIDS as well as principles of setting up a business. Some of these women have now gone on to set up their own small business. Many of the women initially trained have mobilised other women in their communities and passed on what they have learnt.

Women learning to sew pads in Malawi

The Dignity Project has so far distributed 900 pads to about 860 girls at 3 different schools in the Mulange and Blantyre districts.  There is clearly a high demand for these pads as many girls have problems accessing hygienic sanitary wear. They have little choice but to use hazardous and unhygienic provisions. It is so good to hear that the girls who have benefitted from the Dignity pads say they now can manage their periods in a comfortable and hygienic way whilst attending school.

Disposable pads are extremely expensive for the girls living in these rural areas. In Malawi, girls miss almost 20% of their education due to the lack of menstrual provision. Our partners report that the daily class attendance of girls in these particular schools has improved as a direct result of the Dignity project!

There are, in fact, many vulnerable girls in Malawi who have difficulty attending school for other reasons, often financial.  Many communities favour educating boys in favour of girls. There is a misconception that it is better to educate a boy rather than a girl as he will one day become the head of the household.

Fifteen school girls in Malawi Dignity project

The Dignity Project has also been able to help educate 15 girls from Khombwe Community Day Secondary School, Blantyre.  These girls were provided with a year’s tuition fees, uniforms, school bags, shoes and socks. They also received money to purchase note books and pens.

As well as this, GILEP has reached out to around 400 other girls and provided education on sexual and reproductive health. This has been delivered through an initiative called ‘Girls’ Showers – and is part of the Dignity project remit.

Many girls have really appreciated the information gained at these events and are now able to make informed decisions on their own education and lifestyle choices. GILEP report that many of these girls have to travel long distances to and from school as well as face challenges and threats from boys. It appears that these ‘showers’ have empowered the girls to report cases of abuse, abstain from premarital sex and are trying to live their lives in the light of what the Bible says.

So the Dignity project has far exceeded our expectations. It has not been without its challenges though and, as with any project in a challenging situation, there is always more that can be done. This project has largely relied on volunteers to make it happen on the ground and administrative costs have had to come from elsewhere, causing some delays.  Some of the women who have been trained have yet to find the funding to start up their own businesses, others found family pressures a barrier to getting off the ground.

Another difficulty the project faced is poor sanitation in the schools. Many toilets have no doors for privacy and, in most cases, there is a lack of water in the school toilets. This, obviously, make it very difficult for the girls to attend school during their monthly periods, even if they have reusable pads.

Overall, the Ulemu Dignity Project is one that has been/is extremely worthwhile and very successful. Lives have been changed, transformed even, and Dignity has and is being restored to vulnerable girls and women in these two communities. Free Range Chicks is now looking forward to exploring if and how we can further this project along with our two partners, ACT and GILEP.

Check out the latest update on the Dignity project…

To give to Dignity click here

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