Keeping Girls in School during Menstruation

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Naomi Tulay-Solanke .jpg

Naomi Tulay-Solanke, the Founder and Executive Director of Community Health Initiative (CHI), a non-governmental organization that is providing healthcare and social services in underprivileged and slum communities in Liberia, recently came up with a good idea to keep girls in school during their menstruation period.

She re-created Pad4Girls.

More than a fifth of girls in Liberian schools miss classes because of their menstruation; some don’t have the money or proper sanitation to protect blood from seeping through their uniforms while they are in school. Therefore, they stay home for a week while using pieces of torn lapa, sheets, and in some instance, leaves, until their periods stop.

A girl out of school due to her period loses learning days, a total of two and a half weeks of every school period. This means that many girls in underprivileged communities are more likely to completely drop out of school whenever “that time of month” comes.

One major factor that keeps girls from getting sanitary napkins (pads) is because it has become a business for those who produce pads rather than a health and social need for all school girls. In some parts of the United States of America, pads are given to students free whenever they on their menstruation period, while Liberian girls have to either buy their pads or make them.

“We decided on the Pad4Girls Project. The pads are made of used towels, used blankets and lapa to give the traditional look. It is reusable, affordable and acceptable, because not everyone in the interior cannot afford to buy pads; they find it difficult to buy because it’s not available to them. Therefore, they are left with the options of using rags and cloths. We have been going into the communities to train people how to use these pads.”

Naomi, over the years, has nurtured a career in female advocacy with a humble interest in working with underprivileged youths and slum dwellers in hard to reach communities through the provision of basic health and social services. She holds a master’s in Public Health with emphasis on Community Health.

As an entrepreneur, Naomi is the owner of Winnie’s Pharmaceutical Store, which provides over the counter drugs and medical supplies to underprivileged and slum communities. To address menstrual hygiene management affecting girls’ retention in schools, Naomi launched the Pad4Girls Project, by producing locally made and reusable sanitary pads.

“Growing up as a girl, when I started to see my menstruation, it was a challenge for me. I had to use rags or old cloths that we saw underprivileged people using. When I grew older as a nurse, I got to know that there were so many political factors associated with these products and materials that were available for me to use, and not withstanding for underprivileged girls. I always knew that there was something that I could do to help this process,” she shared.

According to Naomi, she came across the statistics of girls dropping out of school when she was contracted by Action Aid to do a Safe Group Project in Montserrado, Gbarpolu and Grand Gedeh Counties. It was then she realized during her time teaching that many girls were dropping out of the classes during their periods.

“When I investigated, I found out that these girls were missing classes and not coming to school because of their period. And in some communities it’s a taboo; so Martina and myself started to research YouTube and found a solution to this problem,” she added.

“We decided if we can teach people how to make and use these pads, especially local women’s groups, they themselves can make it into a business, because there will always be people who will need them. It’s a livelihood and can settle the problem of staying away from school.”

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