When a girl starts puberty she may feel too shy or embarrassed to talk about topics like her first period – even if she’s desperate to share her feelings or ask questions. This is particularly true in rural Uganda where there is a ‘culture of silence’ surrounding menstruation. Such silences cause many girls to view menstruation and puberty as shameful and dirty. Even though menstruation is a natural process, it is associated with misconceptions, malpractices and challenges among the young female students. Long school days that increase the risk of menstrual leaks coupled with frequent harassment by boys in and around school toilet areas add to the shame and embarrassment experienced by many post-pubescent girls. As a consequence, the girls feel intense discomfort and shame sitting in class among their male peers. Not surprisingly, absenteeism from schools and dropping out is common for girls during this critical developmental stage. Yet there is still hope to change this demoralizing trend. When Eco-pads founder, Lucy Athieno witnessed, and personally experienced the burden of adolescence she became dedicated to helping females gain back power over their changing bodies.
The premise is simple: help a generation of teenage girls in Uganda take charge of their bodies and health, so that their full potential can be released. We believe that by addressing reproductive health concerns of females we can help remove yet another barrier to female educational achievement in Uganda. Our program takes a holistic approach to transformation – providing not only access to feminine care materials, but also local leadership support, and instruction for girls as peer educators. Our absorbent pads are affordably priced and sustainably produced. Our staff is committed and passionate. Our cause is important. Every element of our business is designed to nurture each girl and help her define and realize her dreams.
Since our start in 2012, Eco-pads has continued to grow and expand as a company. By producing and distributing high-quality, hygienic, and affordable sanitary pads, Eco-pads aims to increase the retention rates of girls in school throughout rural Uganda. In the last month alone, our team has distributed over 1,000 pads to local girls. Beyond creating and distributing sanitary menstrual materials, Eco-pads team is dedicated to providing support for schools and reproductive health education programs. We believe that all young women are in need of inspiring and helpful mentors. For this reason, Eco-pads has taken it upon itself to partner with students, community leaders and teachers. Eco-pad leaders have been working to train teachers and community leaders as volunteer mentors for female students. These mentors are taught about the specific challenges girl students face in education systems and ways to mitigate these challenges. Puberty is a time with many scary changes, and Eco-pads wants to show these girls that they are not alone!
As of May, over 120 teachers and 30 members had participated in the training program. This includes 20 senior women teachers, 20 community teachers, 60 peer educators and 20 head teachers in local districts. We have been very proud of the success of this program, and have managed to reach four different districts (Budaka, Kibuku, Bukedea and Mbale). Eco-pads is currently partnering with Kadama Widows Association to monitor the progress of the children in the respective schools. Because of the success of past programs, Eco-pads is looking to expand this mentoring program, and our support even further in coming years. We know that these girls are not educated on their bodies. We know that these girls are in need of advocates. We aim to provide yet another support network these girls can reach out to!Help us continue creating these broad networks of support so that we can prevent girls from falling through the cracks of the educational system!