Teaching village girls lessons of life

2010-11-26 00:00

A NATIONWIDE campaign with the aim of making sanitary pads accessible to young girls in impoverished communities is also educating girls about their bodies and the risks of having sex.

It’s 11 am at Michael Modisakeng Secondary School in Majakaneng village­ in Brits, outside Pretoria. Those who have finished writing their day’s examination enjoy a game of football on a nearby field. It’s not a proper field; it has no grass and no goalposts, but this does not discourage the boys from going full-swing on the open space.

Most of the pupils from this school come from broken homes. They live with grandparents, some come from single-parent families and others come from child-headed households. Poverty in Majakaneng is rife and most of the girls cannot afford sanitary towels and end up using newspapers and toilet paper to prevent the menstrual flow from coming through their underwear.

Touching Lives, a social reconstruction project by the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), has come to the girls’ rescue and has asked companies and organisations to sponsor sanitary towels for the girls in impoverished communities as part of its social- responsibility programmes. Before the sanitary towels were distributed, Life Orientation teacher at the school, Pinky Letswalo, took time to explain the menstrual­ cycle to the girls.

“During puberty, your ovaries produce an egg in the fallopian tubes. Once the egg is released into the tubes and the lining of the uterus, which is the womb, it is filled with blood. This blood prepares for the attachment of the egg. If it is fertilised it will help feed the egg. If the egg is not fertilised the egg and the lining of the uterus will break, then blood will flow through the birth canal, which is called menstruation.”

Letswalo says that this subject is very important to the girls as most of them do not understand the menstrual cycle and what is happening to their bodies.

“Most of the time they come to us during their period and they don’t have any sanitary pads. They also don’t play safe because they don’t know which days in the menstrual cycle are risky days, so they often fall pregnant. They really don’t know anything about this. I ask some of them: ‘Don’t you know which day you start menstruating?”And they say ‘no’. Some are in Grade 8 and have just started their cycle­. When you start menstruating it is not regular, so I think these lessons help them a lot.”

Letswalo says that the parents of Majakaneng­ Village do not communicate with their children about sensitive issues. Hence, some of the girls are unable to approach them when they do menstruate.

“They are afraid to tell their mother. You know menstruation is still a subject that is a taboo in our families. Once a girl starts talking about menstruation to her parents, they will tell her that if she has unprotected sex with a boy she might fall pregnant. They might say this without giving the girl the correct information about menstruating. So these girls feel that as teachers, we are more approachable because it is also part of their syllabus,” says Letswalo.

The school selected some pupils who are most in need to get the sanitary aid. Stats South Africa sponsored the sanitary pads for the school. HIV/Aids counsellor at Stats SA, Lulama Jansen, also took the opportunity to speak to the girls about the risk of having unsafe sex.

She warned the girls that once they become sexually active their chances of falling pregnant or contracting HIV increase.

“The best prevention so far, is condoms, not contraceptives. We want an HIV-free generation in the coming years. If you are having sex without using a condom, it means that you’re not protecting yourself. This is very risky and you are not the only one who is at risk. Your partner is also at risk, and your baby, if you fall pregnant. What I am asking you [the girls] is that if you feel that you are old enough to engage in sexual activities, please use protection”.

Jansen told the girls that teenage pregnancy can be curbed if they can take responsibility for their bodies and lives.

“Do not be fooled by boys who will flirt with you and tell you that they love you. If you have unprotected sex you will fall pregnant, meaning that you will have more responsibilities because you will have to feed your baby before going to school. This is not easy. You will lose focus in class because you won’t cope with being a mother and a pupil at your age.

If your child gets sick, you will have to take him or her to a clinic. The teacher will also demand work from you at the same time. I urge you to put your studies ahead of anything else. Your family situation does not determine whether you will succeed in life. It is all about commitment and determination,” says Jansen.

Stats SA says that it will be involved in more initiatives such as this as it would like to reach out to as many disadvantaged pupils as possible to make a difference.

School authorities did not permit Health-e to talk to the girls.

— Health-e News.

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