Reproductive Health Women's Health

Teaching village girls lessons of life

Written by Ayanda Mkhwanazi

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 sex.

bb77c540a3cc.jpgIt’€™s 11 o’€™clock at Michael Modisakeng Secondary School in Majakaneng village in Brits, outside Pretoria. Those who have finished writing their day’€™s examination have the pleasure of enjoying a game of soccer on a piece of field. It’€™s not a proper field; it has no grass and no goal-posts, but that does not discourage the boys from going full-swing on the open space.

Most of the learners from this school come from broken homes. They live with grand-parents, 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 block the menstrual flow from leaking through their under-wears.

Touching Lives, a social reconstruction project by the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), has come to the girls’€™ rescue and has asked several companies and organisations to sponsor the purchase of sanitary towels for girls in impoverished communities as part of their social responsibility programmes. But before the sanitary towels could be distributed, Life Orientation teacher at Michael Modisakeng Secondary School, Pinky Letswalo, took some time to explain the menstrual cycle to the girls.

‘€œDuring puberty, your ovaries are going to produce an egg in the fallopian tubes. While the egg is being released in the tubes, if the egg is fertilised by sperm during sex the lining of the uterus, which is the womb, will be 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 come out through the birth canal, which is menstruation’€.

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

‘€œMost of the time they come to us having their periods and not having any pads. They also don’€™t play safe because they don’€™t know which days in the menstrual cycle are risky days, so they easily get pregnant. They really don’€™t know anything about this. Some I’€™ll ask them ‘€˜don’€™t you know which date you get your menstruations?’€™ And, they’€™ll say ‘€˜no’€™. Some are in Grade 8 and have just started their cycle. We all know that when you start your menstruation it is not regular, so I think this will help them a lot’€, she explains.

Letswalo adds that the parents of Majakaneng village do not communicate with their children about sensitive issues. Hence, some of the girls are unable to approach their parents when they are menstruating.

‘€œThey are afraid to tell their mothers. You know menstruation is still a subject that is a taboo in our families. Once you start talking about menstruation to your parents, maybe they’€™ll start shouting at you, telling you that if you go out with boys you will fall pregnant ‘€“ without giving you the proper information about it. So, these girls feel that as teachers, we are more approachable because it is also part of their syllabus’€, says Letswalo.

The school selected a few of the learners who are most in need to get the aid. Stats SA sponsored the sanitary pads for Michael Modisakeng Secondary 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 and contracting HIV will increase.

‘€œThe best prevention so far, is condoms, not contraceptives. We want an HIV-free generation in the next years. If you are having sex without a condom, it means you’€™re not protecting yourself. That is very risky. You are not the only one at risk. Even your partner is at risk – and your baby, if you fall pregnant. All I am asking you 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 of their bodies and lives.

‘€œDo 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 you will have more responsibilities because you will have to feed your baby before going to school. That is not easy. You will lose focus in class because you won’€™t cope at your age, being a mother and a learner. Your child will get sick… you have to take him to the clinic. The teacher will also demand work from you at the same time. I urge you to put your studies ahead before anything else. Your family situation does not determine whether or not you will succeed in life. It is all about commitment and determination’€, says Jansen.  

Stats SA says they will be involved in more initiatives such as this one as they would like to reach out to as many disadvantaged learners as possible to make a difference. School authorities did not permit Health-e to talk to the girls.

About the author

Ayanda Mkhwanazi

Ayanda Mkhwanazi is a senior journalist with Health-e News.