An activist is helping rural girls, and boys, find self-worth through access to sanitary pads

An activist is helping rural girls, and boys, find self-worth through access to sanitary padsGirls and boys receive their packs from Tintswalo Shipalana's project. (Image: Tintswalo Shipalana)

The need for sanitary pads makes young women vulnerable to a number of social ills, from missing school to exploitative relationships. Covering stories like this inspired a a Tzaneen journalist to become a community activist.

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When Tintswalo Shipalana gave a young girl R20, she didn’t think much of it. Not until the girl came back, and she realised how a small donation could change a young woman’s sense of self-worth.

“A few hours later she came to me and said she in her period and didn’t have money to buy sanitary towels. That’s when my eyes were opened to see that there is a need. There is a great deal we don’t know,” says the 35-year-old journalist and activist.

That 2016 incident led Shipalana to donate sanitary towels. She started by donating 140 packs of sanitary towels to learners at B. Mkhabele Junior Secondary School. Shipalana, who hails from Nkowankowa in Limpopo, soon had help from friends to reach more girls in rural areas.

Without access to sanitary pads, many girls in Shipalana’s area were forced to miss school. In some cases, in order to afford sanitary pads and other toiletries, girls would date older men. All of this, Shipalana says, affected young women’s sense of self-worth.

Using her work to help others

Last year Shipalana, who also works as a journalist for a local newspaper in Tzaneen,

Access to sanitary pads
Tintswalo Shipalana (Supplied)

covered sanitary towel drive at the White Corner Exclusive Car Wash in Mhangweni village. As the girls came forward to receive the packs, Shipalana began to realise how vulnerable they were.

“My heart always took me back from that school and over the past few months I felt God wanted me to back there just to motivate these girls,” she recalls.

“When you are a young girl, you are very insecure, you don’t even understand where you are going. You can just date even older men or wrong men just because you want them to buy you sanitary towels, airtime or roll-on,” she said.

Shipalana vowed to continue helping the girls of B. Mkhabele Junior Secondary School and plans to help other schools in the area. She collects and donates sanitary pads, toiletries, and stationery. They also collected washing powder and the principal identified learners in need.

An inclusive conversation

Shipalana also speaks to the learners, hosting talks on self-worth.  So far, 140 learners have benefitted, including boys. She wants to ensure that boys do not feel excluded from campaigns that tackle society’s social ills.

“I know there are many sanitary pads campaigns, I did not want this to be another sanitary pads drive and it is not, this one is different because we are incorporating also a boy child.

“Somehow we put them in the background. There is no one coming around to say you are young man you need to know that you are worthy, you are not criminal, and you are a problem solver in the community and you matter. If you study you will do well.

Shipalana says her overall message applies to both boys and girls.

“Learn to take care of yourself, love yourself, work hard enough and be a solution to the community, also protect the girls,” she advises.

“There are lot of problems in the community. Yes we are not going to change the world but we can start where we are by doing something and contribute to a better community,” says Shipalana. – Health-e News