- Katie Emerson
"She flies with her own wings"
At Pen to Paper Ghana, we were noticing that a lot of our female students were missing a week of school and our classes every month. After sensitively approaching these students and their teachers, it became clear that it was due to their menstrual cycle. Many of them do not have adequate sanitary protection; they have to use old pieces of cloth and therefore stay at home, since they need to change and wash these during the day. We feel that the high proportion of their education that they are missing is unacceptable. We have also learnt that many of them are uninformed about menstruation and do not talk about it; we thought setting up a workshop was really needed.
On 6th July 2018, Pen to Paper Ghana ran a Menstrual Hygiene and Empowerment Workshop with over 400 participants! Students from 5 schools were invited, as well as 10 students from a number of schools in the Lake Bosomtwe district. With funding from Assist Africa, we were able to hire a hall and pay for buses to transport all the children and their teachers to the venue.
The day started with MC, Yaa Baby enlivening the audience; she is an American who speaks the local language and is a comical actress in Ghana. We then had a dance group called Morning Star, made up of girls who had previously attended our Saturday community classes. They performed an excellent dance routine; we were so proud that they could stand up and perform in front of so many people!
Our co-founder, Richard Manu, started his speech dressed as Anas, an undercover journalist in Ghana, which raised an uproar of laughter throughout the hall. He gave a talk on what we do at Pen to Paper Ghana, how to feel unashamed of your reading ability and about the importance of not missing school while menstruating.
We had Vida Owusu, the Girl Child, from Metro Education, Kumasi come to the programme. It was great having a representative from the Ghana Education Service with us and she talked to the girls about focusing on their education, and taking care of themselves when they’re having their period.
One of the schools was set the challenge of producing a play on menstruating, with the title, ‘Nothing to be Ashamed of.’ They did an exceptional short sketch of a girl starting her period in class and being ridiculed by her peers. Another student played a teacher giving a lesson on menstruating and how it is normal for all girls. The main message was that they should support each other and not feel embarrassed.
Jenni Steele, author, presenter and ambassador for Domestic Violence UK, took time from her busy schedule in London to film a short documentary for the girls of her life story and the importance of them feeling empowered. She also emphasised how essential reading has been in her life.
We then had a break, where the students were provided with bread, yoghurt drink and water. In addition, Koala Ghana Supermarket kindly donated biscuits and cheese. We had a poster with wings represented, and the quote, “She flies with her own wings;” the girls were fascinated and took many photos.
After the break, Alba Kunadu Sumprim, a Ghanaian author, gave the girls an inspirational talk and read from her book, ‘The Imported Ghanaian.’ It’s a humorous book that teaches many interesting facts about Ghanaian culture. She kindly donated some of her books to the students.
We were then really lucky to have Hamamat Montia, a Ghanaian model and business woman, on our programme. She runs a company that sells shea butter internationally; she showed the audience a video of villagers making it. She gave a speech to the girls on the importance of remembering their roots and how to use the knowledge they gain from people around them. The girls were really engaged in her talk and they had so many questions for her. She also generously gave out some of her shea butter products.
Lastly, we had our partners for the programme, Faytex Sanitary, provide an hour long talk on menstrual hygiene and health. Their representative, a midwife, did an extremely interactive talk with the girls and they felt very open to answering questions, as well as asking them. After we closed the programme, we all went outside and Faytex gave each student a pack of sanitary pads (over 400 packs were donated). The students and teachers were then taken by bus back to their schools.