Posted on

Cloth Pads in Tanzania – Government Secondary School 1

Government Secondary School girls on second visit with project leader Mya, Nikki's daughter Ayla and head teacher Immaculate washable cloth menstrual pad kits

Beatrice, Mya, Andi and I distributed some kits of washable cloth pads in Tanzania at a government secondary school in March 2019. We met these initial twenty girls at their government secondary school in a rural village in Tabora, central Tanzania. The girls were mostly menstruating (four had not yet begun) and were chosen as some of the most vulnerable/disadvantaged students in the school.

Cloth Pads in Tanzania - Government Secondary School 1st visit, teen girls, teacher Andy, Nikki, trustee Andi and head teacher Immaculate cloth menstrual pads Tanzania
Government Secondary School girls with washable cloth menstrual pad kits, teacher Andy, Nikki, trustee Andi and head teacher Immaculate

We gave each of them a questionnaire to fill in (see this blog for the questions) and then gave these determined young women* a kit including four pads are taught in Swahili and had little to no English. During the first visit, Beatrice and Mya worked with the children’s teacher Andy, who was absent on the second visit with illness.

We have kept these questionnaires anonymous to protect the twenty children and they had all tried the pads apart from the four who have not started their periods yet. These four girls said their mothers have put the kits away safe for when they’re ready. Sixteen of the students receiving cloth pad kits in Tanzania are from Form 1 and four from Form 2 were in this initial test group, and they were amongst the most vulnerable in the school. On our next visit we are hoping to distribute kits to the fourteen girls in Form 3 and twelve girls in Form 4 (26 pupils). In Form 1 there are 31 girls who we will distribute kits to in the future, however we are in desperate need of some fundraising to pay for the pads to be made and for the fabric.

Kits of Cloth Pads in Tanzania

Due to this being a government school, the pupils are mostly living in poverty and cloth pads in Tanzania are virtually unheard of. Many of the families aren’t supportive of the children going to school, the headteacher struggles with families coming to ask if their children can leave school early to start generating income for the family. Parents of girls are most likely to not want their child to be educated but instead to work. The government says children must stay in school until they finish Form 4. At the end of form 4 they take an exam and if they fail they are allowed to leave or repeat the year. Sometimes with the offer of a child having vocational training, such as sewing, the families will allow them to stay in this kind of education a little longer because it has the chance of better income generation.

Only school for three villages in the area and the pupils have to travel a long way to school, they wake up at 4am to be on the road to walk to school. After school they often have to go and do farm work (during the rainy season) or other work. This school doesn’t have boarding facilities but some families manage to board the pupils in the local village. There is an issue with local men take advantage of school children (usually girls), rape and coersion. Often the girls get pregnant from being assaulted and they can no longer go to school. The government don’t support these pupils any more since the change in presidency so if a girl becomes pregnant, her education is finished. Children often have to take part in sexual acts and are given payment in school uniform, disposable menstrual pads, food or money.

These children need education about body autonomy, menstrual cycles, family planning and safe sex. With the provision of the menstrual cloth pads in Tanzania, we’re hoping to improve their attendance and their chances of passing the Form 4 exams to stay in school. Our next blog will cover the answers from the 16 girls who have tried our washable cloth menstrual pads. You can read their answers and what we’ve learnt from the cloth pad testing questionnaires in our blog here.

*see our blog on gendered language (coming soon) for the use of group pronouns. The laws in Tanzania and language barriers make it impossible to ask these young adults their pronouns and they are referred to as “waisichana”, girls, by the teachers so we have decided to use female terms in blogs about specific groups of people. This helps our SEO, or Google rankings, for people looking to help “pads for girls in Tanzania” but please know we are happy to help anyone in need of pads to attend school, for menstruation or continence. Nikki

Posted on

Preparing A Sewing Workshop in Tanzania

Fundi doing the Project Kidogo sewing machine setup, Mya watching Tanzania Tabora

Preparing a sewing workshop in Tanzania was one of our first goals on reaching Tabora on Wednesday. We landed after a short hop from Dar Es Salaam on a little Air Tanzania plane with ten bits of luggage (having lost my own suitcase). Hakun, myself and two small children meeting up with Mya and Deus. The kids were excited to meet our their new friends, Deus’s children, that afternoon at the lodge where we’re staying and Hakun and I were keen to unpack.

Our Luggage

Right now we have four suitcases piled in the corner of our lodge with a thousand pairs of knickers for the school kits, armfuls of fabric, fleece, cotton, ripstop nylon and towels and ten maroon overlocker thread cones. We brought with us one pair of pinking shears and a rotary cutter, 100 little binder clips for securing fabric, thousands of KAM snaps and pliars as well as seam rippers for making the most of preloved clothes and towels.

luggage for Tanzania
luggage for Tanzania in our Picasso

Hakun’s suitcase arrived in tact with his 200 bamboo toothbrushes, “zawadi” (gifts) he bought for local children and some of the sunblock we bought for the family and his basic clothes and toiletaries. Our children’s suitcase made it too, with lots of small hats and practical shoes. Mine did not make the journey. So I’m here with just the clothes I was wearing on the internal flight and the laundry from our three nights in Dar Es Salaam, and my hand luggage. We’ve been to the Air Tanzania offices to try to track this suitcase down and, although they were pretty helpful, it looks like we didn’t check mine in despite arriving with it. We’re trying to get in touch with the airport security, but I’m sure it’s mostly replaceable (apart from the sunblock). If living here before has taught me one thing, it’s the art of adapting to living with less and in preparing a sewing workship in Tanzania means being flexible. We managed to get sim cards at the airport and Hakun’s is working ok, mine took a little pursuading and a new cable. So here we have a few photos!

Preparing a Sewing Worskhip in Tanzania

Although we’re a secular/non-religeous NGO we’ve been very welcomed by the Anglican Church and we’re grateful for the accommodation here. Yesterday afternoon we bought two sewing machines – a heavy manual Butterfly which are very popular and well-loved here in Tanzania, and a new electric overlocker imported to Tabora from India. We’ve set the machines up in my bedroom for the time being so Mya and I can practice. With the maroon overlocker thread cones and any polyester thread we can get here, we’re going to set up initially making some fabric bags.

In June 2019 the Tanzanian government put an immediate ban on plastic bags throughout the country! Vendors, “duka” (shops) and every business and person in the country had to hand over all plastic bags immediately and invest in reusable bags. This has had a great impact already on the amount of plastic waste in Tanzania although sadly, the fabric reusable alternatives are nylon fabric slightly more durable than the fabric of disposable nappies, and I can’t imagine will last all that well. We visited a fish market in Dar Es Salaam as part of a tour of the city and I could see sellers these flimsy plastic-fabric bags and large manilla envelopes being used for wet things and I hope the people here start to develop some waterproof plant-based alternatives like the corn “plastic” bags we use to line food bins in the UK. There’s a huge opportunity for investment there that would do so much for the environment and the Tanzanian people. Our plan is to use some inexpensive cotton vitenge fabric to start producing some cotton totes which will help Mya to hone her sewing skills and start to generate a little income for Project Kidogo.

Using the sewing machine and overlocker to make fabric totes will be really helpful for our future sewing interns and apprentices. With the help of volunteers we’ll provide them with the marketable skills to be able to generate an income and contribute to the local economy. We’re going to create a sewing workshop with lots of natural light, electricity and good security where the workers can come and feel safe and comfortable. As each sewer’s ability improves they can start to make pads which they can sell locally using subsidised fabric, and we can purchase pads from them for the menstrual kits we will distribute to the teens in schools in the district. We hope to view workshops in the next few weeks so that we can prepare the space ready to move in before I leave. If you might be able to help with a regular monthly donation for the workshop or to help with a few months’ rent then please email and we’ll be very grateful. One-off donations towards fabrics, as well as soap and bowls for the kits are also desperately needed and you can send us money on PayPal here

If you want to be involved in any way with the charity, whether it’s by holding a cloth menstrual pad sewing workshop, other fundraising events such as bake sales or even climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, please let us know here or on our Facebook page or DM us on Instagram