By Mugisho Ndabuli Theophile, Founder/Executive Director, COFAPRI
Bahati has been climbing the mountains and walking the valleys of different villages in rural DR Congo. As Executive Secretary of Congolese Females Action for Promoting Rights and Development (COFAPRI), Bahati has recently traveled to the rural DR Congo, where she's met women, girls, and children members of our organisation for different functions.
Among the many activities she arranged with the organisation members was the distribution of sanitary pads, pants, and soap to teenage school girls.
The majority of these girls are members of COFAPRI, and some are not but their parents are. Bahati joined them in their respective schools and they were delighted to have her among them, as a visitor.
Bahati spoke to the school directors before meeting the girls in order to explain them her the objectives of her mission.
The items to distribute were sent to us by Sharon Multani-colebrook, a generous woman who is a UK citizen committed to improving hygienic conditions of women and girls around the world, through her making of FEMpads.
Bahati's trip has been tiresome but as she always believes that nothing can replace the moral support of meeting the women in their villages, she never gives up her walks. Her words are more explanatory on this issue:
"After distributing Fempads, pants, and soap, the receipients did not hide their feelings. Though issues related to sex are taboo in the villages of the DR Congo, the school girls who received them were very much pleased.
They revealed that the pads will help them a lot as some of the girls never used pads although they have reached the age of mensturation, while others used to use fabric from their old clothes. Those who had no pads used to stay home during their periods and this caused them to miss out on some classes and others had to repeat the whole year as they had periods during exams as they had no pads to wear.
Discussions related to sex are taboo to women and girls in the villages of the DR Congo due to traditions. This is one of the reasons why women are considered as second-class people; they cannot speak in public before men and in families they have no word."
Valerie Bahati, Executive Secretary of COFAPRI.
The Girls Express Gratitude for the Life-changing Gifts
The girls asked Bahati if they could meet her so that they could tell her, anonymously, of their thoughts.
'It seems a woman’s blood is shame to see or to hear about'
"I start by thanking you. You are amazing and we like you because you decided to come to us. You are open to us and we, too, we have to be open to you. You are a good and caring mother. You know well how our society treats us and our mothers. You did well to bring us here in isolation with you. This shows you want to tell us something important and us too we will do the same.
All of us are girls and you are the only woman among us. We will tell you everything, even what we cannot tell our mothers. Because we are never valued, this has affected us a lot, but we have no power to change this. We hope your organisation will be speaking for us so that one day we also become respected in this society.
We often get blood but as this is a personal issue, we never say it to anyone for fear. We have been taught to never talk about that.
It seems a woman’s blood is shame to see or to hear about. Some of us here get blood and this causes us to miss out a lot of things in life, or at school."
'I repeated the school year because I had blood at exam time.'
"I feel glad we meet here as all of us are girls, with our mother here – Maman Valerie.
Mama, you giving us pride and great examples. I will tell you what I think but do not write my name. You can write the story only. I am in primary five but l would be in six. I repeated the school year because I had blood at exam time. Because I had not ‘those things girls use for blood’, I could not go to school for the whole week.
Blood was running like a river and I could not send a friend to talk about this to my teacher or my director.
I stayed home for seven days and when I went back to school, I had not done the exams and now I am repeating the year. But we are very much pleased you have brought us these pads to use. As you said, we can wash them and reuse them that is very nice. Thank you also for the slips and the soap to wash them. God bless COFAPRI forever and Sharon who sent them to us. You all are nice moms."
'We had never seen these before.'
"Hey! Today, I don’t know. These things, thank you mom! The periods of girls here are a big issue and what you brought us today is a really great help. We had never seen these before.
You know well how we live here but I will repeat it. We used to wear torn parts of our old clothes when we are in blood. Now you have brought us these new stuffs to wear. We are really happy with you, the woman who sent them to you - and COFAPRI are also wonderful for the different types of support you are bringing us here and to our mothers and brothers.
Thanks and thanks for the pads, the soaps and the slips; thank youuuuuuu!"
'Traditions have damaged our feminity.'
"As you have made the first step of being open to us, we will do the same.
You saw some of us were shy to receive the pads you gave us. This shows how the traditions have damaged our feminity. We often fear, even not proud of what we are. We are girls today but tomorrow we’ll be women. We have to be proud of ourselves.
Receiving a pad should not make us look down or close the eyes. Yes, look the people in the eyes and collect your pad. Let us put aside the issue of taboos of this society here. When you show us love and openness, we will do the same. All of us are women here and no one will be afraid of the other, no fear among us. You are our mother and you will help us a lot if we tell you the truth.
Now, these things for us to use are nice. We want to learn how to make them so that we can be using them, we can give them to our children when they come, we can give them to our friends and neighbours. And, why not sell them and get cash. We only ask you to help us get sewing machines and we can show you what we can in our womanhood."
'You are teaching us love, mutual support, self-confidence'
"Ahaaa, I am wordless. Simply ‘thank you maman and Sharon; God bless your hands and heads that you have put together to make these stuffs arrive to us here. You have explained to us how you suffered to collect them from the customs in Rwanda. I don’t know what I can tell you for the moment, but [looked me on the face and sighed] you are simply wonderful.
You are teaching us a lot of things like love, mutual support, self-confidence and never giving up before we are out of the tunnel and much more. In one word, thanks again. Umwaaaaaaaa!"
Since we have been training women in sewing, we have also projected in the future that the women can also be trained in sewing pads.
This will only be effective once we have more sewing machines. As some of the girls above here expressed their opinions, sewing Fempads, along with other clothing items can help the women gain more income to support their families, and so get out of severe poverty.
This idea was strongly supported by all the girls. According to Bahati, this idea needs support and it deserves to be well planned and implemented.
We thank – together with our girls, the generosity of Sharon, who willingly sent these pads to these girls in rural DR Congo.
The support and involvement of the global community is vitally important to the COFAPRI members.
You may like to consider donating to COFAPRI to help the women involved in sewing get an additional sewing machine to help the girls sew their own pads.