By Brenda Mirembe
According to United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) report 2013, 71% of pupils in Uganda have dropped out of school, a third of which are girls at primary level in rural areas.
This is due to many challenges they face which include: poverty, early pregnancies, poor changing room facilities, lack of knowledge on reproductive health issues, and many others.
Reports from non-Government Organizations (NGOs) such as the Jane Goodall Institute Uganda a conservation organization based in Entebbe, indicate that girls in the age bracket of (11-13years) leave school at the beginning of their menstrual cycles because they cannot afford to buy sanitary towels.
They are forced to keep away from school to avoid the embarrassment caused by lack of proper hygiene kits for use during this time, as well as the limited awareness that this is a normal development phase in their lives.
Absenteeism becomes the order of the day whenever menstrual periods show up and this is exacerbated by the social stigma from their male counterparts in school. Due to absenteeism, girls lose on average 25% of their annual school time resulting into poor performance and repeating classes, lowering their self-esteem plus morale for education and they eventually drop out of school completely.
NGOs through their several reproductive health Programs have contributed significantly to the sensitization of the girl child on the importance of education. In particular the Jane Goodall Institute has worked with parents and teachers in districts of Bushenyi, Rubirizi, Kabarole, Kyenjojo, Masindi, Buliisa, Hoima, Moyo and Kyengegwa, and has trained girls on how to handle sexual reproductive health challenges, supported girls with sanitary towels, underwear and scholastic materials such as books, pens and pencils.
With such interventions, initial steps have been taken in the reduction of school dropouts in areas where the Jane Goodall Institute Uganda have reached.
For instance; in Laropi Primary school Moyo district, Lillian who had dropped out of school due to lack of sanitary materials was convinced to come back to school by her friend Jerlin, a peer educator who is a pupil trained by JGI and has the responsibility of reaching out to girls in her school and those in the communities. Lillian has so far received training and support through the Roots&Shoots program which aims at nurturing youths to become environment stewards of tomorrow. She has since completed primary level.
During the course of implementation of their activities with schools, JGI also learnt that girls need more than just sanitary towels. It was discovered that after distributing sanitary towels for a term, the JGI team subsequently found most of them not used.
The girls reported that they had not used them because most girls did not have underwear. The Jane Goodall Institute has since came up with a hygiene kit for the girls that consists of necessary sanitary materials such as pads, underwear, soap and as well as a school bag which the girls use to keep a sanitary material for use while at school.
There is need for the government of Uganda to intervene and support the cause of such NGOs in implementing these programs especially in rural Universal Primary Education (UPE) schools, since most NGO programs are limited by financial resources.
The project nature of most NGO activities results in temporary solutions during the life time of the projects. Once projects end, the problem re-emerges.
The writer is a Volunteer Communications and Media Relations Officer, The Jane Goodall Institute Uganda