Who Run the World?
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my time spent abroad, it’s that being a teenage girl is freaking HARD no matter where you grow up. Granted, I’m guessing the Kardashian's teenage years were likely much different than many of us peasant folk but I’ll still bet that we all struggled with similar issues: maintaining your social life, getting good grades, falling in love, having your heart broken, navigating your extremely complex and fragile emotions, passing major exams, deciding what you want to do with the rest of your life post-secondary school anddddddd managing your period (which, unfortunately is still a taboo topic of discussion around the world).
As part of our School Outreach Program while visiting Uganda this past summer, the women on our team had the opportunity to deliver a donation of re-usable sanitary pads we received from and incredible local company called AfriPads, and connect with the young women at our partner schools in Namasale. The goal of this delivery was not only to provide girls in rural areas access to alternative feminine hygiene products but also for our team to hear about the challenges faced by girls in this community from the girls themselves.
I’m going to stop right here and tell you that as a teenager, I would NEVER have spoken the word “period” to anyone but my own mother, let alone have talked about it with some foreign strangers visiting my school. Regardless of how important this pad distribution was to the mission of our School Outreach Program, it was even more important to our team that we figure out a way to create a safe and comfortable space to connect as WOMEN who have all walked through similar issues in our lives. This meant #1) taking direction from Collines, our Co-Founder and Madame Rebecca, Headmistress of Namasale SEED Secondary and #2) making ourselves vulnerable and sharing with the students OUR stories about struggles we’ve faced as women growing up in diverse economic and educational backgrounds.
When we arrived to the secondary school, the girls were asked to join us in a private classroom and were briefed by their headmistress on the purpose of our visit. Giggles erupted across the room. AWKWARDDDD. Of all things we could’ve come to present on, it had to be about periods.
Before we dove into discussing how to use the pads and passing out undies, Collines kicked off our session with the girls by introducing our team and asking the students about some of the issues they face as young girls living in Namasale. Early marriage and teen pregnancy, staying focused school, going to University, having enough money to buy pads, getting good grades, coming from broken homes, being harassed by boys and young men in town were some of the issues the girls explained that they stressed about on a daily basis.
“How about if I told you these women from America also deal with these issues too?” Collines asked. Many of the girls chuckled. Collines asked if we would share our stories of struggles we faced growing up. Despite the fact that most of our team mates have a fear of public speaking, each of them bravely and openly shared their own stories about teen pregnancy, experiencing poverty, coming from broken homes, being harassed by young men, loss of family members, feeling unworthy and feeling lost.
When it was my turn to share a story, I spoke about being 17 and having no idea what I wanted to do with my life until I met a girl who changed everything for me. She was eloquent, beautiful, driven, passionate and had dreams the size of mountains. I wanted to be JUST like her—and so did my friends. Because she was going to school for International Studies, I decided to major in the same field. Because she travelled the world, I wanted to do that too. This girl had crazy huge dreams to give a voice to children in her community, so I started working with children in my community too.
Every student in the room was silent. “And that girl came from Namasale.” I shared.
I’ll never forget the look on those girls faces when they realized it was Collines I was speaking about. Afterwards, Collines told her own story about growing up in Namasale with the same struggles, obstacles and stress they’d shared. She explained that because she stayed true to her dreams, worked hard and stayed focused, she is now an independent, powerful woman in her own right who can travel the world, make her own money and is a Mom, a career woman, a motivational speaker, a nonprofit director and a Principal all at once. By the time she’d finished her speech, all of us (and many of the students, too) were in tears.
What had started as a simple sanitary pad donation as part of our School Outreach Program became so much more. By creating a safe space for girls to be open by being vulnerable ourselves, we found a way to connect that transcended nationality, age, skin color, economic background and education level. Together, we shared our common experiences as WOMEN and revealed that no matter whether you’re from a capital city in America or a rural village in Uganda we are all so powerful in our own right. Happy International Day of the Girl :)
With Tenacious Gratitude,
If you’d like to join us in uplifting girls and women in Namasale, Uganda by providing more empowerment workshops for our partner schools, you can donate to our School Outreach Program right here.