When a young girl child starts to menstruate, the hormonal change in her body alone gives her a hard time. Having to navigate through the social stigmas associated with menstruation in Nepal is another hurdle to pass.
Social stigmas related to menstruating girls may be less in urban areas, but period is still a taboo in rural areas of our country, with many girls and women being put in cowsheds, or small rooms outside the house, as they are considered impure for the five days they bleed.
Acknowledging the need to prevent such social stigma, the Grade X students of Lincoln School, Kathmandu, started an initiative called ‘Please Learn and Understand Menstruation or PLUM’. This initiative was initially inspired by the Purple Box Project, and their idea of reusable pads. We started with eight girls in Grade X meeting every Friday after school from 3 to 4 pm. Our goal was to provide reusable pads for girls that live in rural villages, who don’t have access to sanitary pads.
We started off by doing research on different types of pads -- long pads, short pads, thick pads -- and learning how to create reusable cloth pads. We had to find out what cloth was best for absorption and comfort. After figuring out the best option, we decided to make kits with soap, underwear, night cloth pads, day cloth pads, multiple inners (for the pads), a calendar to mark the period days, a towel and a zip lock bag to keep used underwear and reusable pads until they can be washed.
We divided ourselves into groups to manage money, communicate and raise fund. We sold snacks and organized public events to raise money. Once we raised enough money, we invested it on buying books called Mensturpedia which was translated in both English and Nepali. We were getting prepared for our school’s annual Service Nepal trip. By this time, more students from different classes had joined our group, and interestingly we had both boys and girls in our initiative. We also started up a PLUM website and Facebook page.
As we were preparing for our Service Nepal trip, we decided that we shall distribute the cloth pads and teach the girls to use them. We also informed the girls that menstruation is a natural phenomenon and they should not be ashamed to talk about it. Since we also had boys in our group, we found that it is just as important for boys to learn about their bodies as it is for girls, and for both the genders to learn facts about menstruation.
Our dreams were turning into a reality and it was all very exciting as well as stressful. By this point, our groups were meeting twice a week on Tuesdays and on Fridays. We also distributed the menstrual kits to the students of all grades in our school so that even they could take the kits with them when they went on their Service Nepal trip.
We went to a very helpful organization named Days For Girls that creates reusable cloth pads and teaches girls in Nepal about menstruation. There we learned the most effective ways to teach girls about menstruation. We learned how to say words such as yoni, pathegar, and dumba, and ways to explain their role in menstruation.
Finally, the day to impart the lessons arrived. We had prepared lesson plans for both boys and girls, we had ice breaker activities and a survey given to us by Days For Girls. As my group started our first lesson, it hit me that there were about 12 girls staring at us waiting to learn, giggling, and smiling. I became nervous, but assured myself that everything would go right if I followed our lesson plan. As we started with the ice breakers, the girls started to feel more comfortable and so did I. As I was teaching the girls, I truly started to understand just how much of an impact I was making. Only one of our kits could change a girl’s life.
After our lesson was done, I came out feeling accomplished. All the hard work that we had done through this year leading to this moment was worth every minute of our after schools hours, weekends, and fund raising. Our goal had become a reality and there wasn’t a better feeling than watching all those girls smiling, laughing and talking to their friends about the pads.
As I was walking back to our site from the school with my buddy, she came to me and asked me about a personal menstruation question, at the time I didn’t think much of it, but through self reflection I realized that just in one day I changed the lives of 12 girls.
What I have learnt from this experience is that the feeling of accomplishment, success, making new friends, and learning new things is what life is all about. I’m just 16 years old, and have just started on my life journey. But through the years, I’ve traveled so far to know that life can sometimes be rough, push us around and give us tears. But it’s also about moments like these that give us happiness, fulfillment and pride.
If asked to go to any rural area for a good cause, I would do it in a heartbeat, no matter how much work I have to put into it, because I now know that nothing gives me more happiness than the privilege of being able to help others.
I really hope that this project continues through Lincoln School as the years pass because I feel it is a great opportunity for us students. I feel honored to have been a part of the PLUM Project. I want to continue to work with the PLUM project because I want a Nepal where girls like me can stand with their parents in their prayer room, kitchen and do anything they want, 30 days and month, 365 days a year without anyone asking them if it’s their time of the month.
Aarya is a Grade X student at Lincoln School, Kathmandu.