Investing in Girls’ Health, Hygiene and Happiness May Cut School Absenteeism
March 31, 2022
One day while Srijana (English teaching Fellow in Dang), was taking her regular class, a male student said, “Washing clothes is a girl’s job.” Upon probing, he shared, “ I have never seen my father washing his clothes and so there is no way anyone is going to see me do it in the future”. The girls in the class seemed to be offended by such remarks. “I wanted to intervene immediately and I did but not sure if I succeeded in changing his mindset into understanding the stereotyped gender-based roles.”, shared Srijana.
Srijana added, “At times we get overwhelmed by the number of problems that need to be fixed. One of the most triggering issues for us as female Fellows is the traditional practice of gender superiority seen within the community which our students were passively learning and normalizing. We understand the urgency to do something about it for our students to be responsible members of the community.”
Soon after the schools reopened after a long halt due to the Pandemic, Fellows’ cluster get-together allowed Fellows to share among themselves, the desire to do something fruitful for their students using the limited resources of the community-schools in Tulsipur, Dang.
Srijana, Sadikshya, and Asmita are currently serving in Dang as Teach For Nepal 2020 Fellows. Since all three of them were dealing with similar issues yet unable to break the age-long barriers with an individual effort, they came up with a concept of- “Prayas: A team to work on similar dreams”. They encouraged and assisted one-other to conduct skill-based training and awareness sessions collaboratively.
Srijana who was stirred up by that incident moved on to conduct the very first session on ‘Awareness on Gender Equality’ among her students. Srijana even initiated a drama class with a theme to highlight the traditional gender biases seen in the community to make her students understand the significance of gender equality. The students themselves took part in writing scripts and executing the drama under Srijana’s supervision. With the initiation of drama classes, students grew more curious to learn about gender roles and gender equality and approached Srijana with curiosities and queries. Such initiation helped boost teamwork, communication, and analytical skills among Srijana and her students.
While Srijana was making an effort to raise awareness on gender equality, Science Fellow Sadikshya, noticed that most of her students, post-peak pandemic, did not wear masks regularly. Little research from her end highlighted the community people lacked the importance of wearing masks and were hesitant to pay for commercial masks. Therefore, Sadikshya organized a two-day workshop to teach her students the skill of cloth mask making.
Meanwhile, at Shree Ambeshwori Secondary School, Science Fellow, Asmita learned that the girls at school didn’t follow a proper sanitization practice during their menstrual periods. One girl student reluctantly whispered to Ashmita that she was forced to hang her washed cloth hidden under her regular clothes to dry out by her mother so that no male family members would be able to see it. And, this story was not limited to just one girl.
The provision of sanitary pads within the school compound encouraged the girls to use modern health choices but they lacked proper knowledge about the menstrual cycle and health. Realizing such unhealthy practices could bring various kinds of health-related problems among young girls, Asmita initiated a workshop to share her pad-making skills which she had learned from YouTube using common cotton cloths. Asmita also made her girls understand the importance of adopting healthy cleaning habits for a healthier body.
To reach more students in a limited time frame and with limited resources, the fellows approached the local school administrations. With the help of the principal of Shree Secondary School Doghare and the cooperation of the Rapti Ayurvedic Hospital in providing a spacious and resourceful venue, Fellows- Srijana along with Sadikshya and Asmita were able to run a three-day workshop on “Menstrual Health, Hygiene, and Happiness”.
During the workshop, Sadikshya and Asmita were able to run a full package theory-practical learning session that included knowledge about menstruation, awareness of taboos associated with it, and also various yoga techniques that were included as practical lessons to give relief from physical pain.
After the workshop, the Fellows found some girls willing to share their experiences regarding progress in their daily yoga practices. The girls were now less hesitant to ask any queries they had about the menstrual cycle.
Teach For Nepal’s vision on education does not confine Fellows to solve problems within the four walls of the classroom but it also encourages them to consistently look for social problems that are hindering their kid’s education. Taking this essence one step forward by the tool of collaboration, Asmita, Sadikshya and Srijana reminded us of the quote by Mother Teresa- “None of us, including me, ever do great things. But we can all do small things, with great love, and together we can do something wonderful”. They indeed did something wonderful for the girls of their community as now they don’t sit back being offended over a boy’s comment, they now show up to school more regularly which is how they don’t miss a day to break the biases and defy stereotypes.
Currently, 107 young leaders from diverse educational backgrounds are working as Teach For Nepal Fellows in 55 schools in Lalitpur, Sindhupalchowk, Dhanusa, Parsa, Lamjung, Dang, and Tanahun.
You can sponsor Fellows like Asmita, Sadikshya and Srijana by donating to Teach For Nepal and support their work.
(This article is written by Mamata Pariyar who is currently working as Executive Associate to the CEO at Teach For Nepal.)