#MenstruationMatters: Fresh Life Toilets help Lydia ensure the comfort of her classmates
On a sunny day this past February, over 500 students of New Dawn School in Mukuru lined up to cast their votes for their new school leader. The hotly contested battle had a clear winner: Lydia Ndianu. The 13-year-old garnered victory with over 200 votes in her favor, earning her the coveted title of Head Girl.
Like many of her friends in school, Lydia has lived in Mukuru all her life, and she knows the difference access to quality sanitation can make to a community. When she was younger, Lydia and her two sisters had to make do with a pit latrine located far from their home. Sometimes they had to relieve themselves at night. Despite the danger, they would wake up their mother, take a torch, and head out to the unhygienic pit latrine. On some days, they would resort to using the bushes to relieve themselves.
At school, it was no different. The makeshift pit latrines were surrounded by a shabby wall made of corrugated iron sheets with holes. Girls would often avoid using the toilets when on their periods because there was no privacy. Their male classmates would often peep through the holes when girls were in the toilet and make fun of them. When Fresh Life Toilets were introduced into the community and her school, Lydia was elated. “At school, the boys could no longer peep like they used to with the pit latrine. The Fresh Life Toilet is private and so girls do not have to worry when they are on their period.”
To ensure that the girls in the school do not feel embarrassed about their monthly cycle, Asenath, the school’s head teacher, holds sessions with them to address any concerns that they have. The school also provides sanitary towels to every female student so that they do not miss class if they cannot afford them at home. In the past, some girls would opt to stay at home because they lacked sanitary towels and could not be assured privacy at school.
“The safe space the Fresh Life Toilet has offered, coupled with the simple measures we have taken, have really helped the girls carry themselves with confidence at school,” says Asenath.
Lydia uses her position as Head Girl to talk to the teachers about any worries that her schoolmates may have during their periods. If a girl is feeling discomfort of any kind during class, Lydia will usually approach the teacher and relay the information on behalf of the girl. Lydia is glad that she and her female classmates no longer have to worry about attending school during their periods.
Lydia, who loves sciences, has big dreams for the future: she wants to become a doctor and travel the world. As a doctor, she will ensure that people in her community can access care and treatment when they need it. This dream is how she hopes to give to back to Mukuru.
“I love being in Mukuru. Everyone is like family, and we all support each other to make our community as strong and successful as possible, ” she says.
Menstrual Hygiene Day, celebrated on May 28th, helps to break the silence and build awareness about the fundamental role that good menstrual hygiene management (MHM) plays in enabling women and girls to reach their full potential.