About the Author: Nicole Peacock serves as the Public Outreach Officer in the Bureau of African Affairs.
For thousands of girls across Africa, the onset of puberty means a difficult choice: risk the humiliation that comes with not having adequate hygiene supplies; or miss school each month. In this context, a program that supplies sanitary pads can make a world of difference to young women's educational success.
Working as a public affairs specialist in the Bureau of Africa Affairs at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, I heard that the lack of access to sanitary pads was a barrier to girls' education, and decided to do something about it. I created the “Once a Month” campaign, and began to solicit donations of hygiene supplies. We received contributions from a variety of donors and shipped them to the U.S. Embassy in Lusaka, where colleagues distribute them to charities working with adolescent girls in school. Their goal is simple: get the pads to girls so they don't have to miss classes every month and can excel in school with dignity and confidence.
The campaign is making a difference. As a senior girl at Kamulanga High School explained, “Before, if you had no money to buy pads and you had an emergency here at school, you had no choice but to go home.”
The “Once A Month” program has sent tens of thousands of hygiene supplies to Zambia, for distribution to hundreds of girls, through two NGOs: the Campaign for Female Education (CAMFED) and the Forum for African Women Educationalists of Zambia (FAWEZA). The program has captured the attention of U.S. associations for professional women, such as the Zonta Club International and the Links, who see their donations as a way to reach out to African girls in a concrete and meaningful way.
Recently, the program was extended in Eritrea to support women and girls recovering from the trauma of fistula: tears in the vaginal wall, often caused by sexual assault or abuse, that cause chronic incontinence. On January 12, 2010, Deputy Chief of Mission Melinda Tabler-Stone and Public Diplomacy staff from the Embassy in Asmara traveled to the Mendefera Hospital Fistula Clinic, where they were welcomed by International Visitors Leadership Program alumnus Dr. Habte Ghebre Selassie. Dr. Ghebre Selassie explained the kind of medical assistance the hospital is providing to women in the clinic. The opportunity to extend the “Once A Month” program to the facility means that the patients will have a more comfortable and dignified way to recover from their surgeries.
With such a small act as supplying sanitary pads, the Once A Month program, and a handful of small programs like it, offer girls more opportunities to better their futures. As a 17-year-old from Kamulanga High School in Zambia explained, “I am happy knowing that we girls have been given materials...I am truly grateful.”