We received word last evening that - while initially faced with some complex restrictions which might prevent our visit to some schools in the Monduli region - we would be welcomed back to this area which includes the "original" UhuruPad school. Later on, the officials asked if we could we add "just one more" school. Everyone was game.
When we arrived at the first school (Kipok Secondary School - a boarding school attended by nearly 800 girls) we were invited to walk the grounds which are breathtaking. There are views of various peaks in the distance (though not Kilimanjaro as all have come to learn: we will see it from the plane going home, perhaps). We peered in windows and used the simple lavatories, and the next thing we knew, 800 girls were in the front courtyard. Game on...of so we thought.
For the first time, the teams which had practiced and presented as trios (two US "Champions" and a Tanzanian translator), were asked to split up so that no group would be more than 80 girls. "But what about the translation?" was a large question (we have 5 translators...not 10). A few teachers were handed the Kiswahili version of our book and, thanks to Debbie Lieb, a gift of headphones to entice them to join our ranks.
No one on this trip puts these girls last. We have seen challenges which would make any of our complaints (the heat, the dust, the lack of water, a vehicle needing a push out of the mud) seem trivial. So, flying solo, we started our 30-minute, very interactive presentations. Nearly immediately, the support team was asked to convey the message that the presentations should be abbreviated to 15 minutes; they ran back to the presenters in the midst of page 2 and told them to cut to the chase. A few minutes later, by some miracle - or perhaps some new understanding of the commitment, intensity, and goodness of the young (and "more senior") women presenting this vital health and hygiene information - we were told "no, actually, take 30....." Supporting team members ran back again to convey this more welcome bump in the road.
Questions naturally arise during the sessions:
- If I am raped during my period can I still get pregnant?
- What do I do if I have to leave school?
- Is prostitution wrong?
These can be heart-wrenching, making you want to stop in your tracks and sit with the girl, exploring the issue more deeply than the time we've been granted will allow (even with an "extra" 15 minutes). In these times, hours and days (months) could never be enough.
When it is time to go, we again thank the teachers and students and snap the requested selfies before getting into our vans. One team member, Emily Hansen, shared that she is not fond of being in photographs (hard to understand given that she is someone whose kindness shines through!) but, about these "selfie sessions," however, Emily shared that when her "students" rush to thank her and ask for a picture with her, it touches her deeply.
Our final school - for the day and this "deployment" - is the Nanja School. A boarding school which has 260 male students as well as 240 girls, Nanja is an example of a school that desperately needs UhuruPads. Where we come from, with a tap in every kitchen and bathroom, there are many menstrual hygiene options. Even though our pads are 100% biodegradable and compostable, some have suggested that we should instead provide washable pads or a menstrual cup which could be washed and re-used. But at schools like Nanja (and there are many, many like this) "washable" is not an option. Girls at this boarding school are entitled to two buckets of water for the week (the boys get one bucket). Their usage includes self-care, toileting, laundry, cooking, and so forth. Washing pads or cups (to dry in the dirt and dust, even if they could be washed with such a small ration of water) is not tenable.
We listen to a speech from the head of the school and he details the challenges they face; it is daunting. He thanks us profusely and while this is happening the schools' boys are re-directed across the campus. The girls gather elsewhere. Soon the presentation teams head into classrooms, ready to share those important words and images and smiles as part of our final presentations.
Moments later, from across the campus, we see the girls start running. They are not walking quickly - they are running toward the classrooms. With smiles on their faces are fairly flying toward doors behind which the possibility of understanding awaits them. They are running to Uhuru. They are running to a Freedom made possible by the generosity of many and brought to life by the women who await them behind those doors.