Imagine being a young schoolgirl in Uganda.
Your life is already hard. The landlocked East African nation wrestles with poverty, overcrowding, and has endured a series of bloody civil wars from the reign of war criminal Idi Amin in the 1970s to terror incited today by the radical Christian cult called the Lord’s Resistance Army.
Chances are you live on or near a farm (coffee is by far the agrarian nation’s largest cash crop). And while the nation is rich in natural resources and its economy is slowly improving, little of the wealth is finding its way back into the pockets of common folk.
As a girl, your life is difficult. The struggle deepens when you start having your period.
Girls are often not allowed to attend school while menstruating; each month they are confined to a hut and lose a few days in the classroom, gradually falling so far behind they can’t catch up.
It’s common to rack up 60 missed days and many simply give up, dropping out and perpetuating a cycle that leaves women less educated, less employable, and less in control of their own destinies. For too many, stepping across the threshold into womanhood also means watching the door close on any chance for a better life.
And that’s where Amherst comes into the story.
A group of teens from Steele High School is pitching in to help disadvantaged Ugandan girls by sending menstrual kits to send overseas.
Teacher Kim Haney’s medical technology class — which doubles as the school’s Interact Club — cut cloth patterns Monday at Second Baptist Church in Elyria. The church sewing group has made more than 200 sanitary pads for the cause.
Haney said the Days for Girls International project aims to expand access to hygienic products to girls and women everywhere. It also teaches her students to take an active role in health care.
“I like that my kids have their hands on making these kits that go to people around the globe,” she said. The partnership with the Second Baptist sewing group is also valuable by giving students a chance to work with women who are over 55 at a historically black church, she said.
Merry Brown, a retired Elyria High School business teacher of 23 years, is the program director for the adopt-a-school initiative and welcomed Amherst students to the church. She said sewers have made quilts, small blankets for cancer patients, and blue jean bags for the YMCA.
“I think young people getting together with those minds that already know so much is a great experience,” she said. “A lot of kids today don’t want an elderly person to tell them anything. This is different with (Haney’s) class.”
There are 15 teens involved in the Uganda project. They’re helping to make the kits that include not just sanitary pads but also liners, washcloths, soap, and underwear.
The kits will be delivered in May to Uganda by fourth-year medical student Megan Battlin as part of a pilot effort to teach women’s health issues. Each will last about three years if properly cared for, Haney said.
“What I’m thrilled about is we’re tying in with a future medical professional to teach our kids about what kind of a real impact you can make in health care,” she said.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.