Sunday, March 18, 2012

RUMPS (aka Re-usable Menstrual Pads)

I'm pretty sure I promised to post something about my RUMPS project a while back....but I never did! Sorry for the delay, but here's the update!

So, what are RUMPS? It stands for re-usable menstrual pads. Girls in Uganda often don't have access to disposable pads, since they're very expensive to buy in the markets. A pack of disposable pads costs about 4,500 Ugandan Shillings (about $2), and most families can't afford to spend this much for each of their daughters every month. Instead, many girls use dirty rags or even nothing at all, and they often stop coming to school during their period because they're embarrassed to get blood stains while there. As an affordable alternative, a PCV a few years back decided to teach girls how to make re-usable pads out of inexpensive, locally available materials. In contrast to disposable pads, using brand new materials you can make a re-usable pad that will last for 6-9 months for about 800 shillings (about 35 cents), and it can be even cheaper if you use fabric you find at home. According to older Ugandans, this is what girls used to use before disposable pads became available in the country, and they've all been excited to see this more sustainable alternative return. Not only will re-usable pads be more affordable for girls, it will also be more environmentally feasible, since there is no trash disposable system in most of the country. Often, girls will just throw their pads in the pit latrine. However, most schools only have a few pit latrines for hundreds of students, and the latrines can fill up very quickly with disposable pads, necessitating the digging of new pit latrines much too often. 

So, I thought teaching girls how to make re-usable menstrual pads sounded super cool, and since I didn't have much structured work at site, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to occupy my time. I decided to go to schools around my area (where girls are already mobilized!), teach them about the menstrual cycle (you would be shocked at how many ADULTS don't even know what the menstrual cycle is!), and teach them how to make a re-usable menstrual pad. Each girl would be able to purchase materials from me, at a subsidized cost, to make 2 pads: cotton fabric for the outside of the pad, towel inserts for absorption, buttons for attaching the pads to underwear, thread, and a needle.

My overly ambitious target: 3,500 kits of materials to prepare and give to girls. This entails cutting about 525 meters of fabric and almost 300 towels. Will I succeed? I've already made a lot of progress, but only time will tell :)

After much cutting of materials on my part, it was time to journey to the schools and spread this idea. 

A reusable menstrual pad

So many RUMPS kits!

Sewing some pads!

But madam, I can't sew!

Still sewing...

So far, I've gotten great responses from both school administration/staff and girls. I've also been able to dispel a lot of false rumors about menstruation and reproductive health. Here are some of the questions I've gotten:

  • Is it true that if a boy urinates on my pad, I won't get pregnant?
  • Why do I have more appetite for sex during my menstrual period?
  • Can I get pregnant during my menstrual period? 
  • What are my "safe days" (when I can't get pregnant)? 
  • What if their flow is like a tap? (from a teacher)
  • Will a menstrual pad help me prevent infections? 

All in all, it's been a really successful project! Within the next few weeks, I'm planning to expand my program to some women's groups in the area and hopefully a fellow PCV's primary teachers' college, so that these teachers can take the program to their new schools. Wish me luck! :)