As a social enterprise, we are committed to giving back to the community in meaningful ways. A part of that commitment is partnering with local organizations that are doing good work in areas that align with our values and mission. Women’s empowerment is a core value of our organization, so this year we chose to partner with Lao Solidarity and their Lao Teen Girls Project.
Lao Solidarity has an outreach programme that works through a network of rural teachers, educators and community learning centres in collaboration with communities in northern Laos. They aim to build sustainable knowledge for the wellbeing of Lao youth and women. Specifically, the Lao Teen Girls Project strives to teach young women in rural areas how to manage menstruation at school, at home, or while working in the fields. Through education they:
- Fulfill the basic human rights of girls and women to understand and manage their own body and health
- Improve their physical, social, and mental wellbeing
- Encourage the use and production of washable menstrual pads
- Discourage teen pregnancy
- Circulate accurate facts about menstruation and hygiene in rural communities through their book.
Globally, at least 500 million women and girls lack adequate facilities for menstrual hygiene management. The lack of infrastructure is compounded by the less tangible challenge of social norms and beliefs that menstruating women are impure and should be excluded from participating in everyday activities. The taboos and stigmas attached to menstruation often lead to an overall culture of silence around the topic, resulting in limited information on menstruation and menstrual hygiene. This lack of information can have negative consequences on the health and dignity of girls and women. A growing body of evidence shows that girls’ inability to manage their menstrual hygiene in schools, results in school absenteeism, which in turn, has severe economic costs on their lives and on the country and serves to entrench the lower status of women and girls.[i]
The Laos Solidarity outreach programme has a team of peer educators who go out to rural villages during the school year and the dry season. They deliver supplies and conduct workshops to educate the teachers and girls with the goal of helping them understand that what is happening to them is normal and they learn to manage menstruation without letting it keep them from their normal activities.
During these education missions, Laos Solidarity conducts workshops to build capacity in communities through education, community support and involvement. They also give each girl a hygiene kit which includes: 4 antibacterial washable pads, soap donated by Lao Naturel, a pair of knickers which can hold the clip-on pads, and a book about becoming a teenager.
The antibacterial pads are made from a patented cloth, fabricated in India. They are 4 times more absorbent than normal pads, which enable them to be worn all day. The antimicrobial lining permits this, as it actively destroys bacteria. It also means that the pads can safely be washed in river water, which is an option for many women. The cloth is designed to dry quickly (2-4 hours), which is especially important in misty mountain areas of rural Laos. Discovering this fabric was a big breakthrough for the organization this year as it makes the pads hygienic and practical, however they are currently having problems finding a company with a permit to import from India to Laos. Hopefully they can solve this problem before the school year begins.
The books were written by Sally Piper Pillitteri a former nurse and with a MS in Water, Sanitation and Hygiene for Developing Countries, with a major in Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) and the Founder and Director of the project. The book replies to girls’ questions about puberty which were collected through a baseline study with 150. The Luang Prabang Library staff translated the book into Lao. Laos Solidarity also created a book committee made up of Lao teachers and development workers to help edit the book. Mr Sengdao a local Lao artist illustrated the book.
The rural outreach workshops are the base of the Lao Teen Girls Project. The book and hygiene bags are only distributed after recipients have attended a workshop on the emotional and physical changes at puberty and MHM. Local secondary school teachers and members of the organization’s Rural Knowledge Team lead the workshops. All educators participate in an intensive 16-hour Training of Trainers, designed exclusively for Laos by Sally with input from the MHM Alliance.
Through these teachers the programme had reached over 20,000 girls aged 10 – 16 in rural secondary schools, and the Rural Knowledge Team has reached over 3,000 women and girls in remote mountain villages. Because their aim is to empower whole communities in supporting MHM, the workshops are open to the whole village. Some schools even hold Girl Days in conjunction with the workshops, which are attended by the whole school.
Once girls have attended a workshop in their school, they inevitably “teach” their mothers, who are sometimes illiterate, their sisters, and other female relatives. Girls in dormitories use their experiences, and the book to support younger girls. In this way, the project has become Lao owned and has taken on its own personality.
This past year they distributed over 1,400 hygiene packs to women and girls in bags made by Ock Pop Tok. They plan to reaching another 1500 plus girls and women in the next 12 months. Sally explains,
“The bags are a real blessing for us, and above all for the girls. They love them to store their pads and keep them clean. Plus who has such a cute thing in a dusty village?”
If you want to support Laos Solidarity and the Laos Teen Girls project you can make a tax deductible donation to the program through their website https://laossolidarity.org/en_gb/donate/.