20-year-old Mano Hamdan remembers very little about life in Kismayo, Somalia. Her father passed away in 2006 and the family struggled financially, as her mother tried to make ends meet.
The death of her father, who was the family’s only breadwinner, coupled with insecurity in Somalia forced the family of eight to flee in 2006 to Kenya.
Growing up, Mano and her four sisters couldn’t always have access to sanitary pads.
“We tore our own clothes into pieces and used them as sanitary pads. If we didn’t have sanitary materials, we still used pieces torn from our own clothing.”
The lack of sanitary products for girls in Dadaab often resulted in schoolgirls missing classes during their menstrual period.
19-year-old Nimo Omar is a Somali refugee classmate of Mano and an aspiring Professor of Medicine. According to her, pads donated by UNHCR and partners do not last throughout the menstrual cycle.
“Due to lack of livelihood opportunities, families cannot afford to buy sanitary pads. Therefore, most girls are not even sure of how they are supposed to handle and manage their periods”, she adds.
According to Martha Kow-Donkor, UNHCR’s Community-Based Protection Officer in Dadaab, culture and religion also pose a barrier to menstrual health education since such education is not given at home.
“Girls rely on friends and peers for information, which may be distorted. There is therefore a need for accurate, age appropriate and quality sex education in schools”
These challenges faced by girl students do not only impact negatively on their participation and performance in school but also take away their dignity, self-esteem, and self-confidence. Their major fear is possible leakage, which attracts teasing from male learners. To avoid this, girls may opt to miss school during their period.
“Some girls sleep in class and some will excuse themselves to use the bathroom more frequently, losing precious learning time in the process”, she says. “Our teachers are not yet fully equipped to assist girls out of these problems”, Windle International Kenya’s Norah Kariba adds.
On 5 August 2021, UNHCR Dadaab received an in-kind donation of some 100,000 pieces of sanitary pads, to be distributed to refugee girls in both primary and secondary schools in Dadaab.
as a result of the support from donors like the Government of the United States who have continuously donated sanitary items, girls’ school attendance and performance has improved over the past few years.
Mano who is so attuned to feeling positive all the time, dreams of becoming a doctor and living with her family in Somalia.
“Once I complete my studies, I want to return to Somalia and educate girls on sanitary hygiene and hopefully make sanitary pads available for all young girls in Somalia”, says Mano.