March Newsletter - MHM Research Trip
This month our newsletter was written by Rachael Marshall, Dig Deep's Senior Fundraising and Partnership Development Officer, following her trip to Kenya in January
Here at Dig Deep it has been all systems go with new projects under construction, new fundraising events taking place as well as community health volunteers undergoing training. In our last newsletter, we talked briefly about the research that we were undertaking surrounding Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) and I would like to take the time in this newsletter to tell you a bit more about what we did and why we were doing it.
Getting to the Root of the Problem
In January myself and Jen Moore, an experienced MHM researcher, flew out to Kenya to join Justus and Nelly in our Ndanai office for 3 weeks. The purpose of our trip was to carry out some research to uncover the localised problems surrounding menstruation in the areas where Dig Deep works. We did this through conducting 16 focus groups with school children, teachers, parents and community health volunteers of all ages and both genders to gain an understanding of the problems faced when it comes to periods. After we had completed the initial research we then used the findings to re-develop our MHM syllabus that Nelly will be rolling out to male and female students in schools across Bomet county. In our final few days we completed pilot sessions to put the syllabus to the test and refine it further.
Breaking the Silence
Before arriving in Kenya I was aware of the issues surrounding menstruation and the barriers it created for girls. What surprised me was just how complex this issue is and how influential cultural norms and traditions are over this natural process. After we had completed the first focus group I was immediately struck by how deep-rooted the shame surrounding menstruation was. It is hard to summarise in this newsletter everything that we found but I thought I could give you an insight into some of the problems that we unearthed. We found that there are a huge number of cultural beliefs that may be holding the girls back in their day to day life, such as not being able to milk the cows, go near men or pick vegetables from the garden when menstruating. We also found that the physiological knowledge students have varies a great deal and often includes lots of misconceptions around fertility and menstruation. Also that many girls would miss school dues to fears of leaking onto their clothing when menstruating, which could be due to improper use of sanitary products and/or limited access to proper sanitary towels. (the photos below show some examples of our findings from the focus groups)
What has stuck with me since returning to the UK is how confusing starting your period must be for the girls in Kenya. It must be so scary to grow up in an environment where there are so many confusing messages surrounding menstrual health. Not only must it be confusing but for many it is an extremely lonely experience as they cannot share with their friends for fear of being teased. All of this fear and confusion comes from mis-information and from missing out on having a safe-space to discuss, learn and question what is happening to their bodies. Our syllabus is designed to deliver that safe space, deliver correct information and create a sense of openness and pride. The aim being to break down taboos, shed stigma and allow girls to start menstruating with pride and confidence.
So what happens now? Jen has written an excellent report for us which details the findings and outcomes of our trip whilst Nelly will be running a few more pilot sessions to perfect the delivery of the training. Myself and the Dig Deep team here in the UK will continue to fundraise to support the rolling out of this essential training and construction of the supporting infrastructure. Jessica and I are currently working on a very exciting campaign to raise support and awareness for our MHM work, so make sure that you keep an eye on our Facebook page and website to find out more about it. If you would like to find out more about this research then don't hesitate to get in touch and I would be happy to share in more detail my experience and our findings. Or if you want to read more about Dig Deep's work on MHM take a look at some of our other blogs: