“I remember the first day I got my period. I hardly knew anything about my body and its changing pattern. I was confined at home for more than a month, was not allowed to talk or have good food.” Shanta Akter, 22, is a teacher at Brilliant International School in Banglabazar. Now she is helping her students learn about their periods, keeping them healthy and in class. It’s a world away from her own experience. “Sometimes I feel so happy compared to when I think about myself, how afraid I was. Now I am engaged in breaking my students’ fears and the taboos related to menstruation. I do not want any of my students to face the same ordeal and sufferings I did.”
When she was growing up, menstruation made Shanta feel ashamed and she understands now that without this knowledge, her health was at risk, too. “Now I realize how risky things were during my childhood. I did not clean the cloth properly as I was always ashamed about it. I had to clean it secretly, drying it in a dark place in my house so that no one could see it.”
Before the project took place, Shanta’s school did not have separate toilets for girls. The staff noticed that the girls’ attendance was affected when they had their periods but they didn’t have a solution to help. However, thanks to the Banglabazar project, new toilets were built with special facilities to help the girls manage menstruation. Shanta says attendance improved “overnight”!
As part of the project, Shanta was also trained in menstrual hygiene management (MHM). This gave her all the information she needed to help her students manage their periods practically as well as emotionally, exploring the stigma and taboos traditionally associated with periods.
“I teach my students how to clean their pads or cloths and advise them to change them every six hours. They must wash them with hot water and soap, and then dry them in the sun. I also try to help them understand that menstruation is a natural phenomenon and encourage them to share this with their parents, friends and neighbors. Sometimes I also talk with their parents as part of the counselling so that they can support their daughter and not be influenced by any superstition or taboos.”
And it’s not just the girls who have benefited from the Banglabazar project; the boys are being encouraged to keep good hygiene with regular hand washing too. Washing your hands with soap after going to the toilet and before eating, keeps children healthy and stops diseases spreading. It sounds simple but it changes lives. And when children learn how to stay clean and healthy, they tell their friends and families too, transforming whole communities.
“I give my heartfelt thanks to the Banglabazar project. It has changed my life and the lives of the many teenage girls who live inside and outside the school through introducing MHM training and ensuring separate wash blocks at the school.”
Clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene: with all three, people can unlock their potential, break free from poverty, and change their lives for good.