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Sewing and schooling give Somalia’s teenage girls a fresh start

UNICEF Somalia/ Pflanz
© UNICEF Somalia/ 2011/ Pflanz
Kafiya Hassan, a 16-year-old girl in Galkayo, who earns money manufacturing special sanitary kits for schoolgirls to use, while also receiving education.

By Mike Pflanz

GALKAYO, Somalia, 9 March 2011: It is early morning and a cool breeze drifts through open windows into a workshop where 40 teenage girls are bent over sewing machines.

Each is working on the same garments: specially-designed sanitary kits for school girls to encourage them to stay in school when they are menstruating.

16-year-old Kafiya Hassan, taking a break from her German-built electric machine, says she is “very proud” of the work she and the other girls are doing here in Galkayo, a major town in north-eastern Somalia “Puntland”.

“This is very important because I am helping girls go to school, helping them to stay in class,” she says.

Drop-out rates from Somalia’s schools soar when young girls get their periods, and the sanitary kits manufactured by Kafiya and her colleagues are handed out so no girl is too afraid of stained clothes to come to class.

In each kit are six absorbent pads, two pairs of underpants, hand soap, washing powder and printed instructions in the Somali language.

“Before, myself and girls like me had to use old clothes or any rags we can find,” said Kafiya.

“Very often this was not suitable, and not clean. Now the girls know that no-one will notice when she has her period, she can go to school, she can play, she can do anything.”

Less than an hour’s drive north of Galkayo, a dozen schoolgirls dressed in sports kit conforming to Islamic dress codes practiced basketball on a court in Harfo School, a free boarding school that provides education to girls from nomadic and internally displaced communities.

For 16-year-old Kawsar Osman the sanitary kits have allowed her to focus on her studies and given her confidence that menstruation will not affect her life.

“There was a time before I knew about menstruation, before we had these kits, that I thought my period meant I had done something wrong,” she said, collecting a kit during a twice-yearly distribution.

“That does not happen anymore. I know now it’s just natural and we have the solution here in this pack.”

UNICEF Somalia/ Pflanz
© UNICEF Somalia/ 2011/ Pflanz
Girls at Harfo Boarding School receive sanitary kits during a twice yearly distribution.

The sanitary kit project is run through partnership between UNICEF and the Galkayo Education Centre for Peace and Development (GECPD), funded by UKaid from the Department for International Development under the “Strategic Partnership” for Education in Somalia.

A key benefit is that it helps Kafiya and her friends in the sewing workshop as much as it helps schoolgirls like Kawsar.

The teenagers making the kits are paid wages according to their production, and at the same time offered education that many of them – from the poorest and most vulnerable families – have so far missed.

Many were older girls who refused to start schooling so late in their adolescence for fear of being teased, said Hawa Yusuf, education coordinator at GECPD, which trains and teaches the girls.

“We saw that there were many who had no education but would not come to school just for reading and writing, so we had to add this vocational training to motivate them,” she said.

“We found that tailoring was a much needed skill in the market. It gives the girls a real skill and a way to earn an income, and that meant that their families would allow them to go to school because at the same time they are earning money.”

Kafiya, whose family fled civil war in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu when she was eight, said she earns an average of US$80 a month.

She gives her mother US$20 to help pay household costs for the family.

“The rest of the money I use myself to pay secondary school fees,” she adds proudly. “I am the only person in my family earning a regular wage.”

Ahmed Hilowle, the workshop tutor and head tailor, says the 80 girls enrolled on the project manufacture up to 600 kits a day during their four-hour shift between 8am and noon. Each earns between US$60 and US$120 a month.

“Already we have found many girls who moved on from this project are now running their own sewing businesses in Galkayo,” he said.

“I think without this training, and their basic schooling, they would all still be living a very much more difficult life.”

 

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