Since I was young, my dream has always been to serve in developing countries, especially in the medical field after obtaining my medical degree. This summer, Power Up Gambia has given me the opportunity to finally come to Africa, learn about life in The Gambia, and work at a hospital in a rural area in West Africa. I am very grateful to be an intern at Bwiam General Hospital because it is a very precious experience that allowed me to understand what it means to work in the medical filed in Bwiam under the lack of many resources, which forces health care personnel to improvise most of the time. Additionally, this internship gave me the opportunity to understand what it means to be a patient or a community member in Bwiam.
I am very interested in women’s health. Through my work at the maternity ward in the hospital, I became very passionate about assessing menstrual hygiene and management among young girls in Bwiam. Before coming to The Gambia, I used to read articles and hear about the difficulties that females in developing countries face when they start menstruating. Additionally, growing up in Iraq, I used to hear about those difficulties from my grandmother and mother, which contributes significantly to my passion about menstrual hygiene and management and empowering young girls to achieve their dreams. In certain African countries, menstrual shame, taboos, and ineffective menstrual hygiene and management lead girls to drop out of school, and in a few cases, young girls committed suicide due to harassment at school and in the community.
After meeting the school principals and receiving permission to conduct my research at a senior public school in Bwiam, first, I designed a questionnaire to assess menstrual hygiene and management (MHM). Then, with the help of my friends who are community health nursing students, we distributed the questionnaire to 108 female student and collected data. We found that more than 62% of students use cloth to manage menstrual blood, and almost all of them face severe financial hardships making purchasing sanitary pads monthly very difficult. While our assessment showed that a high percentage of female students are aware of good menstrual hygiene practices, they simply do not have access to resources that allow them to implement those practices in their life while at school. Additionally, we found that the females believe in many myths and taboos about menstruation, which are taught to them by family and the community.
I designed an educational class in which I addressed the physiology of the female reproductive system, menstruation, menstrual hygiene, and menstrual myths mentioned by the students. Female students at the junior and senior school were divided into groups, and with the help of my friends, we met the groups and delivered the class. Students were very happy that they attended the class because it helped them learn more about their body, understand why they menstruate and understand the truth behind many myths in their community. To help empower young females in Bwiam, my goal is to:
- Educate students, teachers, and families on menstrual hygiene and management.
- Build school toilets that are supplied with water, hand washing area, and waste disposal area. Each toilet costs around $1000 to build, and we are hoping to build 4 toilets.
- Supply female students at the junior and senior school with sanitary pads every month for as long as we can.
To achieve this goal, I have created a Go Fund Me page, and I hope that the story I wrote will motivate people to help and support girls of Bwiam.
Link to the Go Fund Me Page: https://www.gofundme.com/gu595c-help-empower-girls-of-bwiam-the-gambia