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Empowering girls with cloth, needles and thread

making reusable menstrual pads in South Africa

One day at school in my village, one of my 7th grade learners was crying at her desk.

Child & youthcare workers help girls make RUMPs (reusable menstrual pads).
Child & youthcare workers help girls make RUMPs (reusable menstrual pads).

She wouldn’t tell me what was going on but a friend of hers helped her to the principal’s office and she went home. I learned the next day that my learner didn’t have any menstrual pads and my principal asked her to go home to ask her mother for money to buy some disposable pads. These sell between R20-R30 ($1.50-$2.25) a pack, which is often unaffordable for families in the village. 

I had recently done a training in reusable menstrual pads (RUMPs) at the Let Girls Learn Literacy Lab conference and I realized the urgency of this project for the young girls at my school. 

I approached my local drop-in center to propose the idea of making RUMPs with the girls in the village. I was uncertain how the center would receive me as a male Volunteer coming to talk to them about women’s issues, but I had a year and a half of rapport with the manager and I was able to explain what RUMPs were in Tshivenda. 

She was positive about the idea so I was invited to a meeting with their whole staff of child & youthcare workers. As I finished introducing RUMPs, I passed around the one I had sewn up as a demonstration and turned the discussion over to them: “Does this sound helpful to you? Would this be useful for girls here?” 

Marc Patterson is a Peace Corps Volunteer in South Africa.
Peace Corps Volunteer Marc Patterson makes RUMPs with his learners in South Africa.

There was a bit of a pause, then a woman replied, “It’s better than socks.” Everyone agreed and showed interest in running the session with girls in the village. While reusable pads may not be the preferred choice for everyone, the child & youthcare workers agreed it was a good option for girls at school to have. 

After the cloth, needles and thread were bought in a nearby township, I demonstrated to the workers how to sew the RUMPs and they each made a reusable pad of their own to show off. Over the next few days, they prepared 40 bags with the pattern, cloth, needle and thread for each girl who would attend the session. The principal of our primary school gave us permission to use the school for the RUMPs activity and we set a date. 

On the day, 38 girls returned after school, eagerly awaiting the event with the local women and one young man who are the child & youthcare workers. Ofhani gave the introduction to the girls, talking about menstrual health and the importance of being prepared and reaching out to other women in the village for advice. I helped demonstrate the sewing procedures before the workers really took over in helping the girls in small groups, guiding them through the whole sewing process. 

One by one, the girls completed their RUMPs. The child & youthcare workers took selfies with the younger girls. The smiles and excitement of each girl holding her new pad showed a real sense of achievement and growth. The workers said they would take this session to the girls at the high school next.