'Thousands of young women in Madagascar will benefit from this'

Gathering more information for the puberty book
By Jana Lee
April 4, 2016

I started serving in Madagascar in March 2013, and it is hard for me to imagine a more rewarding or exciting opportunity than the chance to return to the country I had grown to love and appreciate during my two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer. 

During my first two years of service in a small village of central Madagascar, I worked mostly with local community health workers and students to improve water sanitation, family planning, and sex education. It was a great learning experience to come into a new situation with my own ideas of what is “best” for the community and then realize all of my ideas were very different from what would actually work in my community. It was amazing to be integrated into the village and realize what the needs of the community were and then go from there. 

Because of that, my projects developed into a wide range of activities designed to help the people of my community. After a year of clean water education and latrine building, the transition into birth plans for mothers and puberty and sex education for students became my main focus. There really is no greater joy than to see a young mother have her baby at the local hospital or see a 16-year-old girl come to your house and ask advice about puberty and her boyfriend issues.

All the girls from my village for our GLOW camp.
All the girls from my village for our GLOW camp.

One of the biggest milestones in my service was during my second year, when my fellow Volunteers and I organized a GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) camp for the villages in our region. During this camp, we worked with a non-profit organization called Projet Jeune Leader (PJL), a nonprofit based out of Fianarantsoa in the southern highlands of Madagascar. 

The main goal of PJL is “empowering young adolescents in Madagascar to make healthy and informed sexual health decisions from puberty into adulthood.” They lead multiple sessions on health, puberty, leadership, confidence and other health-related issues. From the moment I worked with this organization, I knew they were making a difference in the lives of everyone they came in contact with. I was beyond fortunate to work side by side with them and see the great work they do for puberty education.

As a Peace Corps Response Volunteer, I am now working with PJL on a puberty book for girls ages 10 to 15. We conducted research and interviews in eight villages with more than 200 16- to 19-year-old girls as well as adults in those communities about the issues, biases, myths, taboos and beliefs surrounding puberty and menstruation. The research was conducted to help ensure that the book is culturally sensitive and responsive to girls’ most common questions and concerns regarding puberty and menstruation. We are working with a local artist, graphic designer, editor and printer to eventually distribute throughout the southern highlands of Madagascar later this year. Thousands of young women in Madagascar will benefit from the thoughts and ideas presented in the book.

Girl drawing what she thinks is the ‘ideal’ latrine for girls to use when on their period at school
Girl drawing what she thinks is the ‘ideal’ latrine for girls to use when on their period at school

As a result of the work and research done from the book, we found that it is not easy for young girls in rural Madagascar to manage their periods. It is too expensive for girls to purchase sanitary pads, and there are too many situations of girls using old clothes, rags or just wearing two pairs of underwear to manage their period. 

Because of this, we are doing another project of providing reusable sanitary pads to rural Malagasy girls. We have made what we think is the "ideal" reusable sanitary pad for the girls and women of Madagascar using affordable, local materials. 

In combination with providing reusable pads, we will teach extensive puberty education. Only 39 percent of young adolescents can correctly explain where their period comes from, and a third of middle school students don't know that they can pregnant once they start having their period. We are currently fundraising for this project to commence with the next school year. We worked hard on making a fun media project for all to see and spread the word. 

Every girl has a right to clean, affordable and reliable menstrual products. Every girl has a right to enter puberty confident and informed. I truly feel I am making a difference in this lives of people throughout Madagascar in my role as a Peace Corps Response Volunteer.

Jana Lee

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