By Cynthia Rukundo
What became a sanitary pad for 28 year old Betty Tabu as she journeyed to Uganda three years ago from South Sudan was a piece of cloth.
“On my way to Uganda, we were footing which made it hard for me in terms of hygiene during my menstrual periods. I cut a piece of cloth that I used to pad myself as I was moving to Uganda.” Tabu said.
Tabu recounted the days when she could hardly clean herself. “On our way to Uganda, all that was available for me was dirty wild water from rivers but I had no soap for washing my sanitary towels.” she says.
She is one of the thousands of South Sudanese nationals who have fled the ongoing conflict in the country. The war in South Sudan which began in December 2013 and has left more 4.3 million people displaced according to the USA for UNHCR report
Like Tabu, many displaced South Sudanese nationals found their way to Uganda they now make up 74 percent of the estimated 227,000 refugees in the Bidibidi refugee settlement in Yumbe district, North Eastern Uganda .
Of the above, 83 percent are women and youth yet, menstrual health management remains a big issue.
Refugees at Bidibidi settlement have been rendered some help in menstrual hygiene though some said it is not enough.
“After settling in the settlement, the UNHCR provided us with sanitary towels that we were going to use that month which did not last long,” Tabu said.
Betty Tabu and Viola Dawa showcasing reusable sanitary towels that they made themselves. Photo by (Cynthia Rukundo)
The health manager at the International Rescue Council, Dr Ronald Lubega said the fast growing numbers of refugees have remained a problem to implementing several initiatives such as menstrual hygiene problems.
‘‘The United Nations High Commission for Refugees gave out three packs of non-reusable pads the entire year but because of the large population in the settlement area. Most refugees end up not benefiting at all. he said.” He adds that menstrual hygiene has not stopped children from going to school .
WHAT NEXT FOR THE REFUGEES?
In 2017, Tabu received the news that the Catholic Relief Service (CARITAS) had come on board to train women on how to use reusable sanitary pads.
‘The coming of CARITAS was a typical game changer and one that I received with nothing but gratitude,’ Tabu said.
Tabu has a sewing machine and now makes pads that she sells to her fellow refugees. Fellow refugee and trainee Viola Dawa who lacks her own sewing machine ,has thus become one of Tabu’s ardent customers.
Dawa says that buying reusable pads from Tabu has improved her hygiene.
still some refugees face a challenge of lacking enough raw materials to use to make these reusable sanitary towels . But some have improvised using patches from used old clothing.
Amidst all these challenges, some women in the settlement are optimistic now that they have learnt to make sanitary towels and clothes which has become an employment opportunity for them.