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I grew up with my mother and I saw her passion in helping people with the little she had. I was inspired with her actions and love towards people and I made it my goal to contribute in my community however much I can. This journey began a lot earlier where I was involved with children in the neighborhood teaching them every Saturday.

The neighborhood I grew up in was crowded and I could see many kids running in the streets over the weekend. I decided to reach out to their parents and requested for children to be coming to my home so that we can go deeper into topics I know at school they don’t talk about most.

We talked about hygiene, discipline, listening, talents, dreams etc and we played together for a couple minutes as well. They went to school to study subjects like maths, English, science etc but they always looked forward to Saturdays since it was more of sharing than lecturing.

In 2018, I realized how period poverty is a hindrance to many girls and how they lack sexual and reproductive information.

One time I didn’t have sanitary pads and I was worried, yet I had an option to ask my sister if she can buy me one. In that moment a thought came to me. What happens to girls who don’t have sisters to ask help from? I decided to carry out an outreach of donating pads that month, in March 2018. My friends and family participated in contributing to that good cause.

I volunteered with an organization in Uganda for a year. In Kampala there’s a slum called Kisenyi and most of the children there live on the streets. We donated pads but their issues were beyond not having pads. They didn’t have anywhere to dispose the used pads. Most of the girls were pregnant at the age of 14, and they lacked basic needs both for them and their babies.

We started mentoring these girls. We talked about menstruation, hygiene and their rights.

This experience is different from what I experienced in Rwanda, but there’s a common denominator which is period poverty and lack of adequate information regarding sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR).

When I came back to Rwanda I volunteered with Dukataze for two years before I was hired as a program coordinator.

I grew up with my mother and we are very close to each other, but in my early years we never sat down to have conversations related to sexual and reproductive health and rights.

When I had my first period I was at school and my classmate helped me put on a pad. I had no idea about period cramps and mood swings and I didn’t know who to ask. It was a very private topic to open up to anyone.

Many of my friends have similar experiences.

Dukataze is a social enterprise of young people who took it upon themselves to share the knowledge and information they have with adolescents. I feel like the adolescents we meet are getting more information and knowledge than I had as a teen.

Sharon holding up a tampon as a part of an educational session at a school in Kigali, Rwanda.

We go to their schools, create a safe space for them to ask questions and provide them with tools such as books and resourceful articles. Young people who are left to find out for themselves encounter many challenges. Some of the girls are taken advantage of by boys. Others end up making wrong decisions since they didn’t have someone to guide them. Some girls drop out of school due to the stigma around periods, others due to lack of pads and painkillers. And some who manage to continue schooling perform poorly in class since they miss out 5 days of school that they won’t get back.

I think everyone should be involved in educating the adolescents about sexual reproductive health and rights and join in fighting period poverty.

No one would want their daughters, sisters, friends and nieces to miss school because of a natural and biological process such as menstruation. When we put ourselves in that scenario it is easier to take part in solving problems.

Sharon hosting an educational session at a school in Kigali, wearing an apron with an image of the anatomy of a vagina.

At Dukataze we provide SRHR information to both boys and girls, to fight the shaming and bullying that happens in schools. We teach girls skills such as sewing and how she can make her own reusable pads.

The most important part is not only providing a safe space for adolescents but being a safe space for them. Be who you needed when you were their age which is what I am trying to do. Advocating for them and contributing in sharing the little information that I know.

What brings me hope is working with young passionate change makers who are breaking the barriers and creating a safe space for adolescents. Together we can do end period poverty and strengthen adolescents access to sexual and reproductive health and rights.

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