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Stories of Water Access

Ikram

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Ikram’s school was among the eight schools in the area selected for a WASH project. The project would provide students with more water sources, improved sanitation and hygiene facilities and resources and hygiene training. These improvements would be especially convenient for the girls at the school, whose attendance previously fluctuated due to their menstrual cycles.

Curator’s note: The following is an excerpt of Ikram’s story as told to WaterAid staff on November 22, 2016.

Q: Why did you register to the Girls’ Club?
A: To learn about gender-related issues.

Q: What have you learned so far?
A: I have learned a lot from my engagements with the club. You learn from other students and you share experiences with others. It’s good. For example, I learned how girls should be a lot more careful at this age as they stand to lose more than the boys. Let’s say I have a boyfriend. If we have sex and I become pregnant, I will have to pause my education or even worse, quit. He will continue his education no matter what. So we learn what it means to be a young girl that has a dream.

Q: What is your dream?
A: I want to become a medical doctor. My mother is a biology teacher, so I grew up being taught things about our body — our biology. She has a slipped disc that gives her a hard time and has yet to receive proper treatment. She showed me the x-ray of her vertebrae and explained what it meant to me. I would like to specialize in orthopedics and help [with] such treatments.

Q: Do you think you will make it?
A: Of course! I am the top of my class. I have a family that supports me to focus on my education. Unfortunately, not a lot of my girl friends can say that about their families. Girls have a lot of challenges in-surmount to compete with boys and achieve their dreams. That’s what we are doing at the Girls’ Club – providing them with the kind of support they don’t get in their own homes.

Q: What are some of those challenges and what are you doing about it?
A: Unlike boys, girls are expected to support their family with household chores. They collect water, wash clothes, clean the house, look after younger siblings, cook and they are still expected to do their schoolwork and compete with the boys. As if that is not enough, a lot of girls cannot afford menstrual pads, so every month they have to miss school to avoid embarrassing themselves. The Girls’ Club offers emergency sanitary pads for those that came unprepared. But more importantly, we offer menstrual hygiene management education and we encourage them to buy reusable ones for the long term.

Q: You offer the sanitary pads, where do they go to change?
A: That was a problem because our toilets are just unusable. It’s changing now with your project bringing both the training and the sanitary pads. We now have a Girls’ Room dedicated just to menstrual hygiene management. We have water in there to wash afterward. We get sanitary pads and if we have a headache or any pain and would like to lie down a bit, we have a mattress and books in there too.

Q: Really? But if you feel pain and want to lie down and don’t go back to class, wouldn’t you rather go home?
A: For a lot of girls, staying in the Girls’ Room and resting or reading is better than going home. As a girl, when you go home, work awaits you. Here, you can rest well and read or do homework. You are just doing it in a more comfortable and private space. And if you get better, you go back to class after an hour or so. It’s perfect.

Q: So you think WaterAid’s work is helping girls to have a better learning environment?
A: Yes, no doubt about that. Girls do not have to miss school just to stay home and manage their menstrual hygiene. They now have clean toilets, filled with water. If they want a more private place to rest and relax, they have the Girls’ Room. We are grateful for this project.

Photo credit: WaterAid/Behailu Shiferaw

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