The Thankyou team were in Zimbabwe visiting the water, hygiene and sanitation programs we had funded through CARE Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe is one of the world’s poorest countries with 72% of the population living below the national poverty line (UN, 2015).
Most rural areas lack access to toilets and safe water. For some communities we serve, the nearest water source is often up to four hours away by foot and if unprotected, can be home to dirt, faeces and waterborne diseases. Where there are no toilets, defecation occurs in open areas, leaving women in particular vulnerable to harassment and violence.
We arrived at a school in the Chivi District of rural Zimbabwe. The nation’s flag flew at full mast on the front lawn. The heat was intense, yet three school students came rushing towards us in shirts with their ties done up to the top.
The students — Fortunate and her two friends — greeted us and gave us a tour of the school, to see the latrines, water filtrations systems and hygiene education material Thankyou had funded.
Fortunate was full of smiles. She stayed close, and we could tell there was something she wanted to say…
After the tour, we went to a shaded tree to chat further.
“My name is Fortunate Maria. I’m 16.”
“My favourite subject is English. I don’t know [why I like it]. Maybe it’s because I’m good at it,” she said.
“I play girls soccer, just for fun.”
She told us she’s involved in sports, drama, public speaking, the school health club, and even though there’s no choir, she sings with her friends. We could tell she had a great interest in learning!
With her health teacher and friends, she attended hygiene training that Thankyou funded as part of the school health WASH (water and sanitation hygiene) club. The training focuses on how to implement hygiene into everyday situations, with particular emphasis on menstrual hygiene for girls.
“We learnt that we must keep our school clean. We have water, we have taps so that after you use the toilet you wash your hands. And we have tissues in our class. And soaps, pads, and things like that.”
“[Through the training] I learnt that when we are on our menstrual cycle we must not be shy because it is a natural thing. We are not feeling embarrassed now.”
The training also empowered Fortunate, her friends and her teacher to execute an idea of their own.
The problem was that girls were missing a week of school each month when they were menstruating because they didn’t have sanitary pads.
CARE Zimbabwe and the training funded by Thankyou showed them ways they could change this.
“Some of the children say they don’t have enough money to buy pads.”
“They just lie, say I’m sick, I can’t go to school. They miss a lot of lessons.”
Armed with the facilities (clean toilets with locks) and resources (clean water) and empowered with the knowledge of proper hygiene (training classes) through Thankyou’s funding, Fortunate, her health teacher and the school WASH club were able to work with CARE Zimbabwe and the local government to learn how to make reusable sanitary pads in their textiles class for the female students to use.
The solutions empowered them, and in turn they caused a ripple effect of change to empower others.
“The children who don’t have the money to buy pads, are given the pads here. They just go to the senior woman and ask.”
“This is cool, we are living in a comfortable school, this is just great.”
“Some of the girls couldn’t play sports [because of their periods]. but now they are playing comfortably.”
“They [the female toilets] have locks. When you want to change your pad you just enter and lock so that no one would enter. It’s easy. You just feel comfortable.”
The training paired with the new class initiative broke down barriers between the boys and girls, too.
“It was hard, but now it is normal. Girls even ask boys if she has spoiled her skirt and a boy would help her. It is normal now.”
“I want to thank you very much because you have brought us great change. We are able to clean, have clean classes and use pads. We are able to conserve water. We learned a lot from the training. So I want to thank you, for your great help. I really appreciate what you have done for us.”
Listening to Fortunate, we can see this is just the beginning of the change clean water, sanitation and hygiene can have on her village. The future looks bright, and we can only imagine the incredible ideas Fortunate and her friends will go on to execute. For now, Fortunate dreams of a professional career.
“[When I grow up] I want to work with computers. In an office. Maybe a computer programmer.”
We think she’ll be the best one yet.
Photography by Kim Cartmell at Hello Kimbo