When it was time for me to attend the only interview in my life that promised to quench my thirst for secondary education, my mum was lying in a sick bed; hence, only my elderly dad was available to accompany me.
At 4.00 o’clock in the morning, I folded a piece of cloth that I had cut from my mum’s old leso, which I had secretly hidden in my mattress so that she would never ask about its whereabouts. I slipped it nicely on the inside lining of my underwear and wore it; then, I cut another big piece, folded it into a pad, and stuck it into the pocket. These would act as my sanitary towels and protect me from soiling my skirt with heavy menstruation flow for the 17 hrs that I would travel from home to the interview venue, sit at the interview which would determine my fate of accessing high school education, and later come back home.
Traditionally, speaking about menstruation is a taboo, and worse is telling your predicament to an 80 year old dad who was not lucky enough to go to school.
I was only 13 …
Collection of the interview sheets made me wish the earth would open and swallow me alive…my heart sank as I watched other candidates leave the room, some happy, some sad, but obviously eager to meet their parents. My legs went numb, I could neither lift a finger nor move a leg; it was like the menstrual blood had gotten tired of waiting for me to finish my test; it gushed out at once, forcing its way through the old and dirty piece of cloth and found a landing place on my purple skirt… efforts to stop it were futile as blood kept flowing and flowing.
Then, I heard his strong, loud voice shouting, “Gladys, the test is over and the journey ahead of us is very long. Let us go home!” We had an 8 hour long journey to cover. I slowly turned around while sitting fixed on the chair and nodded in agreement.
Even though the sanitary pads challenge did not end then, I remained upbeat and sort to create the change I wanted to see in my life. I would sew pieces of cloth and cotton together to make a pad. Believe me when I say it breaks my heart to the core when I hear that other girls have to struggle this much in order to stay in school today!
…as if the struggle was not enough, I missed the scholarship…yes, I did not pass. But how could I have passed when all I was thinking about was the dirty piece of cloth stuck between my thighs, every time I felt the menstrual flow?
I joined a local day school, where I would ride a huge, black bike to school, covering kilometers after kilometers, even with an old piece of cloth, stuck between my thighs and threatening to leak its content, as I peddled my bike up the hill…
Though in a cruel way, life taught me from this early age to take charge, to create solutions, to fight on, to push myself beyond the limit; to make decisions which I would solely be responsible for, to knock on doors and request school principals to admit me into their schools, to identify social challenges affecting girls in my community and help address them; it taught me to be a leader and a change-maker in my life and the lives of others.
A strong desire to see more girls develop into all-round youths, change-makers, solution creators, decision-makers, leaders, with confidence and high esteem, lodged in my heart.
While at the university, I realized that our entire academic system was lacking in many aspects. It focused on academic performance, instead of developing students into all-round persons. Then one day I thought, “What if more and more teens in Africa would learn how to take action in their lives and their communities…”