• Menstrual hygiene workshop

I am originally from the North West  region of Cameroon but work as a nurse and live in New York, U.S.A. I was born as  the fourth child out of a family of nine siblings-six girls and three boys, by my very wonderful and loving parents. My parents did not have the opportunity to go to school but were both determined to give all of us good education despite their limited financial  means. My father served as a pastor in the Presbyterian Church in Cameroon for over 30 years and my mother has been the best housewife and mother I have ever seen. My father is currently on retirement and having a great time with his wife and grandchildren at home in Bamenda Cameroon.

The community where I grew up with my family is a very close neat community where family is one. There is love, unity, respect and a sense of communion among all members of the community. However, domestic violence, breast ironing, early/teenage pregnancies, female genital circumcision are still not resolved.A handful of young girls are still being sent into early/forced marriages to men sometimes old enough to be their fathers. Menstruation which is a normal biological process is still a taboo topic as it is not discussed openly. In the North West region of Cameroon where I come from, recent reports show that more than 80% of female students have limited access to menstrual pads, leaving many young women without sanitary, hygienic materials. In addition to the adverse health effects of unsafe sanitary products, many female students in the region choose not to attend school during menstruation, resulting in chronic absenteeism and grade deflation.

The biggest challenge I am facing at the moment is that of funding and sponsorship to help me reach many girls who are in dire need of our program and sanitary napkins. As the program expands I begin to  struggle to run the NGO with personal finances as it is quite strenuous.

There are so many problems facing women and girls in my community but I will like to focus on three.

In Cameroon as in many places around the world, a girls’ journey into adolescence is a challenging time. She faces significant pressures and has pressing concerns and questions. 

In addition, she has little to no understanding of her body and rights. 1 in 4 girls do not know that they can get pregnant once starting their periods.

Despite half reporting being sexually coerced, 95% of girls do not know that rape, incest or coercion, are human rights violations.

And when she starts her period, she will likely be part of the 1 million girls in Cameroon who cannot go to school because she lacks access to sanitary pads and corresponding reproductive health education.This combination leaves her susceptible to diseases, unplanned pregnancies, forced/early marriage, or female circumcision, which ultimately can cause her to drop out of school. Simply put, adolescence can mean the end of her education and the potential for her full participation in society. 

Secondly there is something known as the “Sugar Daddy” Phenomenon whereby adolescent girls hang on street corners in the evening waiting to be picked up by older rich men (sugar daddies).Unwanted pregnancies often result in girls dropping out of school and the destruction of her self-esteem hence her future. 

A root cause is poverty which leads to cross-generational relationships. Due to this fact many teenage girls in Cameroon are commonly preyed upon by “sugar daddies,” who give money and gifts such as cell phones, clothes, shoes, cars and so on in exchange for sex. For the majority of the young women I interviewed, the biggest risk is possible violence from partners' wives, followed by violence from disapproving parents and same-age boyfriends. Pregnancy and emotional abandonment by older men and the girls' family members were cited as additional fears. Condom use is low as the girls are not in a position to negotiate condom use with older men. Girls are still embarrassed about using them, so if a man does not initiate it, it becomes difficult. During focus group discussions, the girls explained that they would rather give in to their older partners' insistence on not wearing condoms than lose the benefits of these relationships.

And thirdly, most girls still do not have the opportunity to go to school either due to poverty or ignorance by parents. Some are tricked and trafficked to big cities by family members where they work as sex slaves or house mates without pay.

I am constantly implementing solutions to problems that I come across in my own little way.So my goal towards change and a better future for these girls is to ensure that I rewrite the history of the Cameroonian  woman of today and  the Cameroonian girl child of tomorrow, with special emphasis on revolutionizing the sanitary pad industry. I am confident that the time is now to break all taboos and stigmas associated with menstruation and give women and girls the esteem they so deserve. And with the right resources I can do it. I will love to see a world where women are heard and not only seen. I believe that together we are stronger and can lift each other’s spirits and wipe each other’s tears.

In this light False Label Global Inc. a non-profit-organization was founded in 2012 in New York .In 2013, it evolved and became its own incorporated 501 (c) (3). Towards the end of 2013, the organization reorganized as an outcome-based program to improve the lives of rural women and the academic performance and self-esteem of disadvantage and vulnerable school girls of menstruating ages in Cameroon. False Label Global Inc. saw that donating sanitary pads to girls from impoverished homes who cannot afford money to by pads was an effective "hook" that will help them to value education and empower  them to stay on track in school and reach their full potential. The impact will be tremendous if students were immersed in a culture of learning about their bodily functions such as menstruation, how to best manage it and also how to end the stigma and taboo attached to menstruation. Since 2013 False Label Global Inc. has impacted the lives of  more than 2000 girls and women in the southern African country of Zimbabwe. Its rigorous menstrual hygiene management program have prepared, inspired and empowered girls to achieve their dreams. We are currently serving girls from very poor backgrounds, girls from indigenous communities, orphans and rural women. Even though a self-funded project,KujaPads initiative a program of False Label Global Inc, has donated sanitary napkins and empowerment workshops on self-esteem building and menstrual hygiene management to over 1000 school girls in colleges and orphanages in the North West region of Cameroon.

To further solve the problems that women and girls are facing in Cameroon, I came up with my three-point game changing plans that are sure to solve this problem once and for all.

-Work is currently being done to establish the first ever women led social enterprise in Cameroon where low- cost environmentally friendly sanitary pads are made locally. Rural women will be empowered by having a source of livelihood through employment opportunities in the industry. A scheme that will also encourage women’s participation in bettering their health.

-Sanitary napkins will be  affordable to school girls and women from very poor homes (orphans,imaginalised girls from indigenous communities, women in prison, homeless women and women with disabilities) who otherwise will skip school or drop out completely  or will be sent into early/forced marriages due to the lack of money to but pads.

-In order to help adolescent girls who do not receive the support and education they need to make healthy, informed decisions about their bodies and their lives, I will be taking up the challenge starting September 2016 to teach sugar-daddy awareness classes, a proven solution to address high teenage HIV and pregnancy rates in the North West and Far North Regions of Cameroon.

My program supports the 80% of school girls from very poor backgrounds in Cameroon who will otherwise be out of school due to the lack of sanitary napkins. We also support orphans with food such as rice and sanitary napkins as well and also marginalized girls from indigenous communities like the Bororo and Hausas, not living out homeless women, women in prison, and women with disability.

All my projects have been self-funded but I thank God for the grace and for providing a means to keep going.

Even though a leader already,I need great help to horn my skills .I will also appreciate help in entrepreneurship training,mentorship,collaborating and partnering with other women and organizations, and most importantly sponsorship/funding opportunities.

My team and I are currently fundraisning and collecting saniatry napkins to take to the girls of the Far North region of Cameroon who have  been displaced by boko haram insurgence and are in dire need.If you come across this and find it in your heart to support us please do not hesitate.

One more think I would like the world to know about me is that I was once surrounded by disempowered youth and teenage pregnancy and even became a teenage mother myself. I felt trapped and in darkness. I was treated like an outcast because having a child out of wedlock in my community was considered a taboo.There was fear. Yes the fear of not being good enough, fear of feeling stupid, like I didn’t matter. But sparked, triggered and empowered by education, a rare and golden opportunity given to me by my forgiving parents, I looked around me and saw solutions to the many problems facing women and girls today. With an insatiable thirst for knowledge, change and action, I am building a movement as a change maker in my native country and the world at large.

I am slowly climbing out of the deep dark hole that I have dug for myself .I might have been a little,tucked away in one corner of the world because of other people’s opinion of me. A few years ago, I decided to turn things around by making my voice heard, a giant step that has not only changed my life but the lives of thousands of girls who were trapped in the shackles of low self-esteem. My being a part of this enriching community of women is to be a part of something bigger than I could ever imagaine.Something bigger than myself. I have been able to tell my stories and shared my struggles from trials to triumphs in my bestselling book series (the false label series), in conferences, workshops and seminars and in schools and churches around the world. Through this course, I will be able to spread my mission of “Women and girls Empowerment in many parts of the world. I am a speaker in numerous panels especially those devoted towards the empowerment of women and girls.

Mahatma Gandhi said,"You must be the change you want to see in the world".

Of course he is very right but in order for change to happen,you must be empowered as individuals first.

As a woman be encouraged to design your own life plan,because chances are if you don't, then you will fall into someone else's plan.And guess what they have planned for you?Not much.

And remember that you are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream,

I will love to invite you to visit our website and see more of the work we do.

Thank you kindly for sharing this space with me.

http://www.falselabelseries.biz/#!kujapads-initiative/nywyy

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Comments

Hello Sister Kuja!

 

What an inspirational lady you are, my sister--I am your brother from North West of Cameroo too. When I learned one Nigerian girl impacting young girls lives in Nigeria with sanitary pads, I kept wondering where and how to start it here in Cameroon. Little did I know of you. Congrats daring sister leader. WOrld Pulse has done good to bring us together! Your initiatives like the Pads project and the game are both charity and empowerment put together--that is just what love for humanity entails. 

 

Only that I cannot remember any part of North West where outdated cultural practices like breast ironing still take place (but I cannot pretend to know all of North West either). However, try to expose those areas, if there are still any, so we reach out there, and convince them to stop those terrible practices. 

 

I have a vision for youths, students, widows, orphans, etc. planning to empower them. We can work together, I am sure, because I can learn a lot form you and help you as much I can too. Feel free to invite me on Facebook using my name as Nsah Mala.

 

Keep on with the great work you are doing both here on the World Pulse and elsewhere.

 

Brotherly love from

Nsah Mala

Yaounde-Cameroon

Kenneth Toah Nsah (Nsah Mala)

Writer, Critic and Teacher

Cameroon

Dear brother Nsah Mala.

I am deeply blessed by your kind words.Thank you kindly.

" I cannot remember any part of North West where outdated cultural practices like breast ironing still take place (but I cannot pretend to know all of North West either)" 

The above statement is from you.I don't know which part of the North West region you come from but I think we can both agree the region is very vast.Even in your own culture you can't pretend to know every cultural practice especially those done by women.

Of course breast ironing is still being practiced in my village Bali Nyonga.For more information,check out an organization called Gender Danger which was founded by a strong Cameroonian sister to put an end to such cruel practice.Right here on World Pulse you can read more by clicking on this link https://www.worldpulse.com/fr/node/23048

Priase God for World Pulse for great connections.We can definitely  join forces and work together for the good of the least of our brothers and sisters in Cameroon and other parts of the world.

Happy holidays to you and your family.

Yours truly

kuja.

kujamac

Dear Sister Kuja,

 

I am glad you responeded so promptly and that you found my comments useful and worthey to generate further comments. I could never imagine that is what happens in Bali Nyongha. That is terrible. And thank God and I said it clearly that I don't know all of the North West. I a from Mbesa, Boyo Division, between Kom and Oku. Breast ironing and FGM have never existed in my culture at all, though some other forms of bad practices have existed and we are gradually getting rid of them. I have published a book, a kind of compendum on my native Mbesa. So I know it well, but not all villages in the North West as I earlier said. 

 

Sister, I am still saddened by the news of hearing your native Bali Nyongha does such things. I hope they have stopped them. Thank God we can always jon forces and fight against such things. And you are already doing that Sister. I am behind.

Thanks for the link to Nakinta's post on World Pulse. I have once read her post, but not this terrifying one. SO breast ironing is still rife? We have to launch even facebook campaigns against it, Sister.

Thanks too for the Facebook request. I have already accepted. We stay in touch both here and on Facebook as well as on other social media outlets.

 

Once more, I salute your talents, commitment and passion to restore the dignity of women. You can count on me Sister.

 

Nsah Mala

Yaounde-Cameroon

Kenneth Toah Nsah (Nsah Mala)

Writer, Critic and Teacher

Cameroon

I totally love everything you are doing in Cameroon. Your work and words are very inspiring.

Congratulations on the journey so far. Yes, it is not without challenges, but am glad because amidst the challenges, we can still do something to help in our own small ways.

Thank you for inspiring me.

Gladys Muthara,

WEE Global Champion, Quality Education Champion.

Hello dearest Gladys,

Thank you kindly for your lovely words.I must say I am blessed and encouraged.And yes our journey on earth is filled with so many challenges.But most of these challenges are placed on our paths to prepare us for greater things.

I am so humbled.

Thanks again and be sure make the new year fun and a blessing.

Happy new year dear.

Yours truly

Kuja.

kujamac

Dear Kuja,

Thank you for sharing your story. Much of what you wrote is difficult to learn about--I had never heard of breast ironing, so I did some quick research and was saddened about it, mostly at the motives behind the practice. It made me wonder if any work is being done in Cameroon to educate men about treating women with respect.

Your work with the sanitary napkins is a wonderful project, and a great place to start teaching women and girls about the power they have over their own bodies. Have you considered approaching companies who make and sell reusable pads, like Glad Rags and Lunapanties? They create less waste than typical disposable pads.

I am glad you were able to get an education and make changes to your life so you can be an example to other women from Cameroon, as well as in your new community in New York. Thank you for being an inspiration and for working so hard to make the world a better place for women and children.

Sincerely,

Tamara

Greetings to you Tamara.

Hope you started the new year well.Thank you so much for stopping by and for reading my post and commenting encouragingly.I am blessed by your words.O yes we should thank God for google.That's my best place to go especially when I have any doubts.

Breast ironing is a practice done on young girls by women not men(mostly mothers or grandmothers).

Yes I have  considered approaching companies who make and sell reusable pads, however,I will reach out to Glad Rags and Lunapanties.We greatly need environmentally friendly and affordable options.Thanks for the recommendation.

Stay very blessed and make the day  fun and a blessing.

Yours truly.

Kuja. 

kujamac

Dear Kuja,

Google is one of the best tools, isn't it! 

I'm sorry I wasn't clear about questioning men's attitudes. I understand that it is women who are doing the breast ironing to the girls, and I applaud your efforts to bring awareness and change to the issue. My question about men was trying to understand what is being done to change men's attitudes about women in the hope that grandmothers and mothers don't feel they have to disfigure their daughters. It seems to me that the underlying problem is that everyone thinks it is okay for men to abuse, harass, and assault women; that it is just the way men are; and that women are asking for it. Some of the stories I read (when I Googled breast ironing) proves that smaller or bound breasts do not prevent men from attacking women and girls--all female people are under threat regardless of their appearance.

Again, I thank you so much for bringing all of these issues to light, and for helping me to understand them better. My thoughts are with you as you try to improve the world by providing such valuable resources such as sanitary napkins and education.

With love,

Tamara 

Hello sister courage!!! Thanks for the sanitary napkins you provided the underprivileged in my community. Most especially thanks for the hygienic awareness created because absenteeism from school because of menses is a thing of the past

Masalien's