I was at Kaaga Primary addressing a group of about 75 girls from Classes 4-7. The topic of the day? Menstruation. It's an important topic for young girls to learn about and something that doesn't appear to be commonly covered. After spending hours on parenting websites the night before, I developed a lesson plan to use as a script when teaching the class. (My search history is slightly sketchy at the moment...) Rather than explaining how the class went and what I talked about, I have attached my lesson plan below. At the end are some commonly held myths in Kenya about menstruation. I read the statements to the class and asked them to answer either "myth" or "fact" and they got all of them correct!
Q: "Pimples develop after How many weeks" I started the class with a discussion about puberty and the emotional and physical changes they may experience, one of which is getting pimples.
A: "Every girls' body is different and will change at different times. I can't give you an exact answer of when pimples might develop because each girl will get them at a different time or may never get them. Remember that it's important to wash your faces with soap and water every day to keep your face clean."
Q: "What is period means" At the beginning of class I explained that "menstruation", "monthly period" and "period" all meant the same thing, but I repeated this, writing each word on the board, to make sure they understood.
A: After explaining that I said, "Period and menstruation are words for the blood that comes out of a woman's vagina, usually once a month." I tried to explain everything as simply and directly as possible.
Q: "How do you experince when you start mentruation and How do you feeL."
Q: "What shows that you will recieve menstruation after 6 months."
Q: "How do somebody knows that menstruation is about to come?"
A: "Remember that there are two main signs that menstruation will start soon," I said, referring back to the drawing I'd done on the board which illustrated physical changes during puberty. "About two years after a girl's breasts start to develop, she will usually get her period for the first time. The second sign is a thick white liquid coming from the vagina. This means that menstruation will probably start about six months later."
Q: "When you are 12 years do the perids come out"
Q: "If woman does not have menstruation what happens?"
Q: "What if you are 17 yrs old, and you have not recieven menstruation what will happen?"
Q: "If u are 16 yrs and yet you have not started menstruation waz up?" I rephrased this question when I read it to the class but I left in the "waz up?".
A: "Each girl will start menstruation at a different age because girls' bodies are all different. Usually it starts between the ages of 12 and 16 but can happen as early as 8 years old. If a girl is 16 and hasn't had her period yet, it might be a sign that something is wrong and she should see a doctor."
Q: "if you have Period more than 7 days, will you lack blood in your body?"
A: "Only 2-4 tablespoons of blood comes out of the vagina during menstruation. This is the total amount over the 3-7 days during the month that the period will last." I held up a cup with four tablespoons of blue water in it I'd measured out earlier in class. "This is not a lot of blood and your body can make more very quickly to replace the blood that was lost. Remember, if your period lasts much longer than 7 days, it might be a sign that something is wrong and you should see a doctor."
Q: "when you want to urine shall you remove the pad"
Q: "Will you feel pain when you are urinating when you have your period."
Q: "when you have period can you feel pain"
Q: "Why does a human being feel pain the first time for the period"
Q: "How do you do when your stomach starts paining during monthly period"
A: "It is OK to urinate while using a pad. It will stay stuck to your underwear and the urine will not affect it. You should not feel pain while you urinate. That may be a sign that something is wrong. You can feel pain if you get cramps during your period, but not everyone will get cramps. If you do, hot water bottles, hot baths, or exercise can help. If the cramps are severe you can take pain killer medicine like Panadol."
Q: "If you start menstruation when you are in road what must you do?"
A: "If you start menstruation while walking to school, if you're still close to home you can go home and change. If you are almost at school or running late, you should hopefully have a pad with you that you can use when you get to school. If you don't have a pad with you, you can ask a friend or a teacher for one. At the end of class each of you will get a pad to carry with you in your backpacks in case something like this happens. We will also be leaving some with the front office for you to use in case of emergencies. It's good to be prepared and to plan ahead on the calendar, like we did earlier, so you know when your next period should start. If you stain your dress, you can tie your sweater around your waist and wash it in cold, salty water when you get home. Hot water will make the stain permanent, meaning you can't wash it off."
Q: "Can you wash the Pands"
A: "I want to ask the class this question. Can you wash pads like this?" I asked, holding up a disposable pad. "Nooo!" they replied. "How about this one?" I asked holding up a pad made of several layers of cloth. "Yes!" they said. "Good, very good!"
Q: "When you are not sure and you wear a pand will it move out?"
A: "Remember how the back of the pads are sticky?" I asked, sticking one to the palm of my hand. "Well, it should stay in place because they are very very sticky." I wildly waved my hand around in the air to demonstrate, "See? This pad isn't going anywhere. And if the pad starts to stick less, it probably means you should change it or should have already changed it. If you change it every 3-4 hours like you're supposed to, it should stay sticky."
Q: "When you remove the tampon does your and a lot of Pain"
Q: "Do you remove the tampo-n?"
Q: "does someone wear Tampon only when going to smiw" I think she meant "swim".
Q: "I dont understand How a person puts a TAMPON"
Q: "Is it possible for classes 3/4s to us a Tampon?"
Q: "Do you sell that Tampon"
Q: "when who are wea-ring TamPon will you urinent"
A: "A tampon is used by first taking off the plastic wrapper and then pushing the tampon up into the vagina with the string hanging out to remove it" I said, pointing to a drawing on the board and holding up a tampon. "The tampon should be changed every 3-4 hours. That is very very important because if you leave it in for too long, over 8 hours, you can get very sick. If you are using a tampon and you start to feel dizzy or sick you should take it out immediately and tell an adult right away. Using a tampon is a personal choice. Some girls may never use them, or some may try them and like them better than pads. Everyone is different. They can be uncomfortable to use at first if you aren't used to them, but using them shouldn't hurt. Once the tampon is inside, you won't feel it. Taking it out can be uncomfortable if you haven't done it before or if it is the beginning or end of your period and there isn't as much blood, so it doesn't slide out as easily."
Q: "Why do boys don't have period"
Q: "can boys have menstruation myth or fact"
Q: "why a boy getting a tampon" Huh?
Q: "can boys wear tampon"
A: "Can boys get pregnant?" I asked the class. "No!" they said, laughing. "Boys can't get pregnant so they don't have any need for menstruation. Boys also don't have vaginas, so they can't use tampons. Since they don't have periods they don't need to use tampons anyway."
Q: "when someone gets one boyfriend is it bad."
Q: "is it bad to have a boyfriend?"
A: "I want to ask you this question. Do you think it is bad to have a boyfriend?" All of the girls shouted "No!". "It is not bad to have a boyfriend, but sometimes the things that you do with your boyfriend can be seen as bad or can cause other problems. Remember that just because you have a boyfriend, it doesn't mean you have to have sex with him. There are other ways to show someone you care about them like hugging and holding hands." My original lesson plan said "kissing" but I was told to change it to "hugging". "This is very important, so I want to make sure you are all listening. You should never feel pressured by a boy to have sex or to do other things that you don't want to do. If someone is pressuring you to do things that make you uncomfortable you should tell an adult that you trust. Remember that having sex is a big decision and you should think about it and make sure you feel completely comfortable first. It is best to wait until you are ready." I repeated this three or four times during the course of the two-hour lesson. "It is also a big decision because having sex can lead to unwanted pregnancies, HIV, and STDs which are diseases passed by having sex." I asked if I should mention condoms but was told that doing so would open up a whole new health topic that there wasn't time to discuss. Sex wasn't the focus of the lesson anyway. I only explained it because I said that "menstruation is a sign that a girl can get pregnant if she has sex." I was worried that by leaving it at, "menstruation is a sign that a girl can get pregnant" they might think that they could spontaneously get pregnant if they had their period. (A volunteer here told me that girls in her class believed that if they missed their period it meant that they were pregnant even if they'd never had sex before.)
Q: "when a person does sex. can a woman feel pains under the vigina"
Q: "when you get sex five days are you prenat"
Q: "when your menstrision is about five days away can you have sex and not get pregnant."
Q: "If a girl as menstruation and she do sex with a 8 yrs old boy can a girl get Pregnant" I really hope there are no 8-year-olds having sex...
A: I didn't go too in depth with this but I told them it's possible to get pregnant if you have sex during your period. "Even if you have never gotten your period, it is still possible to get pregnant if you have sex right before your first period starts."
Here are some of the more baffling or funnily worded questions:
Q: "What happens to a person after the bleeding of blood?"
Q: "When you are wearing pad does you put underwear inside or outside."
Q: "evewoman does not have msustrution" Not sure if she meant "Eve" as in "Adam & Eve" or "every". Probably "every".
Q: "No quiz" Is that a question or are you telling me not to quiz you?
Q: "wtot is BLood" Oh my.
Q: "What is Period pregnant is coils how months" Coils? What?
Q: "When the piriod start you should do what fart" I think she meant "first"...
I wrapped up the class with a "Teach Back", something that we used to use when I volunteered for Citizen Schools and helped teach middle schoolers in Boston about microfinance and business. I asked three girls to stand up and say one thing that they learned during the class.
I told the girls that their lives should continue on as usual while they're on their periods. I stressed that they shouldn't miss or skip school because of it. This is a common problem in the area. The families of many girls cannot afford to buy pads, even though they are subsidized by the government and fairly inexpensive, so the girls stay home from school when they have their periods. That means that during a three-month term they could miss between 9 and 21 days! This is also why I showed them cloth pads and told them how to make them by sewing layers of clean cotton cloth together.
“Habari!” I said, meaning “How are you?” in Kiswahili.
“Mzuri” they replied in unison, meaning “fine”.
“My name is Gwen and I have been volunteering at the Kanana Mubichi Foundation in town and working at Kaaga as the Health Club teacher. I come from the United States.”
“Do you know which state she is from?” the head teacher asked the crowd.
“United States!” they said.
He laughed, “Explain to them which state you are from so that they can understand.”
“In the United States there are many different states, just like how Africa is made up of many countries” not the best analogy, but I was thinking on my feet. “I come from a state called Maryland. I actually found out yesterday that there is a food company here called “Maryland” and I was excited to get some Maryland cookies.” What was I saying? “It is close to our capital, Washington, D.C., just like how Nairobi is the capital of Kenya.”
“Have you understood?” he asked.
“Even you in Class 4?”
Everyone said ‘yes’, except for one boy who shouted ‘no’. The head teacher laughed.
“Can you stand with your class? We have something, a small token for you from the staff.”
The deputy head teacher shook my hand and gave me an envelope addressed to “Teacher Gwen”. Inside was a card signed by “Your Kaaga Primary Staffmates”. She told me how thankful everyone was for me being there and how much I’d given to the school. Then one of the council members carried over a box wrapped in shiny foil.
“This is so you will remember us when you go back to America. When you open it you will understand and it will remind you of Kenya, especially of Meru.”
I was crying at this point. I couldn’t help it. I was really going to miss my class and they were saying the nicest things. Luckily it had started to rain, so I could use the Flight of the Conchords line, “I’m not crying, it’s just been raining on my face”, not that I actually said that.
Before I left the head teacher told me, “Tell everyone at home ‘hi’ for us and tell them how great Kenya is. Tell Obama about us!”
“OK, I will. Well, maybe not Obama, but I’ll let everyone else know!” I said, laughing.