Thirteen-year old Valerie Oa is helping to break down the taboos around menstrual hygiene in her Port Moresby village. On the International Day of the Girl Child she tells us how…
My name is Valerie Oa. Where I live Hanuabada Village in Papua New Guinea, periods are taboo. Boys don’t know about them. When girls have their periods we are not allowed to prepare food. My grandma says to me that I cannot come into the kitchen. So when I have my period I sit down and watch the others cook.
And if my aunt and her children come over when I have my period I don’t touch the children. I go and sit in the other room. At school, I don’t play sports. I just watch others play.
When I first got my period, I didn’t know very much about it. I was scared. I had seen boys laughing at the girls when their skirts got stained. I was frightened that would happen to me.
My cousin, when she first got it, she didn’t know what to do. Her parents leaned more to the custom side of things, so she stayed in her room and didn’t move around.
She wouldn’t go to school. She would miss one week of school each month. She was a high marks student but then she started failing. I want to keep going to school. I like writing stories. One day, when I grow up, I would like to be a lawyer – to do that my English has to be good!
But because my mother died when I was ten years old she couldn’t tell me about it. I only have my grandma to teach me things like this. She taught me how to use pads. Sometimes there are no pads, only cloth pads. Homemade pads can leak.
I didn’t know much about menstrual hygiene.
Now I have done the program with World Vision I understand more. I understand why we get periods. The training and awareness was good for us. It’s good to know what to do.
They said it was okay to share our feelings, so most of us we were coming out and sharing our experiences, our problems and what we did the first time we had our period.
There is only one toilet for every 50 students here. The toilets here have nowhere to wash your hands. Now that we’ve done the program we know we have to keep our hands clean. We all go down to the water tank to wash our hands. World Vision also gave us special bins so we can throw away the waste.
After the awareness activity I’ve gained more confidence. Now I can tell other girls who haven’t had their period not to feel afraid and what to do when their periods first come. Don’t be frightened! When it comes you must be strong. You must learn how to take care of yourself properly.
My grandmother told me that we mustn’t talk about it around boys but I don’t think it should be like that.
When the boys grow up they might have daughters as children. Some men are single parents and so the father has to learn about it too so he will know what to do for his daughter! He must learn, and tell her, and talk to her about it.
I am glad that I have done the awareness program with World Vision on menstrual hygiene. It means won’t be missing school and I will keep getting high marks on my spelling bees.
Menstruation is a taboo subject in Papua New Guinea. Poor awareness, misconceptions and cultural practices restricting girls from certain activities are coupled with a poor understanding of the importance of menstrual hygiene management (MHM). It can mean missing school.
On The International Day of the Girl Child, World Vision is putting a spotlight on how barriers to menstrual hygiene impact the health and development of girls in Papua New Guinea. World Vision conducted an orientation at Hagara Primary School where 13-year-old Valeria Oa is a student. Valerie’s teacher and deputy head mistress, Ms Evelyn Kurubai, said that the orientation done by World Vision was very helpful.
“The students and I learned the importance of throwing away rubbish properly and using toilets and bins properly,” she said. “I learned new things during the orientation. This is very helpful, especially for the girls who can they advise fellow students and younger siblings about hygiene and sanitation.”
World Vision’s Water and Healthy Life in Hanuabada Village project is made possible with the support of the New Zealand Government. If you would like to contribute to World Vision’s work with girls check out www.worldvision.com.au.