A great shame of the 21st century is that in this day and age of technological and industrial advancement there are still millions of girls and women going through life without proper personal care.
It is not an exaggeration that in this era of cell phones and the internet millions around the world still have to resort to rags, newspapers, cow dung and grass to deal with the menstrual cycle.
It was this sad reality that spurred Ulala Kondowe to assist girls and women in her country and beyond with personal hygiene and health education. Kondowe is founder and Executive Director of Girls Network Malawi, an organisation focusing on keeping girls in school by addressing the challenges they face.
“We establish girls networks or clubs in primary and secondary schools where we provide mentorship, career guidance, sexual and reproductive health education, menstrual hygiene management and general life skills to them on a monthly basis,” she said, adding that the organisation currently worked with 420 girls from six schools.
Kondowe’s excellent leadership skills paid off when she was chosen to be a 2017 Mandela Washington Fellow and a 2018 Obama Foundation Leader.
“In the two years we have been operational, we have had three major projects namely ‘Keeping Girls in School’, where 500 girls from Mpemba were given re-usable sanitary pads and sensitised on Menstrual Hygiene Management. Then there was ‘Know Your Strength’ youth summit on Gender Based Violence with 75 girls and 25 boys from Chichiri Secondary School. Learners were equipped with information on how to identify and respond to the various forms of Gender Based Violence.
"Lastly, we conducted a #MentorMe Program where successful young women were paired up with secondary school girls from Chichiri Secondary School to act as mentors and role models for the girls,” she said.
She cited one of the challenges as barriers in accessing adequate funding for projects. Kondowe added that lack of human resources were also a challenge in their line of work. “After an open call for volunteers, there is usually a huge turn-out but the numbers tremendously decrease as time goes by, resulting in a low workforce,” she said.
“Personally, I have faced a lot of challenges but I will only focus on one: rejection. Being a teacher by profession and having taught for eight years, I have this need for change. However, despite applying for jobs and opportunities to study for a master’s degree, all I have received are rejection emails or silence for the past three years.
"The lessons I have learnt from this experience is the importance of maintaining a positive attitude and the art of never giving up. So, we keep trying till it pays off,” Kondowe said.