Prior to the COVID-19 lockdown, a total of 1 050 learners, comprising fifty learners at twenty-two primary schools, within the Bochum East circuit in Limpopo, were given much needed personal sanitary products. Working with a trained nurse, who manages the programme’s implementation, this Soutpan Solar Power programme funds the distribution of sanitary towels to girls from poor families as well as providing reproductive health education, to reduce stigma and anxiety resulting from lack of knowledge. The programme kicked off in 2015, in the Bahananwa Circuit, an area situated in the Blouberg Local Municipality that is home to 28 primary and 19 secondary schools. So far, this initiative has reached around 9 000 girl learners. Mahlatse Seloane, Grade 9 learner at Marumofase High School, who was supported by this programme last year said, “The distribution of pads at our school by Soutpan Solar Power has assisted me greatly. I was not able to attend school when I was on my period because I could not afford to buy pads.’ Each year, the sanitary towel distribution programme moves to a different circuit within the Blouberg Municipality, due to the overwhelming need within the communities. “Besides the cost of pads or tampons, pervasive stigma and taboos surrounding menstruation also keep girls from attending school, impacting thousands of girls in this area, each month,” said Harrisinah Theka, Economic Development Officer for Soutpan Solar Power. She continued explaining that a large percentage of young school girls in the Vivo area, miss up to five days of school each month, due to lack of access to essential sanitary items. “So until government is able to provide free sanitary products all young girls in these poorer communities, the solution will remain in the hands of NGO’s and corporate funders.” The South African Human Rights Commission reported that the lack of access to sanitary towels not only has adverse effects on our country’s girl’s school attendance but it also has a ripple effect on the economic development of communities. It is not just the girls and women who benefit from having proper menstrual hygiene, the broader society and national economies can profit from better menstruation management. This socio-economic development programme is driven by that belief, that communities won’t be able to thrive if girl-learners are left behind, which is why this initiative will continue to grow. “We strongly believe that a country that is educated is a country that will prosper, so in supporting these young girls, we can help restore their confidence and give them fair access to education as it is a key enabler to transform lives, which is why we are so passionate about this initiative,” concluded Theka. Schools included in this programme are: Thabanstho Primary, Bodiela Primary, Kgokonyane Primary, Madikweng Secondary, Mmalotlo Secondary, Seobi Primary, Mpatapata Secondary, Mabetwa Primary, Mmakgomosheu Primary, Mmaratha Primary, Monyesebodu Primary, Schoengesegt Secondary, Matthew Phosa Secondary, Bothanang Primary, Kgebetli Primary School, Mokumuru Primary, Ramotshabi Secondary, Mmamadisha Primary School.
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