“A challenged world is an alert world, and from challenge comes change”.
But, it is not only up to women and girls to challenge inequality – men and boys are just as important to bring about an equal society. One such man, is Eric Mlamba, who founded the Footprints Foundation in 2014 to assist girls in rural schools across South Africa, to claim their voice in a society that has been designed for them to be second class citizens.
Eric worked as a journalist for ten years, ventured into PR for a few months, but then got back into journalism by writing for the United Nations Girl and Boy Education Movement monthly paper. This is when Eric saw first hand, how the odds are stacked against girls in especially rural South Africa. He saw how something as basic as sanitary towels, is keeping thousands of young girls from reaching their academic and educational potential, to remain marginalised and a life of poverty.
Statistics show that 30% of South African schoolgirls (that’s one in every 10 girls), miss school during their menstruation time because they don’t have access to sanitary pads. As a result, they may resort to using less hygienic alternatives, like tissues or cloths. Following an outcry from communities and presenters on radio stations, our foundation (like many other South African organisations) is determined to make a meaningful difference to break the cycle.
As a father, expecting a baby girl himself, Eric stepped up and chose to challenge the status quo. The Footprints Foundation has grown from strength to strength and they run several programs in rural schools to uplift and empower young South Africans born in poverty.
One of these programs is the Always Keeping Girls in School programme, which assists between 18- and 24-thousand girls in seven provinces with sanitary towels annually. According to the program, the schools and the girls sign up and their school progress is monitored until they matriculate. The Foundation also assists girls who have applied for NFSAS funding at tertiary level, to raise their registration fees, which are not covered by the funding. Up to date, 200 girls have been assisted in this way to register and study.
The Footprints Foundation is completely self-funded and relies on the generosity of sponsors like the Obama Foundation. Eric says they are blessed with donations of sanitary towels, but the distribution is very costly – as they distribute from their storage facility in Johannesburg to far flung rural areas.
In Limpopo alone, Footprints assists girls in 27 schools with sanitary towels, that are delivered every term.