As part of our commitment to innovative partnerships, Ruby Cup has partnered with a student-led initiative at the Luanda International School in Angola to run menstrual health workshops and donate menstrual cups to women living in a temporary settlement in the Dundo region.
There are around 81,000 refugees currently living in Angola, many of them displaced by recent violence in the Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Around 75% of the refugee population are women and children.
As part of a school celebration for Peace Day, UN Resident Coordinator of Angola, Mr Paulo Balladelli, visited Luanda International School to speak to the students about the conditions within the settlement. “In Angola, the media has not been exposing the refugee situation as much as we would hope,” says Djamila Puna Zau, a student at the school. “A lot of people don’t even know that we have refugees here in Angola.”
Having heard about what life was like inside the settlement, Djamila and her fellow student Celita Chinossanda Paulo Epalanga decided to brainstorm ideas for how they could help. They thought about their own lives and the products they rely on regularly. “We thought about how these girls and young women deal with their periods,” says Djamila. “Being privileged, we have access to sanitary pads, but they are still a big expense for our families every month.” The students asked Mr Balladelli whether this was an issue for the women in the settlement and whether they could do anything about it. “He gave us the contact of Juliana Ghazi, the UNHCR Coordination Specialist, and she told us that there were serious issues around lack of access to menstrual products. Some women were making makeshift pads, others were sharing the same pad or reusing one pad for months. In other cases girls were engaging in transactional sex in exchange for period products. This was causing an increase in infections and teen pregnancy. For other girls, lack of period products was causing them to miss school and stay at home.”
The students are studying for their IB Diploma. As part of the Diploma, they are encouraged to undertake a project known as Creativity, Activity, Service, or CAS. “We decided that our CAS project was going to be to somehow find a way to help these young girls deal with their menstruation.”
Initially, the students planned to raise funds to purchase sanitary products that could be sent to the settlement. But the more they researched, the more they realised that that wasn’t a sustainable solution. “They will get used and thrown out and then the women will need new supplies,” says Djamila. “There are also issues with waste management at the settlement. Our teachers suggested that we look at menstrual cups. I had never heard of them before, but after researching how they worked, we totally changed our approach. That’s when we emailed Ruby Cup.”
The students found Ruby Cup online and read about our Buy One, Give One promise. For every Ruby Cup sold, we donate an identical period cup to a person who is struggling to access period products. In order to ensure that our donated cups get to the people who need them most and have the highest chance of being used in the long term, we work with locally based partner organisations. When we heard from Luanda International School, we were really excited by the girls’ project and, having spoken to them about their plans and the ways they were going to donate the cups, we agreed to set up a donation partnership.
“We spoke to Amaia Arranz, Social Impact Director at Ruby Cup and she agreed to give us 400 Ruby Cups,” says Djamila. “We were so happy we screamed. The whole class got excited. I think the whole school was happy for us.”
After speaking to Amaia, the students realised that their project would have more impact if the period cups were given out as part of a menstrual health workshop. “The cup can look intimidating if you don’t know how to use it,” says Djamila, “Even having done a lot of research, when I first held one I didn’t understand how it would work. The refugees we wanted to work with are mostly from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where there are a lot of different dialects and a lot of different groups of people. We had to keep in mind that there might be cultural or religious reasons for preventing people from getting used to the cup. At that point, we separated the project into two, so not only were we going to donate the menstrual cups, but we were also going to offer education on why the cup was a great solution for menstrual health, and how to use it.”
Amaia shared Ruby Cup’s Menstrual Health Toolkit, Me & My Cup, with the students, which they used as the basis for their education materials. But they also wanted to create materials that worked specifically for the women in the settlement, and that crossed language barriers. “We didn’t just want to hand the cups over without any education because it didn’t seem responsible,” says student Grace Kim, who was brought in to help make education materials for the project. “The main problem was that so many different languages are spoken in the settlement. I have always had a passion for making videos, so I worked with fellow student Elisa Anelli, who is a fantastic illustrator, and we tried to make materials without using any language or letters and that were purely visual. Together, we made an instructional videos and pamphlets to hand out.”
Having made the materials, Grace and Elisa also became part of a workshop delivery team, travelling to Dundo to deliver the workshop sessions and distribute cups. As a first step, 14 cups were distributed to female nurses, doctors and community mobilisers within the settlement, so they could try the cup for themselves and assist and support others as the project continued. “My workshop group was with the older women and the younger women,” says Grace. “That was important because if the adults don’t approve, it is less likely that the young women will accept the Ruby Cups. It was an opportunity for them to talk about menstruation across different age groups, probably for the first time.”
Elisa also ran workshop sessions. “One thing I realised when I was there was that I had to make a connection with the women so that they would listen to me and feel comfortable. I couldn’t speak their languages but I was able to make them laugh. When I was demonstrating the different positions you can use to insert the cup they found it really funny.”
To support the students, representatives from the UNHCR and UNFPA helped advise on the project and were also able to track the success of the project after the students had left, running follow up workshops where extra support was needed. They reported a 76% uptake rate for the donated cups. “The videos and pamphlets will remain in the settlement after we leave,” says Elisa, “so if they need information again they can refresh their memory.”
For the students involved, this was a significant project. “A lot of us had to get out of our comfort zones to be able to pull this off successfully,” says Djamila. “Another thing we got from this project was to learn to put ourselves out there. We were being risk takers. We’ve all done CAS before, but this one was different because this one held weight. It was a different type of responsibility, something most of us have never experienced before.”
“It also gave us more of an incentive to do well,” says Elisa. “When we do other CAS projects for the school community, our incentive is just to deliver the project and pass the class. This was for a community that was outside of our school, which really motivated us to do well because we are not doing it for ourselves. We are doing it for other people.”
Since the project began, more students at the school have shown an interest in the work that is being done. “We have talked about it in several assemblies,” says Djamila. “We even did a menstrual cup quiz. Everyone in our school knows what menstrual cups are now.” The team were also invited to facilitate a workshop on collaborative project work at the 2019 LIS Peace Day celebrations, and have led a video-conference with 120 Grade 6 students from KAUST International School in Saudi Arabia.
Djamila, Celita, Grace and Elisa are all preparing to graduate in the coming months, and have already found a new group of students who will be continuing the project for 2020.
So far, Ruby Cup consumers have donated more than 90,000 menstrual cups to projects like this one. If you would like to donate a cup, you can do so by buying a period cup for yourself thanks to our Buy One, Give One promise, or you can choose to purchase a menstrual cup donation for someone who does not have access to adequate menstrual health products.