Although restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic affected the project throughout the last year, Dorothy and her team have still been able to make and distribute hygienic pads to the students. Michelle and her colleagues have contributed to the project from Australia via regular zoom meetings, ensuring that the team has what they need to produce the pads, as well as working to create the evaluation and document the project.
Now, a year after first starting the project, Dorothy has seen a major difference in the girls who have been given the pads and education. “There have been many girls who came to me last year asking for a pad just so that they could attend school,” Dorothy says. “And now they attend school because they are prepared with the pads. They are really happy because when it’s their time, they know they can just use a pad and still go to school.
"And the principal is really happy with the program. He wants us to continue the program, and the school even requests that new girls are given pads when they start school.”
One of the biggest challenges left to face is that the schools don’t have any toilets and limited or no running water. When the girls need to change their pad, they have to go into the bush and find a safe place to change. Recently, the Baru Conservation Alliance and their fellow JCU researchers have been able to help one school access running water.
There are also opportunities to expand the project, as other schools are expressing interest in the program. Women within the community are also asking Dorothy about the pads and about menstrual health. At this stage, for Dorothy, Michelle, and their respective teams, it’s about taking the project one step at a time.
“When we started this, it was just a small program, but now it is a big program,” Dorothy says. “I always tell the women I work with that we can start small, and that’s okay. Because small is beautiful. And after we work on the small system, we can help make a bigger project for the future.”
The Baru Conservation Alliance and JCU are supported by the Australian Government.