Protecting the Futures
Small Projects Foundation
South Africa

The Problem

Most rural-based schools in developing countries are characterised by poor infrastructure, dilapidated ablution facilities, poorly trained teaching staff, and weak School Governing Bodies. In South Africa, many young girls do not attend school, and, of those who attend school many drop out before completing their matric/Grade 12 certificate. Research shows that the dropout rate for young girls is particularly high in Grade 7 and 9. Reasons include, food insecurity, lack of transport to school, the impact of HIV/AIDS on children and families, teenage pregnancies, absence of adequate toilets and washing facilities and child labour.

Reflection on some of these aspects and the fact that the highest dropout rates for girls are in Grade 7 and 9 (Ages 12-15) led to the suspicion that puberty and onset of menstruation might also be involved in the high dropout rate during this period.

Focus group research with young girls (Eastern Cape), in the three district municipalities of OR Tambo, Chris Hani and Ukhahlamba, confirmed this. Most young girls had very little knowledge of adolescent reproductive health and specifically puberty (their mothers, older women and teachers had neither the knowledge not the skills to teach them). They had little or no access to sanitary towels (costs, availability and lack of knowledge of how, when, and why to use sanitary towels mitigated against this). Menstruation was discriminated against and girls were shamed, teased, and made to feel bad. School toilets and wash-up facilities were limited or non-existent. This meant that any girl having her period at school without sanitary towels and no private toilet and wash-up facilities was likely to have blood on her clothes and become a figure of extreme embarrassment. The lack of knowledge about female reproductive health and puberty also contributed to teenage pregnancy and possible HIV infection.

The lack of knowledge and skills on puberty and adolescent reproductive health, lack of access to sanitary towels and the absence of adequate toilets and wash-up facilities were key issues that needed to be addressed.

SPF also found that although girls were receiving lessons on HIV/AIDS and condom-usage, this often proved futile as they had no sound grounding in knowledge of their own reproductive health.

Solution and Key Benefits

 What is the initiative about? (the solution)
Two-hundred and seventy-eight (278) teachers in three district municipalities, OR Tambo, Chris Hani and Ukhahlamba were trained in adolescent reproductive health and puberty education so that they could educate the targeted girls.

In addition, more than 3750 girls in 139 schools received training in adolescent reproductive health and puberty education and each girl received a regular supply of sanitary towels. Parents/caregivers and girls also attended workshops on puberty and reproductive health, developing a path to the future, communication, teenage pregnancy and HIV and gardening and nutrition.

Focus groups and questionnaires highlighted that this improved the confidence and self-image of the girls experiencing puberty and helped address and breakdown shame and stigma associated with menstruation at schools and in their families.

Ablution facilities were upgraded, where no ablution facilities existed, new facilities were built, including the provision of wash-up areas. This pilot project also trained parents/caregivers and provided support to schools to ensure that the facilities were cleaned, maintained and the sanitary towels were hygienically disposed.

Incidents of absenteeism in schools dropped from 20% to 5%. This 15-point decrease meant that more girls were staying in school. Some schools also reported a significant decrease in the number of teen pregnancies after the programme was implemented.

A training manual for the Department of Education has been developed so that the programme can be spread to reach girls across the province and the country.

Actors and Stakeholders

 Who proposed the solution, who implemented it and who were the stakeholders?
Established in 1988, the Small Projects Foundation (SPF) is a non-profit organization that renders developmental services (housing, health, education, agriculture, etc) in the former Transkei and Ciskei.
In 2008, the SPF implemented the Protecting the Futures Programme in the 3 district municipalities and received funding from Save the Children, United Kingdom and Proctor and Gamble.
The Department of Education identified the participating schools and gave permission for the programme to be implemented at the 139 schools. The Department of Health monitored the implementation of the programme. SPF conducted training workshops with the school principals, teachers, and the school governing bodies. Proctor and Gamble designed, manufactured, and installed sanitary towel-disposal units at the 139 schools. They also supplied sanitary towels which were previously not available at the schools.
School governing bodies and parents upgraded the toilet facilities and they were assisted to develop systems to improve and maintain their ablution facilities. Similarly, girls were taught to keep the toilets clean and dispose of their used sanitary towels correctly. Parents were also mobilized and instituted a toilet cleaning schedule at each of the schools, with each caregiver coming in and cleaning the toilets three days a week.

(a) Strategies

 Describe how and when the initiative was implemented by answering these questions
 a.      What were the strategies used to implement the initiative? In no more than 500 words, provide a summary of the main objectives and strategies of the initiative, how they were established and by whom.
The programme was started in August 2008 and completed in August 2010. A Steering Committee was formed, comprising of officials from the Departments of Health and Education, SPF, Save the Children, and members of school governing bodies. The Steering Committee, jointly identified key needs, and developed a plan and implemented the programme.

The main objective of the programme was to help girls to complete their education by preventing avoidable absenteeism and drop-outs. The first step in achieving this objective was getting approval from the Eastern Cape Education Department, district officials and schools. Once buy-in was obtained, the necessary training materials were drawn up and used to train at least 2 teachers per participating school and educate 3 750 girls in reproductive health. All girls were also provided with sanitary towels.

Regular progress reports were compiled and fed back to the Departments of Health and Education and where necessary, corrective action was taken.

(b) Implementation

 b.      What were the key development and implementation steps and the chronology? No more than 500 words
During 2007 and early 2008, the Department of Education and Health senior officials were identified at provincial level and asked to be part of the Steering Committee. This process was followed because experience has shown that projects are successful when senior government officials champion them.

When the appropriate people were co-opted, and the schools with the highest girl absenteeism rates identified, the school principals and school governing bodies were targeted.

A Baseline Questionnaire and focus groups were held with all the participating girls and schools.

An assessment survey of school toilets, wash-up and sanitary towel disposal facilities were done and reported back to the Steering Committee. Pilot rehabilitation of school toilets, wash-up and sanitary towel disposal facilities were done.

Workshops with girls and their parents, included: puberty and reproductive health, parent/child communication, path to the future exercise teenage pregnancy and HIV and nutrition and gardening tools. Sanitary towels distribution and follow up with each child was done on a quarterly basis and is ongoing.

A follow up questionnaires with girls were done 9 months of inception of their training.

(c) Overcoming Obstacles

 c.      What were the main obstacles encountered? How were they overcome? No more than 500 words
Toilet maintenance and hygiene at schools were mostly non-existent. SPF has addressed this by making the results of the school toilet survey available to the Departments of Education and Health and the schools. The programme met with the school governing bodies in pilot sites and supported them to: recruit parents to help clean toilets regularly; teach children how to clean toilets properly; and ensure supervision of toilet facilities. Large scale rehabilitation of toilets is being budgeted for by the relevant Departments for the future. Renovations of toilets in 6 schools have been completed as a pilot by the programme.

Getting parents and girls together for combined workshops was initially a problem. Planning and individual letters to parents to attend such workshops helped to solve this problem, as parents in rural areas are often loath to attend school meetings in case outstanding fees are the topic.

(d) Use of Resources

 d.      What resources were used for the initiative and what were its key benefits? In no more than 500 words, specify what were the financial, technical and human resources’ costs associated with this initiative. Describe how resources were mobilized
Save the Children, UK, with funding from Proctor & Gamble made R3.2 million available to the SPF for this programme which continued until August 2010. Funding for the orphan and vulnerable children has been accessed by Save the Children, UK to the value of R64.000. Toilet upgrading at schools has been made available by the provincial government of the Eastern Cape.

Training materials for puberty and reproductive health education was made available by Proctor and Gamble and was adapted to local conditions, while Save the Children, UK trained SPF trainers. Overall programme co-ordination is headed by Save the Children, UK, while SPF provided project managers for the different operations.

SPF provided the qualified trainers, project managers, technical staff and support staff for the programme. Schools provided at least 2 teachers to be trained as trainers, while they also supervised toilet maintenance. District education offices provided support and guidance.

Sustainability and Transferability

  Is the initiative sustainable and transferable?
The puberty and reproductive health education part of the programme has been transferred to at least 2 teachers at each of the participating school, and they are able to continue this essential task for the rest of their careers as teachers. The schools are also provided with training materials as part of the programme and the district education offices have been empowered to replicate this education to other schools by using these trained teachers to trains other teachers at other schools. The parent and girl workshop have made parents realize the necessity for sanitary towels for their daughters and open communication has made it possible for girls to request these from their parents in the future.

The survey of toilet facilities and report results, have alerted the Education Department to this pressing need and a school toilet rehabilitation programme is underway. Schools now have a single model to operationalise toilet hygiene and cleaning.

The programme has brought a subject into public discourse which previously was not discussed. It has provided new knowledge and skills to teachers, pupils and parents to address menstruation, reproductive and puberty education, toilet facilities and sanitary towel disposal in new ways. This has brought about new practices which were welcomed by individuals and schools.

The programme has identified environmental and health risks posed by the appalling toilet facilities at schools which pose a major health and environmental risk to the pupils and community. A model had been introduced to manage and mitigate those risks and has encouraged/motivated the provincial authorities and schools to look at ways of replicating the programme.

Sanitary towel disposal units address the environmental health hazard that discarded sanitary towels can have on the environment and create meaningful activity for the caregivers.

School governing bodies have been equipped to maintain health and hygiene at school toilets and encourage them to keep the Educational Department accountable with the allocation of the necessary resources. The Education Department also has independent evidence to lobby for increased prioritization and budget for school toilet rehabilitation.

Due to the success of the programme, the Presidency, in partnership with the National Department of Women, Children, and Persons with Disability, and the National Department of Basic Education will replicate the programme in 8 schools in the Western Cape and 18 schools in KwaZulu-Natal in 2012.

Lessons Learned

 What are the impact of your initiative and the lessons learned?
This programme addresses school absenteeism by girls with great success, in that there has been a 15% drop in absenteeism of girls. It has identified the structural and management problems associated with school toilets in rural areas and have developed a plan and ways to address these problems. The programme touches the lives of girls, their parents, teachers and schools and brought about changes in behaviour, practices and institutions which protect the future of young girls.

The most important lesson learnt, is that taking notice of ‘apparently’ little things, matters. The amount of stigma, shame and discrimination felt by young girls during puberty only became apparent when questions were asked and responses were noted.

The old cultural practices of older cohorts of girls teaching younger ones about womanhood among Xhosa people are no longer working. Parents have neither the skills nor knowledge to begin to discuss these things with adolescent girls, yet are eager to do so once they know what and how.

Children, families and schools are ‘hungry’ for this kind of intervention.

The rehabilitation of school toilets is essential to prevent an environmental and health hazard and also to prevent absenteeism of young girls during their menstruation. This task though large, can be addressed by a number of stakeholders, schools can put supervision in place for cleaning and maintaining toilets. NGOs, local municipalities and government departments can start piloting and incrementally improving these facilities. School governing bodies need advice, information and support to start lobbying for the rehabilitation of these facilities.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   Small Projects Foundation
Institution Type:   Non-Governmental Organization  
Contact Person:   Paul Cromhout
Title:   Dr  
Telephone/ Fax:   +27 43 743 9592
Institution's / Project's Website:
Address:   PO Box 11208
Postal Code:   5213
City:   East London
State/Province:   Eastern Cape
Country:   South Africa

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