Sevcik's Blog

A year in Cairo Egypt

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

workshop for female teen students (menstruation esp.)

At St. Andrew’s today, during the teen program, I held a workshop event for all teenage females. Mary Anne, a retired nurse from Canada serving through the MCC, served as the main presenter while Mariam, one of my fabulous teachers, served as the translator. The goal of the workshop was to talk about health, hygiene, HIV/AIDS, menstruation, sexual reproduction, and the male and female anatomy. As a testament to how much this workshop is needed, we only got through health, hygiene, and menstruation today. (We are planning another session next week to finish.)
Of course, when you gather a bunch of teenage girls together to talk about “their period” it’s assumed you’ll be dealing with a lot of giggles and smart remarks. This was no exclusion, however, I soon realized that these young girls really did want to listen and learn. In the Mid East there is no sex education—it doesn’t jive with the culture or the Islamic religious standpoint. The only time St. Andrew’s has ever had an event like this was in 1999 when approx. 6 different church schools got together one Saturday morning to talk about these issues. Unfortunately, not many people showed up. Therefore, when I met Mary Anne and we started discussing the possibility of this workshop, we decided it must be held during school hours so the students will be able to attend. For most, it was the first time they’ve ever discussed these issues.
We started out by discussing the importance of washing our hands, having a balanced diet, and exercising. As important as these things are for our health, I know it is not so easy for my students. Many of them do not have enough money to have a balanced diet consisting of many fruits and vegetable and meat. In general, they don’t get much exercise, and other than walking around I don’t know what we’d expect them to do. We put up a bunch of posters, one of which described what you need to do to keep healthy. It showed cartoons of young kids eating well, getting adequate rest, and going to the dentist and doctor. When we asked the students how many of them had ever been to a doctor, I only saw three hands out of 35 girls shoot up.
Then we moved on to menstruation and spent a good hour and a half discussing the female anatomy and menstruation. Almost all of the girls in the room have experienced their menarche, but few knew much about what to do with it. After explaining the odds and ends of menstruation, I stood up to talk about my menarche and also to talk about PMS. I was hoping they would feel more comfortable sharing if we would share our stories. Mariam and Mary Anne also shared their stories.
One by one the girls started asking questions, such as, “Sometimes I have my period for two days and that’s it. Is that bad?” or “Sometimes I have a period twice in one month! What’s wrong with me?!” We talked about what’s normal and abnormal, mostly helping them understand that we will each have a different experience with menstruation and that’s okay. We constantly explained that it is not shameful or bad to have your period; it’s normal and a blessing. Most of these girls have never talked about menstruation with their family members, even their mom. They have been confused and frightened by it. One person explained that she wore a pad in the wrong direction (with the sticky side up) for a few months because she was too embarrassed to ask her mother about what was going on.
The most shocking question was, “Is it okay to sit next to a male when we have our period?” My immediate response would be to say, “Of course!” but Mariam quickly explained to me that in their culture (Sudanese) they cannot sit next to a man during menstruation. These cultural-based questions are very difficult to work around. We spent time letting the girls know that they can go on with their normal activities when they are menstruating—there is no need to miss school (as some of them thought, I think). I also found out that for Muslims, at the end of their menstruation when they shower they are to wash the right side of their body completely and then wash their left side. I’m not sure why—Mariam said it was part of the Sharia.
***Wednesday 26 Oct*** When I came to work this morning Mariam came into my office all excited. Apparently one of her students got her period for the first time yesterday--only hours after our workshop! The girl said she felt more comfortable talking with her mom about menstruation and even was quite joyful about her menarche when she approached Mariam this morning for a pad. (We told the girls yesterday that I would keep pads in my office if they need them--looks like they'll use the resource!) Ah, this is so good...SO GOOD!


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