Hajara burst out of the crowd of women and ran briskly to her house down the middle of the village. Almost with the speed of light, she rejoined her fellow women in the group she left a short while ago proudly holding her sanitary pad to the admiration of all.
Some of the women grimaced in envy, some genuinely happy and proud of one of their own privileged to discard their age-long practice and embraced the modern technique of managing menstrual period.
For the benefit of our readers, Hajara’s action was only to prove a point to this writer who had gathered the women from Wadai Village, one of the remote villages from Nguru Local Government in Yobe State and inquired to know if any of them ever saw a sanitary pad.
Rags, leaves and, in some cases, sand, have been used by women in the management of their monthly cycle.
Recently, the Executive Director Complete Care Foundation, Aisha Wakil, a lawyer, popularly known as Mama Boko Haram, has also spoken out against the despicable practices, highlighting the need to address the issue.
Wakil through her NGO has embarked on hygiene promotion and education of women IDPs in Borno State at the Displaced Peoples Camps to achieve this noble objective. The story is however changing with serious outputs translating to significant impacts in many rural communities in northern Nigeria.
During an advocacy visit to Emir of Kano, Alhaji Lamido Sanusi, Wakil said: “One of the effects of insurgency is that women and girls are using sand and ashes in place of sanitary pad for their menses and this is unhygienic and unhealthy for women and girls.
“Menstrual pad is a luxury for poor women in Borno. Strange as it may sound but poor women and girls in community and IDP camps are still using rags filled with sand, or ashes as an alternative for sanitary napkins during their menstrual period, thus exposing themselves more to vaginal infections,” Mama Boko Haram said.
The story of Hajara and some other rural women in Yobe communities is just a tip of the iceberg of one of the success stories of the impact the hygiene promotion campaign UNICEF has carried out in some rural communities in the State.
Narrating her encounter with the new hygiene and health practices, the 41yr old housewife of seven children said she no longer have issues of itching and infections around her private part since she started using the modern sanitary pad.
Hajara recalled the first day she used a modern sanitary pad. Her story is merely a graphic picture of what many rural women have faced for years which she succinctly described as years of darkness and ignorance.
At 40, Hajara she has battled with leafs, rags soaked with ashes powder to manage her menses until five years ago when she was introduced to the world of a modern sanitary pad.
“Sometimes you never understood you are in the dark until light shines on you. For us, using leafs, rags and sand was the only thing we knew in the past. Sometimes we don’t use anything at all. We were careless about our health without any serious consideration until UNICEF opened our eyes. We are in the light now. With the use of the pad, you even forget that you are menstruating. I first day I used this(pointing to the sanitary pad in her left hand), I slept like a new born baby that has just been breastfed by his mother, Hajara recalled.
Hajara says her husband supports her from time to time in providing the pad anytime she could not afford to get one.
“My husband normally gets it for me from time to time when he goes to the market. I am so grateful for the support he has been giving to me,” she disclosed.
Explaining on how she was able to win her husband’s heart in accepting the practice, Hajara said, “I think my husband understands that if I am well, it will be beneficial to him and our entire household as well. The same thing if I am not healthy it will affect him too. I convinced him to understand the importance of the use of the pad after we were educated by the UNICEF people and he accepted it with his whole heart,” she said.
Ari’am Modu is 25 years with three children. He has embraced new hygiene practices brought to the local community. Her testimony though not reflected on one of her children in her arms as flies feast on his unkempt nose flowing with cough. She however admitted that she has imbibe the culture of bathing and oiling her children not less than three times in a day, as well as avoiding to dress them with dirty clothes.
Haruna Maigari is the village head of Wadai. According to him his community has seen the wisdom to embrace the new hygiene and health practices brought to them by UNICEF, just as they have given every support to women in the community to learn and accept everything they are been taught.
The women in the community get all the support needed for the healthy development of their community,” Maigari said.
Hajiya Hauwa Liman is a thorn in the flesh of rural women in Bulturi Village, another remote settlement in Nguru Local Government Area. The sight of Hauwa Liman always sends cold shivers in the spines of the women especially those that failed in their duties to keep their houses clean.
Hauwa Liman is a Community Hygiene Promoter whose Job title is to ensure the cleanliness of the women and the entire community. For her to deliver in her mandate, she was trained by UNICEF officials on hygiene and sanitation. I was eager to meet her as the boys ran to inform her of my visit. Curiously, my expectations were met as Hauwa appeared from the north-eastern corner of the village dressed in her clean red hijab and walked towards me as we exchanged warm pleasantries.
Narrating her story not difficult to her at all. She informed me that the job has earned her respect and enemies in the early period she began but all that has changed.
“It was really a big challenge when we first started but Alhamidilah we have over-come some of the problems. From the beginning it was difficult for the women to embrace the changes. Some even see me as a nuisance to them but I kept on pushing and never relented. I am happy that today, I can proudly say that most of the women in Bulturi if not all understand the importance of keeping their environment clean, taking care of their children, taking care of their personal hygiene. It is truly rewarding for us as a community,” Hajiya Hauwa informed.
According to Hauwa, her job has been made easier because of the cooperation she enjoys from her fellow women who have quickly adapted to the hygiene practices of the training they have acquired from UNICEF officials.
One of the women from the community, Zainabu confirms that the fear of Hauwa is the acceptance of basic hygiene practice.
Every woman in the community knows her with what she does. If Hauwa come visiting in your house and your children are dirty, your name is sorry. She will make sure that you do the right thing. Some women go into hiding on the sight of Hauwa,” Zainabu informed.
Falmata Maigari, is the wife of the Village Head of Bulturi Village. Together with Hauwa, the duo have stood firm to ensure that the women in the village keep to the new hygiene practices brought by UNICEF in their community.
“We are the custodians of this community. The children are ours. We have to put in our best to make sure they are healthy. I never knew before but these people (apparently referring to UNICEF) people have come to open our eyes so we are now healthier than we use to be. Many families here no longer go to the hospital because of the way we take care of our children and ourselves now,” she explained.
As the wife of the village head, Falmata told me that together with Hauwa, they have formed a formidable team to make sure those women that comply with better hygiene practices are rewarded though not with money but praises while the less performing ones are encouraged to do more.
“We make sure that women that take care of their households are commended while those that are found wanting are encouraged to step up their game.
Huawa go from house to house to teach the women about basic hygiene practices like: hand-washing with soap and water after using the toilet, before eating, how to take care of your body, keeping your environment clean inside and outside.
We have realised that our personal cleanliness is very important if not people will get bad things in their food that will cause illness. Since we started this, all the small sickness has vanished among us. Nothing like cholera in our communities again,” Falmata explained.
In an encounter with the Chairman of Nguru Local Government, Hon. Alhaji Ali Maidami , he was short of words to express his gratitude with the manner that UNICEF has transformed rural communities to become even more free from diseases than in the urban areas.
According to him, “the structures put in place for the sustenance of the projects is what excites me. Most of the structures that UNICEF has put in all the projects and program executed in our rural communities have very solid sustainable plans. This is because they have trained our rural people in the management of the projects. This will help us to build on that even after they must have left. Our joy to UNICEF and our Governor Ibrahim Geidam is immeasurable.
“Our rural communities are now living a heathier life than people living in urban areas. Most of the communities in my local government have been declared free from open defecation courtesy of the work carried out by UNICEF. This is quite commendable,” Maidami said.
Senior Local Government Facilitator UNICEF-WSSSRP for Nguru Local Government, Lawan Mohammed informed that the baseline survey for hygiene and sanitation for Nguru and Bade was very low but shot up after the intervention from UNICEF.
It was not easy getting the people to accept and observe these basic hygiene practices. We kept on pushing and gradually we have come to this point. In Nguru LGA, we are working in 144 communities and 75 of them have been declared Open defecation Free (ODF). In Bade, out of 132, 63 are ODF,” Lawan informed.