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United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in Uganda has been actively involved in boosting girl-child education for the past six years since the inception of the Kyaka project in 2006, an idea birthed by Dr. Moses Kizza Musaazi, an avid researcher at the Faculty of Technology, Makerere University.

UNHCR is an international organization whose primary focus is reducing the refugee crisis and finding lasting solutions for the people affected. Interface had a chance to speak to Maria Mangeni, the Senior Commission Services Assistant in charge of the sanitary material sector in UNHCR.

Meeting her at the desk, you get the impression of someone with excellent work ethics. However when she is talking about something close to her heart, you can tell by the expressions and tone of voice. We got down to talking about the refugee settlements. Maria mentioned that there are nine active refugee locations; one in Kampala, four in Mbarara, two in Hoima, one in Arua and one in Adjumani.

unhcrMaria also mentioned that in some of the settlements it is hard to tell the difference between refugees and Ugandans because they live closely. This is a good thing because it minimizes segregation towards the refugees. Refugees are ordinary people with the same blood flowing through their veins like any other human being, and should be treated so. The refugees live in settlements where they are given the freedom to live without restrictions within the host community.

When one speaks of saving girl-child education, common solutions like scholarships and funding come to mind. However, in this case, the idea takes shape in a more creative form, the type that cuts up used paper and then pieces them back together into sanitary pads. UNHCR partnered with Dr. Musaazi more than six years ago in support of his genius innovation, the MAKA pads, short for Menstruation, Administration, Knowledge and Affordability after his successful project called “Provision of Affordable Sanitary Pads to the Disadvantaged Primary Schoolgirls”, a project funded by the Rockefeller Foundation in the US.

The purpose of MAKA pads was to make sanitary towels available for the refugees. It was also meant to encourage girls to desist from dropping out of schools which most of them did once they were in their periods. The reason for this was due to the embarrassment and shame the girls felt, yet they could not afford the sanitary towels in the market.

MAKApads sample made out of sisal and recycled paper

MAKApads sample made out of sisal and recycled paper

Today the production unit manufactures sanitary towels in bulk and distributes them to the eight (8) settlements within the country and school going girl in Kampala.

In regards to whether the innovation has birthed any others within UNHCR she had this to say.

“Not particularly. However it has drawn a lot of attention from various organizations and groups both in the country and outside inquiring about the activity and the production unit in Kyaka, Kyenjojo where the sanitary towels are manufactured.”

The UN welcomes visitors to both Kyaka and the other refugee settlements, but emphasizes that like all homes, permission has to be sought first through the proper channels. A letter should be addressed to the Office of the Prime Minister and another to the Refugee Desk UNHCR representative in Uganda. They also accept donations of good will from clothes and scholastic materials to money which are received through the UNHCR Representative in Uganda.

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