Sunday, March 16, 2008

The price surge has hit Ethiopia. The price of a quintal (100 pounds) of flour has gone from 450 to 760 Birr, sugar from 600 to 800 Birr, and teff (for injera) from 450 to as high as 700 Birr within the space of a couple of weeks. Bread has doubled from 25 or 30 centimes to 50 or 55 centimes. Some of my colleagues are worried, but they generally make enough that they can cope. For the majority of people in Adwa, already struggling to get by on 200 Birr or less each month, the difference is more painful. In the past month or so I've seen more children at schools, and on my road, who look thin and listless.

I know many people don’t agree, but I am terrified by the worldwide price increases. We’ve been living on borrowed time for too long and finally the population and environmental pressures imposed by rich and poor countries have reached the tipping point. But far too little is being done. I’m going to sleep with apocalyptic visions of rioting and hunger across the world, and praying that I’m being paranoid. Certainly there’s a need for a change in attitude towards what we eat and how we produce it, in order to mitigate the impact of climate change and water scarcity, and this needs to happen across the so-called developed world as well as in the developing world! And we’ve got to stop dedicating resources to this insane biofuel project!

Reusable Menstrual Pads

I have not done very much in my work in Ethiopia that extends environmental issues into the classroom, other than not promoting the use of the college’s laminator. Most of my work has been focused on teaching strategies and methods. However, I have been coordinating a large VSO-funded project constructing toilets and setting up girls’ rooms at selected schools in our cluster programme. Often adolescent girls do not come to school when they are menstruating, in part because menstruation is seen as something shameful and because they don’t actually have any menstrual pads. The idea of the girls’ room is that this is a place where menstrual pads can be provided, and where girls can change their menstrual pad. It can also serve as a meeting place for a girls’ club, and for the dissemination of information that is important to girls – nutrition, anti-early marriage, birth control, career advice, etc.

Where this has been done in other places, the bulk of the money has been spent on disposable menstrual pads. I wasn’t keen on this, so I sucked in my embarrassment and showed my male colleagues my washable menstrual pads. I asked my friendly Almeda textile factory manager for a donation of scrap cotton material. And my colleague Abebe went wild making sample menstrual pads.

We had our information session yesterday for the schools that are receiving funds for girls’ rooms, and it was quite a success. The directors (mostly men) and the girls’ club coordinators (women) were keen and had a lot of good ideas on all the issues we raised – for activities and topics for girls’ clubs, for including boys in gender equality education, for HIV and AIDS education – and seemed to buy into the reusable menstrual pad idea. Each school made a sample menstrual pad to take away with them – and as often as not it was the man who was cutting and sewing – and took a load of donated materials away with them. I was afraid reusable menstrual pads would be seen as a step backwards - away from modern packaged pads, rather than forward - but the teachers seemed to embrace both the environmental and financial benefits of reusable pads. We’ve also had numerous requests from college staff, especially the cleaning women and others whose salaries are very low, for instructions and sharing of material, so we’ll do a session with them soon. From my initial skeptical feelings about the girls’ room idea, I ended up being quite pleased with the project. It still has to be implemented at the schools, though, so we’ll see what happens.

1 comment:

tammy said...

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