Juliet made a strong first impression during our August fellowship orientation when our director Jill Morrison passed around a list of fellows’ birthdays and one date jumped out at me. Out of eleven women, two of us shared the same birthday–“May 10: Gillian Chadwick & Juliet Hatanga.”
As I learned more about her, our shared birthday became the least interesting thing about Juliet– a Ugandan magistrate judge with a record of applying human rights principles in her cases. Not long after we met, Juliet told me that she regularly visits prisons back in Uganda to educate inmates about their rights, and because, as she says, “if I’m going to send someone to prison, I must know where I am sending them.” (I agree.)
As I became friends with Juliet, we bonded over our shared commitment to the struggle against gender discrimination, oppression, and violence. I told her about my work in the Domestic Violence Clinic; and we talked about case strategies and court procedures. She shared a bit about her background– how she was separated from her parents and raised by her grandmother in Lira during the Ugandan civil war.
Juliet also began telling me about her efforts to keep girls in school back in her village. Juliet explained that she’d visited her primary school and noticed girls were dropping out at higher rates as they reached adolescence. Always logical in her approach, Juliet began to investigate. She discovered that one of the main challenges for the girls was a lack of reliable feminine hygiene products.
Juliet told me how she’d gone about addressing the issue by providing pads herself. Although she hadn’t been able to keep up with the need, her dream was to provide enough pads to all the girls so that they could stay in school.
When I learned all this, I knew I had to help. I saw an opportunity to leverage my skills and drive to create a project that could help make Juliet’s dream for the Akiya girls a reality. I began researching the issue and drafting a plan, which would become the Over the Moon Project.
As I researched, I started to understand the scope of this problem. I was moved by stories of girls unable to attend school for lack of proper hygiene supplies. I came across many heartbreaking accounts like this one:
“I used to use cloths that I would cut from my old T-shirts to keep the blood from staining my dresses, but they were not enough and blood would still stain my clothes… Boys used to laugh at me and I eventually simply stayed home whenever my periods started.” – Joan Anyango, a 16-year-old student in Ayito primary school in Lira (source: The Guardian)
I believe social programs must be directly informed and driven by the communities they will affect. As such, Juliet and I developed this project in consultation with community and school leaders in Lira. Our local partner made a special visit to Akiya school and spoke directly to the girls about their needs. We identified a local Ugandan vendor with a social enterprise mission and a wealth of experience working on menstrual hygiene issues in Ugandan communities.
Why did I get involved with this project? With all the challenges in our world, sometimes it’s hard to know what we can do to make a difference. That’s why this small concrete project is so exciting to me. We are going to put high-quality washable pads directly into the hands of girls who truly need them starting this summer. If we meet our fundraising goal, we will be able to provide 8 pads to each girl, giving them enough protection to allow them focus on their studies instead of worrying about having an accident and being embarrassed.
I got involved in this project because I wanted to make a difference for the Akiya girls. You can make a difference too!