Elevating Local Leadership In Cambodia
Project G: Youth For Menstrual Equity
Heng Ry sits comfortably at the head of the classroom at Streth Secondary School in Siem Reap, Cambodia. She’s holding a Days For Girls Kit in her hands; a flipchart diagram of a uterus rests beside her.
The 21-year-old university student is here to teach teenagers all about menstrual health.
Twenty pairs of eyes are transfixed on their young teacher as she demonstrates how to properly use a DfG washable pad. They nod and take notes; a few of them giggle. Once the lesson is over, every girl in class will take home a kit of her own.
Heng is one of 34 students who run Project G: a social enterprise that empowers rural youth with Days For Girls menstrual health education and supplies in Cambodia. (The G in the title stands for Girls!) Started by Cambodia Rural Students Trust (CRST), the enterprise delivers sustainable menstrual health solutions and knowledge throughout Siem Reap – while also creating income opportunities for local sewists. To date, Project G has taught more than 2,000 girls and 1,500 boys in 33 secondary schools, and distributed nearly 2,000 kits!
“By empowering girls and women with menstrual health knowledge and a free kit, we give them their freedom and choice back,” says Heng, who is currently Project G's General Manager. “The freedom to get an education and, as a result, amazing job opportunities, the ability to support their families and to feel the respect, value and love they deserve.”
Project G’s incredible success illustrates the power that locally-driven enterprises can have in their communities. Which is exactly why Days For Girls transitioned three years ago from simple kit donations to a more organic model of leadership in Cambodia.
Today, our three partner enterprises (including Project G) are run by trained locals who distribute affordable, eco-friendly period products, shatter stigma through community education and advocate for social/political change where they live. It’s a multi-level system that elevates entire communities, and transforms the local menstrual health space from the inside out.
New Horizons: Menstrual Health Education In Every School
Inspired by the success of Project G, the Cambodian government soon wanted our help taking menstrual health education to the next level – and we leapt at the chance.
With the support of our partners at CRESO, we designed menstrual health lesson plans for integration into the national curriculum. The lesson plans, which combine Days For Girls’ Menstrual Health & Hygiene (MHH) education with a story and three activities from WASH United’s MHM Education Guide, offer grade 5 students a body-positive introduction to menstruation. And 2020 is our launch year!
The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport (MoEYS) plans to test the program in primary schools across four Cambodian provinces as soon as COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. To evaluate impact, we’re working with a local evaluation company to gather comprehensive student and teacher feedback that will help inform the program moving forward. If the pilot is successful, our long-term vision is to assist MoESY in implementing comprehensive, age-specific lesson plans for grades 6-12 in schools across the entire country.
It’s a brand-new push to meet Cambodia’s urgent need for timely, accurate and comprehensive menstrual health education for the next generation.
Research shows that suboptimal MHH education in schools is one barrier keeping many Cambodian girls from safely and confidently managing their menstruation. Teachers either lack adequate knowledge to teach menstrual health, or their personal discomfort with the subject (due to internalized stigma) gets in the way. When it is covered, it’s often too late.
When combined with widespread myths and taboos that permeate “period talk” at home, this leaves many girls with limited knowledge about their changing bodies – or how to take charge of their health.
“I Thought Men Got Their Periods, Too!”
Teachers play a vital role in shepherding school programs to success.
In Cambodia, our first order of business was engaging with local teachers to foster greater confidence in teaching MH lesson plans. We developed a training program to help teachers apply their existing skills, experience and techniques to the grade 5 curriculum in a way that cultivates an engaging learning environment for all. Per national custom, we started by first training 10 of the country’s renowned ‘master teachers’ in Phnom Penh.
Their response was incredible.
The master teachers were so excited about the program that they insisted on co-leading additional teacher trainings in the rural provinces themselves. Some immediately went home to deliver our lesson plans to their own children. Others admitted to learning new information for the very first time.
One 58-year-old woman even exclaimed, "My entire life, I thought men got their period too!"
This passionate endorsement from Cambodia’s top teaching luminaries is a game-changer, and promises to lift the program to new heights. It also reflects what Days For Girls is constantly striving for: local leaders shifting local paradigms, and paving the way for meaningful, lasting change in their own communities.
We are honored to walk beside them in this journey.