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Ugandan activists want donors to review programs after anti-gay law
Paying it Forward via the National Youth Science Forum
Zone 8 unites to say no to domestic violence
“I thought jeez, this is shocking what's going on. What could I do as an incoming president of our club?” says Dave, now Rotary District Governor for Zone 9640 for 2023-24.
“I went back to my wife that night, and our club, and spoke about making domestic and family violence the main focus of my first year as president.”
A few months later, 800 people walked down the main street of Ballina in the start of the club’s campaign to try to raise awareness of this issue. On average, one woman a week is murdered by her current or former partner, according to statistics cited by non-profit Our Watch. This year, there are remarkably 20 Districts that make up Zone 8 united for the plight of gender-based violence They encompass 16 countries from Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Island Nations, over 25,000 Rotarians and 20 Governors.
“We have clubs across our zone combining for a common cause,” says Dave. “This is a rare opportunity and has not happened in over 30 years. Imagine the community interest, impact and engagement.”
The campaign against domestic and family violence has helped transform the Ballina-on-Richmond club. In just the past few years, membership has grown from 33 to about 80 people, spurred on by those wanting to help tackle what Dave points out is now the biggest issue facing police today.
“Find your club’s relevance and members will come,” he says.
The death of Lindy Lucena in January, just one street back from Ballina’s main street, marked Australia’s first domestic and family violence related death for 2023. Lindy’s partner was charged with her murder and breaching an apprehended violence order. After this local business Cherry Street Sports Club asked Rotary “what can we do?”
“Cherry Street Sports Club have over 100 staff and for six weeks over Christmas and New Year they all wore our ‘Rotary Says NO to Domestic Violence’ shirts to promote awareness of domestic violence,” says Dave. “They also have beer coasters that they put at all their tables that mention domestic violence.”
The community response was so positive that Ballina Rotary thought what next? A $25,000 club grant between it and Cherry Street Sports Club helped launch the “Purple Friday campaign”, which will mean businesses in Ballina all wearing Rotary’s tops every Friday for the remainder of 2023. Within just two weeks, Rotary had 90 businesses order over 1000 free shirts. Those proudly wearing them include local council staff, primary school workers, tradies, hospitality professionals and retail staff.
“Purple Friday” has helped raise awareness of domestic violence and encourage conversations, says Dave. There are many examples of Ballina women having conversations about their lived experience of this that has never happened before. “I encourage clubs to visit our website and order your shirts,” he says. “They are a great shirt to wear at any of your club’s functions and a conversation starter.”
As part of its broad campaign against gender-based violence, Ballina Rotary also supports the program “Love Bites”. The club helps fund the delivery of this program in high schools on the Northern Rivers. “Love Bites” covers topics such as power and respect in relationships, sexual assault and consent, warning signs of a controlling relationship, and much more. “Research will confirm that the best way to bring about long-term positive change in this area is to educate our youth on what a respectful relationship is and what it looks like,” says Dave.
During this year’s International 16 Days of Activism this year, held from November 25 to December 10, Ballina Rotary will also ask clubs to unite with their community and organise activities that will help raise awareness of domestic violence. This may be a walk, vigil or another activity. They encourage clubs to partner with other organisations that may already be doing something for this event. Ballina Rotary are proposing a zone-wide day of action on December 1.
With the NSW Police recently coming onboard, forming a formal partnership with Rotary Districts of NSW, and their Queensland counterparts expected to follow soon, the campaign that Rotary started will only grow.
“NSW Police see this is the game changer,” says Dave.
“As leaders in our community, we need to stand up and say ‘we’ve had enough of this. What’s happening at the moment isn’t working. Things need to change.’”
To order shirts and other support materials see https://rotaryclubofballinaonrichmond.org.au/#sthash.ddtCkGvf.dpbs
'A world of secrecy': new calls for greater transparency for religious charities
No arguments put forward by Catholic and Anglican churches five years ago to justify the creation of “basic religious charities” (BRCs) hold water, said Dr Phil Saj, a visiting scholar at the University of Adelaide’s business school.
How the female coffee farmers of Uganda are building their livelihoods
From farming stock, Mary first went to work with her father at the age of 10. Profits from his coffee crop paid her school fees. She married
How dog-sharing became a solution to ‘pandemic puppy’ problems
In Africa, the “powerful, political act” of agroecological farming is being supported by the Slow Food movement
Red amaranth, which provides a protein boost for pregnant mothers; spider plant, which is believed to inhibit the growth of cancer cells; and eggobe, which is said to be handy for treating diabetes and hypertension.
These are just some of the fresh fruit, vegetables, dairy, meat
Should donors stop funding orphanages? Some NGOs think so
But as pointed out by NGO Lumos, who work to end the dangers of institutionalization and help children be reunited with family, “decades of scientific research shows that children need to grow up in a safe and loving environment, surrounded by family to help th
Born to farmers, Mary first went to work with her father at the age of 10. Through coffee, he paid her school fees. She married into coffee too, with her husband giving her 100 trees as a wedding present, but Mary’s since planted more than 300 herself.
She’s part of a women’s co-operative, which was founded in 2004. “The aim was to reduce the dependence of women on men in coffee,” she says. She’s one of around 100 women who are members, though allowing their husbands to join – because they tend to own the coffee plantations and support their wives in the business – has increased the total membership to 200. And the collective has inspired others, too. “More women have started to plant their own coffee,” Mary says.
She rises early every day to pick the arabica coffee cherries – the fruit of the plant. “It is hard work but when you concentrate it can become easy,” says Mary. After gathering ripe red coffee cherries, she puts them in a large bucket of water to separate the healthy from the defective coffee. If a coffee cherry is damaged from an insect or disease, it floats. The latter are removed and the remaining put through a small hand-powered coffee pulper. The farmer turns a crank and pours water into the machine, using tiny metal teeth to separate the outer coffee fruit from the inner coffee seed. This is the coffee "bean". These beans are put back into water to ferment for at least two days. This process helps to develop flavors in the coffee and further removes the slimy sweet fruit mucilage. The now washed beans are placed on "African Raised Drying Beds" simple, wooden-framed racks with a mesh liner that the wet beans are spread out upon, in direct sunlight. Air can flow naturally all around the beans, allowing for quick and even drying.
Once the beans have reached the desired dryness, coffee is gathered together by the cooperative and collected by Endiro Coffee, a tree-to-cup social enterprise working with women-led, organic farmers including those in Bududa. There are still a few more steps to the journey, but this is where Endiro takes over. They mill the coffee to remove the skin or "parchment" covering the beans. Later, it will be roasted, ground and finally brewed by a barista or at home on a coffee brewing device.
In a good harvest season, Mary says she can make 6,000,000 Ugandan shillings (around £1,600), a pretty decent income for this area. For the rest of the year, Mary works as a tailor.
It hasn’t been an easy journey for the Bududa farmers, who’ve faced annual landslides for at least the past 15 years. In 2018, Mary’s mother’s house was destroyed and Mary and two of her siblings lost children. “It washed away some of my coffee plantations,” she says. Other challenges include pests and hailstorms. She eventually dreams of a living in a stable house with water nearby so that she doesn’t have to trek to fetch it, and her own vehicle. “It will take time to save,” she said. “I’ve worked a lot, and I don’t want to stop working, but I want my money to work for me,” she says.
Endiro products including coffee and sauce can be bought at their cafes across Uganda, Kenya and the US, as well as online. endirocoffee.com
Britain’s Got Talent act Ghetto Kids highlights issue of Ugandan orphanages, say campaigners
The collective of around 30 underprivileged children, some described as orphans, competed in the Britain’s Got Talent (BGT) final on Sunday, after dazzling the judges and receiving a “Golden Buzzer” from Bruno Tonioli halfway through their performance in April.
While they didn’t win
Uganda's new anti-LGBTQ law could make PEPFAR's work 'illegal'
UNICEF report finds gaps and bottlenecks in menstrual health services
From Bollywood to Adelaide: A Rotary Success Story
“We are at the end of the day, at the mercy of the stars. If suddenly one doesn't turn up for the filmmaker that means the whole day’s schedule has to be cancelled,” says Rajeev.
“So that taught me something which I apply in Rotary - just get on with it. No amount of micromanaging and planning can guarantee anything.” The president now leading Australia’s second biggest club into the organisation’s centenary year stresses that Rotary is completely volunteer-run.
“We can’t force their help, we can only request it. If I have to manage 10 volunteers, let’s say in a shelter house, I can’t call them and say ‘you’re fired’, says Rajeev. “We have to see if they take up the responsibility and run with it. That’s another big learning from the movie industry which I brought into Rotary.”
Rajeev was just four-years-old when he decided he wanted to be a movie producer after seeing a man in Vijayawada, in India’s southeast, changing the film posters on the streets outside his bedroom. Four years later, Rajeev’s surgeon father introduced him to Rotary. “I used to tag along with him to the rotary meetings,” he says.
“If it was not for my family, I would not even have known about Rotary.” Rajeev's paediatrician mother was an Inner Wheel member. Rajeev went onto join the Rotary club of Madras in Chennai, in India’s south.
It would take him nearly another three decades, but he would finally fulfill his childhood ambition of working in Bollywood.” Rajeev started financing films in 2007. Since then, he’s also worked on the production of movies including Naan Ee by critically acclaimed Indian film director S.S Rajamouli. Rajeev’s company, Picture House Media Ltd, adapted the award-winning French film The Intouchables into a successful Bollywood movie. He’s also worked on the films Brahmotsavam, Kshanam, Irandam Ulagam and Yevanda.
To date, Rajeev has been involved in producing 14 movies and financing 35.
In 2017, after racking up one decade in the film industry, he decided to take a break from it. Rajeev called a professor he had when he had studied for his masters degree in international management, international business and international relations in Queensland, who was now living in Adelaide. He encouraged Rajeev to come there. One of the first things that the cricket fan did after moving to the city was to check on Rotary meetings. “I was delighted to find a club that meets at Adelaide oval, and I signed up,” says the now president.
Today, Rajeev fits in meetings around his positions as associate of head accreditation at the Adelaide Business School at the University of Adelaide and as academic director of The Academy by Deloitte at the same institution. Rajeev also has a PhD in movie entrepreneurship from the university.
He joined the Adelaide Rotary club seven years ago. One of its ongoing projects that he’s the proudest of is Nurture Kits, which involved giving care kits containing coffee mugs, coffee, tea, chocolate, lip balm and hand sanitiser to medics working during covid. Others include helping children with hearing problems in Tonga, and Sri Lanka water treatment projects.
In its 100th year, Rajeev says one challenge that Australia’s third oldest club, with about 180 members, has is attracting younger people. “It’s hard to get them to come to our meetings because they are on a Wednesday lunchtime, so if you’re working full time you have to take off two hours from work,” says Rajeev.
“That's why we have evening meetings, social meetings, and weekend activities.”
When he joined the Adelaide club, the average age of a member was about 69, but this has now come down to about 65. “It’s an ongoing process, but we need to have younger members, diverse groups of members,” says Rajeev.
But he says that the beauty of the club in its centenary year is that they trust him as president.
“I can be as culturally and linguistically diverse as possible,” says Rajeev. “My accent itself sounds different to begin with.”
He however points out that the president two years earlier was a woman, and that the club’s members have come from diverse backgrounds and contributed different skill sets and expertise. But Rajeev says that Rotary as an entire organisation needs to accept that it has to change.
The Adelaide club’s 101st president will begin their term on July 1.
With a Rotary success story set in Bollywood that also includes a stint as a club president in Australia, Rajeev says his career to date is full of honours. “I might be one of those fortunate guys who got to do what they really loved a lot in life,” he says.
New Journey for Refugees in Uganda
Aussie traveller stunned by bizarre sight in Africa
Now the new restaurant where Anirwoth works at in the country’s capital Kampala is hoping that the former prime minister will be able to help them sell a new type of sandwich there, Escape reports.
The eatery is using two large photos of Mr Turnbull eating bánh mì when he was Australia’s leader during a 2017 visit to Vietnam.
When he pondered his legacy, Mr Turnbull may not have thought he’d become the poster child for the Vietnamese sa
British ex-nun who invented cheap form of morphine calls for better end-of-life care
“The team get upset with me because I keep saying ‘I’ve got to get this done before I pop my clogs’ and they say ‘you’re going to live to be 100,” says Ms Merriman from Uganda’s capital, Kampala, where she helped set up a palliative care model for Africa. “I say ‘no, please’.”
After Pope Francis Visit, DRC Opens Baha’i House of Worship
It’s hoped that the Baha’i house of worship, which over 2,000 people from across the central African nation and around the world attended the official inauguration of, will be a “force for social betterment,” said Rachel Kakudji of the Baha’i Office of External Affai
Uganda’s anti-gay bill will criminalize HIV programs, activists warn
The Anti-Homosexuality Act, which was passed by the nation’s Parliament on March 21, prescribes life imprisonment for homosexual acts and the death penalty for “aggravated offences” such as those involving minors or people with disabilities. The bill also includes a duty to report same-sex acts and imposes up to six months in prison for the failure to do so.
The new bill is “probably among the worst of its kind in the world,” said Volker Türk, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, who also called it a “deeply troubling development,” in a statement.
Activists warn that the new legislation will essentially criminalize inclusive HIV programs and undermine the country’s efforts to end AIDS by 2030.
Richard Lusimbo, national director of Uganda Key Populations Consortium, based in Kampala, told Devex that the “LGBTI community will be pushed into a corner” by the new bill.
“This bill really pushes for policing, increased stigma and discrimination, but also reporting of LGBTI identifying persons, which will create a very precarious state where people go into hiding and it will be very difficult for people to even access services because they'll be scared the doctor will report them,” he said.
Lusimbo added that “presently no donor has cut aid, but we are concerned that if this bill becomes law, it will be difficult to operate, as that will be termed ‘promotion’ [of homosexuality].”
In 2014, the United States cut aid to Uganda, imposed visa restrictions, and scrapped a regional military exercise after an anti-gay bill was signed into law by the country’s president, Yoweri Museveni. The World Bank also withheld a $90 million health loan while Norway and Denmark cut their aid spending. The bill was nullified by a court on a technicality six months later.
The U.S. government is the single largest donor to Uganda’s health sector. It contributes 32% of total health spending in Uganda annually, comprising 76% of all overseas contributions to the sector. Through U.S. Agency for International Development, the U.S. has invested about $39 million over six years. The U.S. has expressed alarm over the new bill, with national security council spokesperson John Kirby warning of economic “repercussions” for Uganda on March 22.
On the same day, Dr. John Nkengasong, who leads The U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, highlighted that PEPFAR invests around $400 million annually to support Uganda’s HIV response and this bill “jeopardizes efforts to end HIV/AIDS, achieve health equity & risks the lives of LGBTQI+ individuals & other key populations.” UNAIDS also warned that the bill would “undermine Uganda’s efforts to end AIDS by 2030, by violating fundamental human rights including the right to health and the very right to life.”
Executive Director of NGO Health GAP Asia Russell said the bill would essentially make some PEPFAR-funded programs “completely illegal.”
Currently, PEPFAR provides treatment and prevention services through inclusive clinics that are supposed to uphold the rights and freedoms of all Ugandans. "According to this bill, that is ‘promotion of homosexuality.’ The bill would make implementation of a lifesaving HIV program a criminal act," Russell said.
She added that PEPFAR-funded implementers would be "risking prison time, steep fines, and the ethical nightmare of having to report fellow Ugandans, simply for doing their job.”
Russell said there are also concerns that UNAIDS wouldn't be able to do its work since it openly advocates for decriminalization and that the bill would also affect other donors who fund human rights work beyond HIV programs. It criminalizes everyone from the social worker who is providing HIV information, to the LGBTQ+ community, she said.
A U.S. State Department spokesperson told Devex that they are “investigating the potential impact of the [Anti-Homosexuality Act] on foreign assistance, specifically nearly $500 million the United States provides in annual health assistance as well as assistance in other sectors.”
“The impact of our PEPFAR funding, which is aiding Uganda to end HIV/AIDS as a public health threat by 2030, would be severely compromised if we were not able to provide services to Ugandan citizens,” they said. Adding that U.S. health assistance to Uganda sought to ensure all who needed access to health care receive those services, including the LGBTQ+ community.
“The Anti-Homosexuality Act will lead to stigmatization and discrimination of LGBTQ+ individuals and other key populations, deterring those who need HIV prevention and treatment services from seeking and receiving care,” they said.
Shantal Mulungi, executive director of Coloured Voice Truth told Devex that 6 friends who all identify as LGBTQ+ were arrested on March 17 and that the signing of the bill would amount to a “grand massacre of anyone suspected to be homosexual.”
“Many LGBTQ individuals are going to lose their lives to mob justice, suicide, and blackmail,” she said. If UNAIDS and the U.S. were to stop all their HIV and AIDS services in Uganda, “then automatically all patients on ARVs will be sentenced to death since our government is full of corruption and can’t buy those ARVs to freely supply them to patients.”
Mulungi said the U.N. should pass a universal law protecting LGBTQ+ people’s rights around the world or force its member states to comply with the international human rights treaties they signed.
“That is the permanent solution,” she said. “Sanctions and all that will not solve this problem.”
Marijke Wijnroks, from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, said the bill could harm Museveni’s legacy in successfully tackling HIV and AIDS. In 1992, Uganda had a 16% rate of infection, but by 2003 this had reduced by 4% to 6%. Although incident rates are now shooting up, Wijnroks said that Museveni was “really one of the first leaders in Africa who took a very active response on HIV.”
“He was driven by evidence and science,” Wijnroks, the fund’s head of strategic investment and impact division, told Devex in an interview. “There’s all the evidence in the world that legislation like this will make HIV prevention so much more difficult.”
Earthquake in Syria
Museveni now has 30 days to sign the bill or veto it. If he approves it, it becomes law. If vetoed, it returns to Parliament, which will be able to enact it as law — without the president’s approval — if a third round of voting passes it with a two-thirds majority vote.
Russell said the bill will have serious implications for a country with an ongoing HIV crisis. In 2012, HIV incidence rates shot up to 7.3% from 6.4% in 2005, according to the Joint U.N. Program on HIV/AIDS. There are now 1.4 million Ugandans living with HIV in the country and “millions more who are at greatest risk of infection” she said, adding that approximately 25% of new HIV infections are members of criminalized populations and their partners. These include sex workers, men who have sex with men, people who inject drugs, and people in prisons.
A ‘ripple effect’
Maureen Milanga, associate director of international policy and advocacy at Health GAP, based in Kenya, warned of a “ripple effect” that was already being seen there and that would be felt in Tanzania. “In Kenya, we are hearing that they’re writing a bill now and we are trying to find it but the reason that they're probably not sharing it in public is because they're waiting for trade deals to go through,” she told Devex.
U.S. Ambassador to Kenya Meg Whitman raised eyebrows after she told reporters that every country “has to make their own decisions about LGBTQ [and intersex] rights” earlier this month.
Thirty-three of the 69 countries that criminalize homosexual acts are in Africa, according to Human Rights Watch. A November 2022 UNAIDS report showed how criminalization is stalling prevention outcomes, indicating that in East and southern Africa, HIV incidence among adult men aged 15 to 49 years has fallen by 62% overall since 2010, but there had been no significant decline among gay men and other men who have sex with men during that time.
Russell said that speaking out on LGBTQ+ rights should be a top foreign policy priority for U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris — who is currently on an Africa tour that will include visits to Ghana, Tanzania, and Zambia — “not only for those countries but for the region.”
But the Ugandan government remains defiant.
Uganda’s Information Minister Chris Baryomunsi, who is acting as a government spokesperson on the issue, told Devex that “our partnership with donors should not mean we cannot make independent decisions as a country.” He added that “we reject that blackmail.”
“I don't think the law will in any way undermine the national HIV/AIDS response,” he said. “This is a far-fetched fear with no justification.”
Update, March 31, 2023: This article has been updated to clarify that the Anti-Homosexuality Act prescribes the death penalty for “aggravated offences” such as those involving minors or people with disabilities.
Uganda’s anti-gay bill will criminalize HIV programs, activists warn
Cambodia's Floating Gardens
Cambodia’s great lake, the Tonlé Sap,
to weather many storms.
Chum Srey Nga, 50, looks
around in amazement at
her floating garden onboard
the boat where she and her
family live, on southeast Asia’s largest
freshwater lake. Already vegetables
that she and many others have been
taught to plant, feed their families
with, and sell, such as Chinese
cabbage, shallot lettuce, and bok
choy, are sprouting up.
For nearly four decades, Chum and
her family drifted by on the Tonlé Sap
in Cambodia. Things were far from
perfect for them in Kampong Luong
commune in the country’s Pursat
province. But fishing put food on the
table and Chum made a living from
their small but unsteady house on
the enormous lake, where many are
forced to live permanently.
Gradually over the years, however,
things shifted, with the community
now facing challenges including
overfishing, deforestation, dam
construction and industrial and
“We were rich in fish. It has changed
a lot,“ says Chum, a mother of eight
and grandmother of three, who has
lived in a huge floating village there
since 1979. “Today, the Tonlé Sap
lake has less fish; we cannot catch
as much as before. But what should
Thanks to a floating garden,
created via the Generating Resilient
Environments and Promoting SocioEconomic Development of the East
Tonlé Sap Lake (GREEN) project,
a collaboration between VSO and
partners, Chum now has enough
food and income to keep her and her
family secure. The four-year project,
which began in March 2021, aims
to help 4,500 marginalised people
by equipping them with technical
and vocational skills by taking up sustainable farming. GREEN also aims to
establish 50 initiatives through women
and youth-led business incubations and
develop three business plans through
community-led ecotourism studies.
After hearing about GREEN, Chum, who
lives nearly 100 miles outside Cambodia’s
capital Phnom Penh, registered for
training. The initiative, which targets
people in the Kampong Thom, Pursat,
and Kampong Chhnang provinces
of Cambodia, has three areas: water,
sanitation and hygiene (WASH), the green
economy, and education.
Through the project, which involves 20
VSO volunteers, Chum and others have
been given the knowledge, skills and tools
to plant vegetables for floating gardens.
They were taught how to build a floating
raft using recyclable materials, such as
plastic bottles, and to make chemical-free
fertiliser, promoting more agroecological,
“Before VSO intervened, my life was a
struggle,” says Chum. “I had no technical
knowledge of how to grow vegetables. But
now VSO has come in, my life is getting
better. I have gained knowledge and skills
in sustainable farming.”
After hearing about VSO and GREEN,
Kem Rai, 38, who lives in a floating village
with her mother and niece in Kampong
Luong and works in fish paste processing,
took part in workshops to hear about the
floating gardens. Kem realised that if she
learnt how to grow vegetables, she could
supplement her income from her fish
paste processing work. “VSO has guided
me to think of new initiatives of planting
vegetables. Joining this project has helped
me earn more than what I make from fish
paste processing, and my family life is now
better,” says Kem.
“I do not worry so much when I have
urgent needs.” She has now reduced her
expenses on food, as she gets this from
her garden, and can save more.
Kem’s family has also suffered because
of climate change. At one point the roof
blew off their house, falling onto another,
and they have been unable to raise fish.
“Climate change has caused us to lose
our job raising fish, because of the bad
pollution in the water. This not only affects
me and my family, but other community
members, as they were forced to stop
keeping fish because of the unclean river,”
“This kind of climate change is
affecting a lot of fishermen and women
in my community, who in the past few
years have reduced their fishing to half
compared to before. Some families have
no options but to stop.”
Through GREEN, the community
has also learnt to become more
environmentally aware, through the
project’s workshops, with this information
passed onto the community. “I raise
awareness amongst my neighbours
and tell them not to throw things in the water, just save it for recycling or keep
it in the bin. Our community people
have understood a lot and changed their
behaviour,” says Chum. “I am looking
forward to receiving more support to
expand my opportunities even more.”
Thanks to the GREEN project, when
there’s trouble on the horizon for these
vulnerable people on the Tonlé Sap, they
now have ways of coping. But VSO needs
to reach more people like Chum and Kem
living on the lake today.
'I'm not scared of prison': Ugandan activists fight law making it illegal to be gay
Today, the openly bisexual man, 44, goes about his daily life not far from the shrine in the east African country, where on Tuesday, Uganda’s parliament passed a law making it a crime to identify as LGBT+ and strengthened powers for authorities to target gay Ugandans. It comes amid the c
Teen’s Death Sparks Gripping Film — and Hope
— By Amy Fallon, reporting from Kampala, Uganda
Jackline Chepngeno went to primary school one day in September 2019 in Kabiangek, southwest Kenya. But it would be “a day unlike any other,” as a new documentary on the 14-year-old’s story, which made headlines around the world, narrates. A harrowing one.
Chepngeno’s period came unexpectedly in the middle of her English class. Like 65% of girls in the east African country, she was unable to afford sanitary pads. Hours later, after allegedly being period-shamed by her teacher, the teen took her own life. But the story is complicated.
“There’s such global talk and a movement around period poverty and breaking the shame around menstruation at the moment,” says Amélie Truffert, the producer of A Journey with a Hope. The documentary tells the story about Chepngeno’s death, focusing on the stigma related to menstruation and what happens when girls don’t have access to period products.
“It’s a really super hot topic, so it feels like it’s the perfect time for this documentary to be seen,” the South Africa-based director and producer says. At least 500 million women and girls around the world lack access to the facilities they need to manage their periods, according to the World Bank.
The 44-minute documentary, which is Truffert’s first, is a confronting, uncomfortable watch at times — particularly the interviews with Chepngeno’s teacher. There was no proper research phase, Truffert explains. “We learnt as we started talking to the family,” she says. “It snowballed from there — from chats with menstrual health experts, young girls who had gone through similar incidents of period shaming et cetera.”
‘So shaken, she could not stand’
Viewers are first introduced to Chepngeno by her grandmother, Rachel, as “very strong and hardworking.”
Jackline “was the first to wake up in the family,” Rachel says (via subtitles), explaining that they would send Chepngeno to the flour mill to work, and to pick tea on weekends. But on that fateful day when Chepngeno unexpectedly got her period in class, she was reportedly caned by Jennifer Chemutai, an allegation the teacher denies on camera.
The teen was “so shaken she could not stand” after the incident, viewers learn.
Rachel recounts that after arriving home crying, having been told that her clothes were dirty, Chepengo was given clean clothes and her mother told her she could return to school after lunch. But soon after, Chepengo went missing from home. Her body was discovered a few hours later.
“We heard screams … we assumed it was drunks fighting,” Rachel recalls in the film. “I told them not to remove Jackline’s body until the teacher came so that they could see how she reacted to the morning’s events,” says Rachel.
Chepngeno’s death sent “shockwaves” and “grief” through the community, viewers learn, and there was a lot of anger directed at Chemutai. Yet, when asked if she feels she bears any responsibility for the teen’s death, she says no. She has never apologized to Chepngeno’s family, according to the film. According to a 2019 Kenyan news report, Chemutai was exonerated by the government.
French national Truffert and her British partner, co-director and co-producer, Paul Drawbridge, were researching mental health in Kenya when they heard about Chepngeno’s story. They didn’t deliberately set out to make the film, Truffert says. However, they have received a lot of feedback about it, particularly about the teacher’s role. “It’s really conflicting, because on one hand you think she was an adult responsible for a child and she let that child down but it’s so easy to say ‘oh it’s all her fault,’” says Truffert. “Sure, she played a part in what happened, but actually she’s just part of this bigger system of period shaming and … maybe the same thing happened to her, so she’s just repeating that cycle.”
Kenya-based Muna Mohamed, the Regional Partnerships and Business Development Manager at AFRIPads, features in the film. Uganda-based AFRIPads is the top social enterprise manufacturer of reusable sanitary pads in the world. Mohamed works to help educate girls around menstruation myths. In the film, the 29-year-old wipes away tears during an interview. “It’s not HIV/AIDS that she has, it’s periods — come on guys. This is a normal biological process.” Mohamed continues: “If I was Jackline, I would have done the same thing.”
Mohamed tells OZY, “I’ve actually found it quite hard to watch the entire film.” She talks about not having sanitary pads at one point in her life because she faced gender-based violence and mental health problems in her home. Looking at her own past situation as an educated woman without the financial means to purchase sanitary pads, she asks: “What about women or girls who are actually living in serious poverty?”
She says that men and boys must also be part of the solution. A Journey with a Hope also shows male educators from organization The Cup, who viewers are told are “curious and want to get involved in these discussions to learn more” about menstruation. Mohamed says that by having men and boys involved, “we may address a variety of “inter-connected problems” to period poverty, “such as femicide, teenage pregnancies, gender-based violence, and mental health.”
Changing the way periods are seen n May 2020, Kenya became the first African country to put in place a Menstrual Hygiene Policy, viewers are told at the end of the film. The aim of this is to help guarantee that all women and girls in Kenya can manage their periods hygienically and without stigma. This includes access to proper information on menstrual health, along with products, services and facilities, and the right to safely dispose of menstrual waste.
The audience is also told at the end that Chepngeno’s mother, Beatrice, and grandmother are now distributing pads to local schools. “If there’s a positive message that can come from this story it’s that it’s changed the way that they’ve looked at periods,” says Truffert.
Now pursuing a masters in global health so she can specialize in menstruation, Truffert says it’s important that “as many young girls” as possible see the film. “It could really help some young girls normalize periods and start to break down the cycle of shame that comes from menstruation,” she says. “We are still learning and researching today, even though the film is finished.”
And it is getting worldwide recognition.
A Journey with a Hope was a finalist in the New York International Women’s Film Festival (NIFF), won Best Women’s Film at the Bright Film Festival, and recently won the Best Human Rights Film at the Vancouver Independent Film Festival.
It will be shown at the closing ceremony of the Under Our Skin International Film Festival on Human Rights in Nairobi, Kenya. The film “tackles the topic of menstrual health shaming, which is vital to provoke dialogues around stigma faced by young girls and women, and to promote the enhancement of the rights of women and girls”, says Sarah Mpapuluu, the festival’s general coordinator.
The documentary shows “just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the reality on the ground,” says Mohamed. “Thousands of girls and women are suffering from period poverty in Kenya and all around the world, and we need governments to have compulsory budgets for sanitary pads.”
The film ends with the message: "Jackline's last walk home is a journey without hope, a rallying cry for us all. We must hope for change and then we must make it happen."
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