‘Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.’ (Mother Teresa)
The smallest things can make the greatest difference. Little life details have the potential to bring – or remove – great strength. Perhaps the small things Mother Teresa was talking about are our thoughts, our choices, our everyday actions and interactions – our moments spent in prayer in the midst of the giant storms of life. But what she was saying has a wider truth in it.
Sometimes, the small things that can make or break an entire life, future, generation or community, are immensely practical items. A clean sanitary towel, an item small enough to put in the palm of a girl’s hand, can be the difference between her getting an education, or getting none. The difference between her being able to get a job, or being trapped in poverty. The difference between her having dignity, or experiencing shame.
Meet 17-year-old Takudzwa.
‘My name is Takudzwa. I live in Ngangu township [in Zimbabwe] – a famous location which was the epicentre of Cyclone Idai.
‘Our lives were devastated during and after the cyclone. It took time to recover and the disturbing thing about being a girl was the lack of basic sanitaryware to manage our menstruation during the disaster.
‘My mother and father separated when I was nine years, and I grew up with my mother. We lost all our clothes during the cyclone, and it was difficult for us girls to manage our menstrual hygiene. The cyclone did not give us a chance to gather our few belongings as it hit us during the night. We were left with only the clothes that we were wearing.’
Cycles of poverty
Part of the biology of a young woman’s development is the body’s preparation to try to make space for the creation of a new human being. With that, though, comes a whole world of very specifically female pain.
The physical discomfort of monthly cycles – which can be anything from mild to debilitating. The emotional and physical pain associated with having, or indeed not having, babies. Each woman’s experience is slightly different, and yet, in many ways, essentially the same. For most girls and women, from some point in their adolescent years, there will be regular periods of time in which having access, or not having access, to all the things necessary for good menstrual hygiene will have a significant impact on their freedom.
For Takudzwa, as for many other women and girls in the world affected by disaster, conflict or poverty, not being able to get sanitary products and clean clothing further strips them of any comfort and dignity in their already difficult circumstances.
‘We felt excluded before [Tearfund partner] ZOE came in with the support,’ she says.
Takudzwa tells how, in her situation, school attendance was interrupted. Before they were able to receive sanitary hygiene kits from ZOE, most of the girls couldn’t go to school during their period.