It’s a Wednesday afternoon and schoolchildren at Groupe Scolaire Bugarama, in Kibilizi Sector in Nyamagabe District are engaged in various activities.
The school has around 1,200 learners, comprised of pupils and teenagers in nine-years basic education.
On one block, a small room with a door tag “Girl Room” is wide open. Inside there’s a female teacher with a long white apron sitting on a single bed. She is taking stock of sanitary pads, soap and other sanitation materials.
In addition to her teaching duties, Marie-Goreth Munganyinka is in charge of the ‘girl room’ where she offers reproductive health education to adolescent female students, especially during their first menstrual periods.
A girls’ room under construction in Kagugu based World Missionary Secondary School.
Her tasks includes giving guidelines to the teenagers on how they can avoid early pregnancies.
“When a girl gets her menstrual periods unexpectedly at school, we give them basic help like sanitary pads and a bed to rest (for those whose periods are painful), among others,” she said.
Most of the times, she says, the girls receive sanitary kits only once throughout the entire three month term.
“I remember when I was a student, we didn’t have such arrangements. Girls used to experience menstruation periods without knowledge about it and would be mocked by their colleagues,” she said.
Mariam Uwase, a teacher at Groupe Scolaire Kabuga in Gasabo District, said Girls Rooms are not well exploited.
“Girls need information more than materials and there is no one to deliver it. The school expects me to deliver this information yet I have to teach for 10 hours every day,” she said.
Most of the time, Uwase added, biology teachers or people in charge of discipline are the one who are assigned to the girls rooms, but they have extra duties.
“Imagine a S.1 girl experiencing periods for the first time. She may run to the girl room but she needs more information about her new stage of life and at times there is no one to tell her,” she said.
Munganyinka says there’s need to roll out more girl rooms in schools and equip them if they are to be impactful.
“This room is very small. We can’t receive two girls at a go, we don’t even have a bathroom,” she said, adding that they plan to partition the room using a curtain so they can be able to attend to more girls at once.
However, the school administration says that its constrained by limited resources.
One of the strategies the school has deployed is to solicit for hygiene materials from not-for- profit organisations.
The school uses co-curricular activities such as sports events to reward the best performing girls with books, sanitary pads or other hygiene materials.
“For instance materials we are using now, we received them from World Vision. It is a way of searching for solutions within ourselves,” she said.
Olive Uwimana, a senior three student, said they appreciate the services offered in the room but some additional services are needed.
“Some of our parents are not literate and it is hard to find reproductive health information at home,” she says.
This means that, she says, the girl rooms need to be equipped with reading materials such as journals, books or even brochures containing the information about reproductive health.
“It would help us even when there is no one to talk to,” she said.
Frodouald Tuyishimire, the in charge of health department at the Ministry of Education, says that each school must have at least two teachers trained on how to deliver reproductive health education to children.
These are the ones who are supposed to be in charge of girl rooms, he said.
“Girls are not to receive sex education services only during their periods only but anytime a girl gets confused about reproductive health, they have the right to ask for explanation from those teachers who are in charge of girl rooms,” he said.
Together with various partners, the Ministry of Education wants to expand this programme to all schools in order to help students protect themselves against teenage pregnancies, he said.
Some 3700 teachers have hitherto trained in reproductive health, on how to help children and take care of girl rooms.