Menstrual Hygiene in Sierra Leone

Menstrual Hygiene in Sierra Leone

Let’s talk Periods!

With Menstrual Hygiene Day just around the corner, we thought we would take this opportunity to talk about how ‘menses’ (periods) affects girls of menstruating age in The Fig Tree Children.

If you would like to help to end ‘period poverty’ please have a look at our campaign at the end of this article.

Whenever you try to bring up the topic of menstruation with people in Sierra Leone, there’s definitely the feeling that periods are a taboo topic. It doesn’t surprise me to learn, that the first time most girls in Sierra Leone get their period, they have no idea what’s happening. If a girl is registered in The Fig Tree program, then she will be going to school and I would imagine if she had her period at school, this would be a challenging time for her. While she might have heard about sanitary pads, she probably will have also heard about how they can cause infertility, they’re expensive, and they’re difficult to source. She will have to try and manage her menses with ‘pieces’ (small scraps of fabric or old cloth) which as you might imagine, wouldn’t be very hygienic. If the school she attends has toilet facilities, the toilets are most probably shared with boys so privacy would be an issue. Imagine having blood on your hands and needing to wash it off! She’s likely to get teased. If her teacher is a male, she won’t have anyone to go to for support.

It’s no wonder so many girls stay home from school rather than deal with all this potential embarrassment and shame. Girls lose weeks of school a year simply because they don’t have a reliable way to manage their period!

It’s a pretty scary time for these girls. They hear stories about how once they get their period, it’s the end of their childhood, that she’s now mature and ready to have sex or have a lover, that she’s already having sex because she has her period and that she should now drop out of school and get married. Can you imagine being as young as 10 or 11 years of age and hearing this!

In Sierra Leone, teenage pregnancy and child marriage are common: data from 2015 show that nearly 40 per cent of girls are married before their 18th birthday.

However, the good news is that there are organisations in the community that are trying to put a stop to the myths, and they are educating women and girls on the truth about menstruation and sexual health. They give them practical advice and are also providing access to sanitary pads. One such organisation is Girl Child Network (GCN). Not only are they educating girls, but they also make reusable sanitary pads which they distribute to the girls who attend their training workshops. The pads they make are based on Freeda Thong’s Ecopads. In 2016, The Fig Tree Children founder, Jane, was in Sierra Leone when a container that had been shipped loaded with bicycles donated by Bikes4Life, and a few other items. Jane distributed the donated sanitary pads and gave Aminata Kamara from GCNSL 200 sanitary hygiene kits from Days for Girls Toowoomba and 30 kits from Freeda Thong at Ecopads Australia. 30 girls trialled the two different designs and chose Ecopads as the design they liked the most, hence Anita choosing to make a sanitary pad based on Freeda’s design.

Anita Koroma who is the Sierra Leone representative for GCN Sierra Leone is openly discussing menstruation with the whole community and challenging the myths that prevent so many women from reaching their full potential. This has a huge impact!

Having access to sanitary pads (reusable or disposable) improves women’s physical health and restores their sense of dignity.

Using the ‘pieces’ many girls use to manage their menses often gives the girls wounds, rashes and infection. After a while of wearing pieces, there is usually an offensive smell or odour. Having access to sanitary pads makes all the difference. The girls feel cleaner and fresher.


Reusable or Disposable?

While having any type of sanitary pad over ‘pieces’ is better, the disposal of used disposable pads is a big challenge. Waste is a global dilemma and there’s no question that replacing reusable ‘pieces’ with disposable pads is contributing to that problem. However, for girls who don’t easily have access to clean water, reusable pads that can’t be cleaned adequately is also a problem. What’s important is that these girls have the best type of sanitary pad depending on their circumstances, reusable or disposable are both better than just ‘pieces’.

Periods cause challenges for women – regardless of where in the world they live. But they are a fact of life. It is not acceptable that — for some women and girls — periods stand in the way of their right to education. Or that they are the catalyst for early marriage. Or even a source of shame and ridicule.

Here at The Fig Tree Children, we want to make sure that our girls all have access to sanitary pads, reusable if they have access to clean water to clean them adequately, or disposable, if not. However, it’s their right to choose, as it is ours too. We are starting to become more aware of the environmental effects of our actions and more and more girls are looking to reusable pads as their choice of sanitary pad. By educating girls in Sierra Leone about environmental issues will equip them to make that decision too.

We’re running a campaign to give a girl in Sierra Leone a year’s worth of sanitary pads (disposable or reusable, depending on their circumstances).

At The fig Tree Children, we are supporting children through their education by paying school fees and giving their carer a monthly allowance to help care for them. Ensuring the girls, we support, have what they need to help them during menstruation is important to us and them. We don’t want girls missing days from school because of their periods.

A donation of 30 AUD will not only give a girl a year’s supply of sanitary wear, but where reusable pads are chosen, she will also attend a menstrual and sexual health workshop and receive a menstrual bracelet. $10 of the donation will also go towards The Fig Tree Children’s Emergency Health Fund.

For girls who prefer disposable over reusable sanitary pads, we will purchase these in bulk from a local supplier, keeping our expenses to a minimum whilst supporting local business in Sierra Leone.


A $30 one-off donation will buy (for one girl):

  • One year’s supply of sanitary pads (reusable or disposable)
  • Menstrual and Sexual Health Training (when reusable pads are purchased)
  • Menstrual Bracelet (when reusable pads are purchased)
  • A $10 donation to The Fig Tree Children emergency health fund.


Macrotrends LLC, 2010-2020. Sierra Leone Youth Unemployment Rate 1991-2020. Available at:

One Girl, 2019. International Women’s Day: We’re talking periods. Available at:–international-womens-day

Mason, H. September 2017. Ending Child Marriage and Teenage Pregnancy in Sierra Leone. Available at:

Provide a year’s supply of sanitary pads for one girl

Help us provide 200 girls in Sierra Leone with a year's supply of sanitary pads (reusable or disposable depending on the girl's preference and circumstances). $5 AUD of each donation will also go towards The Fig Tree Children's 'Emergency Health Fund', helping provide for our children when they get sick.

To date, we have provided sanitary pads for 88 girls and $440 has been donated to our healthcare fund.

Thank you to all of you who have supported this campaign ????

Why Sierra Leone?

Why Sierra Leone?

I sometimes get asked what the reasons are for my commitment to Sierra Leone. I want to try and explain this, while I leave out every aspect that I consider personal to me. We all have our own history, our own story, much of which has the strength and impact of characterising us throughout our lives. Much of my curiosity came from an interest I had when studying development economics, I was genuinely interested in wanting to understand more about how microcredit was impacting the lives of women in poverty-stricken countries and the effects this had on their family, in particular, their children. The country I chose to do my research was Sierra Leone, mainly because of a friendship link One World Link had between Warwick and Bo and in the year I did my research, 2006, it was also the second poorest country in the world at that time (Human Development Report, 2006), the 10 years Civil War only ending 4 years prior to my visit.

Jane with an ebola orphaned baby

Over time, I have asked many questions and I’ve learnt to refine the desire I have to want to know more. By doing so opened my eyes to a world that I could never have imagined would have had such an impact! For years I’ve battled with myself in how it’s made me feel. I still often feel fragile in mirroring my life to the difficult, painful and complex reality that is Sierra Leone. I still, however, have the same sense of enchantment and amazement I had when I first visited. A psychiatrist friend, Dr. Roberto Ravera, has told me how, “it’s true that we see the world and people with a sense of how we, first of all, see ourselves. For example, if I am suspicious, if I am afraid, if I have become accustomed to internalising negative feelings, it will be these that I will most frequently see reflected in the world and in others.”

My son, Harry went to a great school whose goal was to inspire him, encourage him to dream, take control of his life and create his own bright future. They did that well. In Sierra Leone, children don’t have this same opportunity. However, it goes way beyond that. As Roberto explains, “how what many are conditioned with and have suffered from since childhood is cruelty and violence that extends to the whole of society. Effects, feelings and bonds are unknown aspects to many Sierra Leonean children. They grow up with a conditioned reflex in which a radical disenchantment prevails over which bonds of trust rarely take root.” I see this mistrust in the eyes of many of the children when I first meet them. It is the instinctive response of those who have not experienced love and who therefore will never abandon themselves to experience this feeling. Roberto also explains to me how he believes (from studies his organisation has done from a neurophysiological point of view), “how many of these children have a perceptive system of the emotions of others that is distorted and at the expense of a system of healthy interactions and full of positive feedback.” “It’s not difficult to see how many children live without a feeling of peace and joy in their relationships with others. Imagine how terrible it must be to live with a mechanism that destroys everything you try to build…. But not have a reflective system that works properly, so they destroy and then blame others.
This lack of system brings many of them to disenchanted, destroyed and hopeless lives. While we know that people like that are everywhere, in Sierra Leone it is an even stronger challenge because you realise this lack of a system is the reason many children are abused, maltreated and quite often neglected.”

It’s very difficult to see this and to walk away and not want to try and help in some way, and I think it is within these reasons I find myself so deeply rooted in Sierra Leone. Because every child we put in school, every vulnerable child we help provide for, every teen mum we help get back into school, is our attempt to make a difference.

I have met many children and young people during my few visits to Sierra Leone since I first visited in 2006. I think the 76 children we now help provide for have an important opportunity to change their destiny. An opportunity they wouldn’t have without our intervention. What inspires me to continue doing what I do, and I’m aware I’ve truly ‘got hold of the tiger by its’ tail’, is this story which I’m sure you will have heard before, but I find that it doesn’t hurt to be reminded of it every once in a while.

The boy and the starfish story

Here’s the story:

Once upon a time, there was an old man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach every morning before he began his work.

Early one morning, he was walking along the shore after a big storm had passed and found the vast beach littered with starfish as far as the eye could see, stretching in both directions. Off in the distance, the old man noticed a small boy approaching. As the boy walked, he paused every so often and as he grew closer, the man could see that he was occasionally bending down to pick up an object and throw it into the sea.

The boy came closer still and the man called out, “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?” The young boy paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean. The tide has washed them up onto the beach and they can’t return to the sea by themselves,” the youth replied. “When the sun gets high, they will die, unless I throw them back into the water.” The old man replied, “But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference.”

The boy bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he turned, smiled and said, “It made a difference to that one!” adapted from The Star Thrower, by Loren Eiseley (1907 – 1977)

Knowing that we might not be able to change the entire world, but at least we can change a small part of it, for someone… is all the inspiration I need to carry on… x jane ❤



United Nations, 2006. United Nations Development Programme. Available at: