Patricia Mulongo braves her own hearing impairment to break the silence on menstruation

Date: 22nd May 2017

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Determined to show that menstrual hygiene management doesn’t have to leave anyone behind, Patricia trains people with disability.

Menstrual hygiene remains a taboo in many parts of the world despite the fact that it’s a monthly occurrence for half of the world’s population.

Though she cannot physically speak or hear about it, Patricia Mulongo is determined to break the silence on menstruation. When she was 13, she lost her hearing – “it went silent completely” – and she was excluded from learning about menstruation. Her parents were not able to explain it to her, so her first menses came as a shock. “When it started l was in school. l didn’t know who to talk to, so l went home, took an old blanket and tore it into pieces and washed it in the river,” she says.

Patricia did not learn sign language until she was 18 – which meant five long years of silent acceptance.

Today, in her early 40s, Patricia has become an MHM training champion. She stands up and demonstrates how to say ‘menstruation’ in sign language and sending a message to everyone that menstrual hygiene management (MHM) leaves no one behind.

Patricia demonstrating the word menstruation in sign language

Getting involved

Last year,  Patricia received an email from Mr.Tobias Omufwoko, WSSCC’s national coordinator in Kenya, inviting her to join a menstrual hygiene management training.  This was the  first national Training of Trainers in Kenya organized by WSSCC, UNICEF and the Ministry of Health.  A fashion designer by trade, Patricia was identified through her links with the Deaf Women Empowerment (D.W.E) community organization, and she was a bit skeptical, but intrigued.

“The first thing that came to my mind was, why should l go and learn what l already know, every woman menstruates so what is special about menstruation?”

“But when l completed the training l was a different person – it was an eye opener,” she says.

For Patricia, the best part of the training was being part of the MHM Lab, as it is a practical way to understand MHM. “Being deaf, people like me appreciate practical things – when I saw and had things explained practically that really helped. I realized how much people with disabilities are missing out.”

Participants gather in the MHM tent, take part in making MHM bracelets and pledge to break the silence on menstruation. The lab sessions aim to transform menstruation into a matter of pride for women and girls, in a safe, comfortable environment.

Her true vocation

In just under a year, Patricia has trained more than 200 people and says she is the only hearing-impaired MHM trainer in Kenya. She reaches out to people in schools, social events, through churches and the community.  “MHM has stolen my heart and l make sure every time l meet people to mention MHM as my aim it’s to reach as many hearing -impaired people as l can,” she signs.

Every day she finds inspiration.“When I first trained school girls and boys in Kilifi county, I saw how they  were suffering in silence and how little knowledge they had on MHM.  This made me keep going. Now I want to reach all of the hearing-impaired women and girls across the country.”

WSSCC’s MHM approach promotes a human rights-based methodology with three interlinked dimensions:  breaking the silence, managing menstruation hygienically and safe reuse and disposal solutions.

“It is a very important approach; being an African, no one wants to talk about menstruation – not even mothers to their daughters,” she says.  She has gained approval from her own daughter. “It is amazing that I can talk to her about menstruation with neither of us feeling shy.”

WSSCC’s MHM Pledge is written on an MHM Lab tent

Ahead of Menstrual Hygiene Day, Patricia reiterates that we should leave no one behind, but her concern is that there is a big task ahead and not enough facilities.

“Many women are interested to become trainers – they just don’t know where to start,” she remarks.

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