When premed students Sravya Bahudodda ’21 and Faiza Qazi ’21 think back to Jan Plan of their sophomore year, they immediately recall their Ugandan host sisters. During their short homestay in Kikuube, a village in western Uganda, the girls often stayed up listening to music, dancing, and chatting—conversations that sometimes caught all of them off guard.
“With our interest in healthcare, we started asking them questions like, ‘How do you get to the hospital in such a remote area? What is access to those kinds of resources like here?’” said Bahudodda. “And we saw the shock in one of the girl’s faces when she said, ‘I’m really worried that I won’t be able to go to school once I get my period.’”
Spending more time in different communities, Bahudodda and Qazi realized that what their host sister voiced was a serious, widespread concern, impacting countless Ugandan girls and refugees.
Through their Jan Plan course “Field Study in African Development,” taught by Assistant Professor of Government Laura Seay, the Colby pair learned about the work of NGOs tackling this problem. “There are people trying to help a lot of populations out, but that population did not include the refugees,” said Qazi, a Posse Scholar from Houston, Texas, double majoring in psychology: neuroscience and government. To Bahudodda and Qazi that was concerning, especially because Uganda is one of the largest refugee-hosting nations in the world.
“We learned a lot from the class, but we wanted to act on it,” said Bahudodda, a biology: neuroscience and science, technology, and society double major from Farmington, Conn. The pair, with support from Seay, developed “Sew in Peace: A Menstrual Health Initiative for Refugees in Uganda,” one of the 125 Davis Projects for Peace winners for 2020.
With the $10,000 award, Bahudodda and Qazi will spend the summer at the Nakivale Refugee Settlement in western Uganda to implement their three-fold project.
First, they will introduce reusable sanitary pads to the community. Then, together with a local NGO called Raising Teenagers Uganda, they will set up a permanent space with sewing machines, where women will learn to make their own menstrual pads and anything else they need.
“That’s where the sustainability part comes in,” said Qazi. “These machines are a way to not only just start up their own lives, but also start up a business of their own.” In the long run, the two are hoping that women can start selling their handmade products, allowing them to regain control over their lives and have economic independence.
The final component will be education, teaching girls about menstrual health. “I think a large part of our curriculum is going to be the stigmas, because that’s a huge, huge barrier,” said Bahudodda.
Said Qazi: “Women are our focus because we’re women. If we’re not going to empower each other, I don’t know how it’s supposed to happen.”
Projects for Peace was the vision of philanthropist Kathryn W. Davis on the occasion of her 100th birthday in 2007. The initiative, open to all undergraduate students at the partner schools of the Davis UWC Scholars Program, challenges students to create summer projects that would tackle causes of conflict and contribute to creating lasting peace. Since its creation, the initiative has funded more than 700 projects in over 100 countries. To learn more about Projects for Peace, visit davisprojectsforpeace.org.