Saskatoon woman's pad project helping Ugandan girls stay in school

A Saskatoon veterinary student has been helping make sure girls in Uganda don’t have to miss out on an education because of their menstruation.

U of S student says it's 'ridiculous' periods keeping girls out of class

Sarah Zelinski poses with girls at a school in Uganda after a training day which taught the girls how to make their own reusable menstrual products. (Submitted by Sarah Zelinski)

A Saskatoon veterinary student has been helping make sure girls in Uganda don't have to miss out on an education due to their menstruation.

"I find it really ridiculous that something as biologic as having a period, that half the population of the whole globe deals with, is preventing girls from getting an education," Sarah Zelinski said.

Zelinski was in the East African country in 2014 working with Veterinarians Without Borders when she learned that many girls were dropping out of school.

"I found out a lot of girls miss school because have their periods and they can't afford any sort of menstruation products," Zelinski said. "So then they end up missing a bunch of school, their grades drop because of all the missed classes and eventually they drop out of school."

Working with another vet in Uganda, Zelinski tried to find reusable menstrual pads to buy for the girls. She soon learned how unaffordable the products were.

I find it really ridiculous that something as biologic as having a period … is preventing girls from getting an education.- Sarah Zelinski

"If girls and families can't afford to eat and can barely afford to send their kids to school, they're not going to pay for menstrual products; they're just going to keep their kids at home."

Zelinski said she spoke to her mother back in Saskatoon about buying reusable pads there. However, they were also expensive.

That's when her mother offered to sew some pads herself.

Zelinski asked on Facebook if others wanted to do the same. Soon, she had a shipment of about 100 reusable pads — made mostly in Saskatoon and Montreal — on its way to Uganda.

Making a sustainable project

Another vet in Uganda was able to push the project further along by hiring his wife, a seamstress, to teach girls in the school Zelinski was working with to sew their own pads.

Along with shipments from Canada adding up to roughly 250 reusable menstrual pads, Sarah Zelinski arranged for training days that teach girls in Uganda how to make their own. (Submitted by Sarah Zelinski)

The University of Saskatchewan student bought the materials and arranged a training day for the girls, who were all able to leave the workshop with a set that contained one shield and two liners.

"And since we wanted to make it as sustainable as possible, we wanted to find materials locally as well so that way when we're gone and the pads are gone that we provided, they have the materials they need to continue making the pads and distributing them without us."

The set itself contains a shield, which resembles a standard maxipad and contains a water-proof barrier, which straps on to the underwear. Liners made of flannel or fleece, which can be switched out and washed, are then folded and tucked into the shield.

When Zelinski's friends visited Uganda this past summer, they were able to bring back information from the school on the impact the reusable pads have had.

Although Sarah Zelinski was unable to travel to Uganda this year, training days continued this summer to teach girls how to make their own reusable menstruation products. (Submitted by Sarah Zelinski)

"According to the head teacher, a lot more of the girls are in school," Zelinski said, noting that she has yet to fully process the data.

Zelinski hopes to do some fundraisers in the new year to pay for the seamstresses and translators needed for the training days, so more can be done. She said she also hopes to have more seamstresses and do a bigger training day that will including information on nutrition and other issues facing girls in the country.


After spending five years in radio, Courtney Markewich joined CBC Saskatoon in 2016. She is currently a Social Media News Editor/Presenter for @CBCSask and @CBCSaskatoon.