Starting the conversation about girls’ menstrual hygiene

Local Hero nominee Ngwekazi Makaba aims to ensure rural Eastern Cape pupils don’t miss school because they lack sanitary pads

Local Hero nominee Ngwekazi Makaba, 33, from Amalinda, started the Nam Foundation NPO in 2020,providing monthly donations of sanitary pads to schools across the Eastern Cape.
GIRL POWER: Local Hero nominee Ngwekazi Makaba, 33, from Amalinda, started the Nam Foundation NPO in 2020,providing monthly donations of sanitary pads to schools across the Eastern Cape.

Knowledge is power, and Local Hero nominee Ngwekazi Makaba, 34, from Amalinda, is making sure girls do not miss out on their education. 

“Our vision is to make sure that girls in rural areas don’t miss school because they don’t have sanitary pads,” she said.

“We want to empower, unify and make sure all girls are educated on their reproductive health.”

Makaba grew the Nam Foundation from a small donation of pads in Nqamakwe in 2020 to a nonprofit organisation that runs a sanitary packs drive and educational programme across the rural Eastern Cape. 

The foundation works with schools, offering talks to children aged 10 and older.

Community leaders, parents and family are invited to join the conversation. 

“We focus on menstrual hygiene and reproductive health.

“During our monitoring and evaluation research, we found that communities needed to be educated as well,” Makaba said.

“The chief, mothers, fathers, they are also raising girls in their households.

“Our objective also involves [bringing] the boy child in to the conversation to be aware of and understand on the same level.”

Since its inception, Nam Foundation volunteers have visited 20 schools and donated sanitary packs to 1,500 girls, who each receive three packs.

Each school is also given a pack of 100 sanitary towels to keep at reception.

The foundation has received donations of sanitary products from Ntombam Sanitary Towels, an East London-based supplier and female empowerment business. 

“We have seven volunteers and work with the department of health and a volunteer psychologist,” Makaba said.

“We also share information on teenage pregnancy and HIV/Aids as this is a conversation for all genders.”

Makaba has been running the foundation and a new shop in Vincent to supplement the NPO, while working as a public administrator and studying administrative law through the Management College of Southern Africa (Mancosa).

“It’s going better than expected for someone juggling so many jobs”, she said with a smile. 

“It’s my last month working as an administrator so I will be able to return to the foundation full time.”

Foundation volunteers tailor their talks to their young audiences and the life orientation curriculum.

Primary school pupils are taken through educational songs and age-appropriate material, while the volunteers use interdisciplinary applied theatre practices when engaging with older teenagers in high school. 

“It’s not easy, especially with teenagers,” Makaba said.

“It’s hard to navigate teaching when they are embarrassed by the topic.

“When we do workshops we do enactments to create a bit of fun and break the ice.” 

“One volunteer will walk in with a dress that has a stain at the back, and she will start speaking or singing — we want to see the reaction from the learners.

“Some keep quiet, some start pointing or whispering ...There is normally one brave student who says ‘hello ma’am, there is something happening there’.

“With the smaller ones, we sing songs about adolescence and how, as girls grow up, their bodies change and we must learn to take care of our bodies.

“One question often asked is if there is something wrong with them, or if it’s going to hurt, how long does it last, and how their mothers and family might react. 

“There is the view that menstruation is associated with sexual maturity, but this is two separate conversations, especially if it’s their first time [having their period].

“Parents often scare children by saying that they are going to get pregnant and that ‘from today you are a woman’.

“But a nine-year-old is not a woman, they are just girls who are getting their periods earlier. 

“Sometimes these conversations are not welcomed, but it’s a give and take.

“When we go back for monitoring and evaluation you see that what we have done is open up the conversation, and that is what we are happy to do.”

Makaba opened Nam Creations in 2023 to supplement the foundation when funding became a challenge.

She and a seamstress make bags, wallets and funky clothing from traditional African fabrics.

The shop also employs a shopkeeper.

“We started at markets but now have a store in Vincent.

“The reason for the shop is to pour back into the organisation — we can’t rely on funding and donations, we also needed sustainability so we would be able to cover our monthly overheads.” 

Makaba said she was honoured to have been nominated, saying it was motivation to keep moving forward. 

“To be a local hero means to bring people together for a cause.

“Nominees are people who are wanting to be part of the solution, whether its providing relief to homes, or collecting school shoes or providing other relief, it’s being part of the bigger picture.”



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