Cameroonian -born but US citizen, Veronica kette, who is nurse and currently in Cameroon to introduce a new technology (Moon Cups) to take care of menstruating women, has told The Recorder that during her hygienic campaign, she found out that some women menstruate when they are pregnant, and when they are not pregnant they don’t menstruate. The US nurse even cites a mother of six children who has gone through this process. She was interviewed in Buea by Christopher Ambe.Excerpts.
Madam Veronica Kette, you are a born –Cameroonian who has been living in the US for many years .And now you have just returned to Cameroon, can I know the kind of package or good news you have brought to your compatriots?
I have been a teacher trainer here in Cameroon for the past 30 years before migrating to the USA.There,I felt the need for the rural woman in Cameroon and I started a not-for-profit organization the African Women’s Education and Development Partnership Forum (AWEDP) -which is a 501 C-in the American parlance-which is tax exempt and works for women
I have learnt you are the founder/CEO of the African Women’s Education and Development Partnership Forum (AWEDP). What is it all about?
It all about educating women; because there is that need in rural Cameroon for women to be educated on certain pertinent issues that concern their lives-most especially health,business,home-keeping;getting involved in local communities. Women now have to get involved; we have passed the stage of struggling to get organized; now we are in the stage of empowering women and young girls to be able to take care of themselves. That is the sole aim of my organization.
Where is this organization found in the US and when was it created?
It is based in Virginia-USA and it was formed in 2006.
As a Cameroonian who has worked with rural women for long and you are conscious of their needs, one would have expected such an organization to be headquartered here in Cameroon. Why the choice of the USA as its head office?
This is simple. Now I am a US citizen and I should do it at home. But this is my home of origin; this is where my umbilical cord was buried; that is where I always look back .It is said charity begins at home
I am looking back home as an American citizen. Americans are a generous people and that is why they continue to prosper; God is blessing that nation immensely and I feel that with people there who are sympathetic to the cause of African women-rural women especially, I should tap from these resources that the US community has-of giving, to reinstate that in the African Community.
Based in the US, how does AWEDP function here in Africa?
It could be based anywhere because many other organizations are based in particular areas of the world and still work in other parts of the world.
In Cameroon, we have the Christian Sisters Association that helps us; we work with doctors one of which is the current Director of the Limbe Regional Hospital. There are other doctors in the Northwest Region who are helping us through this initiative. We cannot work alone; we need ground soldiers to do the real work with the target population
What particular program has brought you to Cameroon this time?
This time it is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF)’s labor-saving Innovation project for rural women that has brought me .I am the Project Manager of the BMGF Labor-saving Innovation project .We are helping women save a lot of time while they work in their farms; because while women are menstruating they stay at home; they don’t work in their farms; there are certain house chores they cannot do; there are certain crops they cannot touch; there are certain places they cannot go to. So, all this takes away time from the productivity of the woman; we are bringing in some new technology that would help women pad themselves properly-hygienically,comfortably,conveniently so they can be able to do what they want during their menstruation. Menstruation is not a disease and it not a period that women should be put off track because they are menstruating.
|Madam Veronica Kette (with bag of Moon cups) educate women|
What is the name of this new technology?
We call it the moon cup or we are dealing exactly with the farm cup, which is a company based in the United kingdom, producing these medical silicon cups, which are very good and can stay in the skin for at least 24 hours without breaking. So we are buying our cups from them and giving to the rural Cameroonian women. This is not really free. It has been provided by the Bill Gates foundation, based in the US; for now we are sensitizing the women and the doctors on the usage of the cups. When the women like the cup-as they are making us to understand, we shall then scale up our program to productivity level where buy the cups cheaply; presently the cups are very expensive, about 5000FCFA per cup. But at that time we can get in touch with the manufacturers so the cups can be given at a cheaper rate.
I understand since your arrival in Cameroon you have been meeting women’s groups. What has been their reaction?
We were here in September last year to train trainers, to be able to register women because our goal was to register more than 5000 in this project. So we trained in the Southwest 32 trainers who would go to the field to register women and we come this time to distribute the cups and educate the women. In the Northwest Region, we trained 21 trainers who would register women and we come this time and educate them on the cups before distribution.
We get women in groups because we want to educate them vigorously on this cup because it goes into them and so it is very dangerous, and you need to keep the hygiene rules to be able to use the cups.
So far, the women have been very appreciative; they are inquisitive-calling us by phone and asking more questions about the cups. At this point, we are convinced that we have educated the women to whom we are giving these cups enough for them to be able to use the cups.
Our next phase is monitoring; we have people on the field to see how they are using the cups and report back. Then we can move forward
From your interaction with them, do you think more and more women will welcome the cup?
We started a pilot project in 2011 in the Northwest and more than 80% of the target groups appreciated the cups; those who did not appreciate the idea were the pro-tradition people. You know in any society, there are people who must –rightly or wrongly say No to any new initiative.
We teach the traditional people how to use washable and re-usable menstrual accessories; Instead of using of the chaff-like material from palms ,foam, the cotton ,plantain leaves and all those things used by women, which are not safe and hypgieneic,we teach those women who are against the cups how to use napkins. They could re-use the napkins, wash them, bleach them, iron them, fold them and put them under their pillows for the next month
This process of re-educating the women on tradition has also been a challenge to us. Before, women would hide the rags they used and when you entered the house of a woman who was menstruating you would just know; but now we are teaching them to be able to wash, dry them and iron them for re-use. This is yielding fruits
What we are doing now is like some research -because we are asking the women a lot of questions and vice versa. We found out certain biological issues in women that we have never heard of before: That women menstruate when they are pregnant; when they are not pregnant, they don’t menstruate. That was weird to learn about it. We discovered a woman of six children who passed through this weird process. With such, we will let researchers know about it and try to find out what is happening. We are happy to discover something new in rural Cameroon.
You were a veteran educationist in Cameroon for some 30 years before you moved to the USA to become a nurse. Why this professional switch over?
Education is an on-going process. More of nursing is education; it is not more of treatment. That is why we have public health. If Public health does its job properly, the hospitals will not be as full are they are now.
So as an educationist, I have the techniques, methods and the styles of getting to adult students. As a nurse, I now speak with a lot of confidence about health issues and about the human body .Education is wealth; health is wealth.
If every family can give sound education to its girl children, this world will be a much better place.
Do you think Cameroon takes education seriously?
Sex education is teaching everybody about their bodies, their sexuality; how they should behave and how they are made of, how they can procreate, how they can be safe during sex, how to avoid disease and what they should do when they run into trouble.Sex education is an embodiment of almost thing that pertains to the person
At IPAR, Buea where I worked for 20 years as an educationist before moving elsewhere, we never had sex education in the curriculum. I know that we did not provide for the girl child.
At this point, and having seen what is happening in the world, I think that we made an error not to have put sex education in our curriculum.
Before, in the colonial days, we had domestic science where girls used to go, where I went to and we were taught what menstruation is and how to go about it. But with the coming of reunification, all those things were scrapped off.
Now you find girls who stay at home three to seven days every month because they are menstruating; and they don’t know what to do. And their illiterate parents –as I was, don’t tell them what to do when they are menstruating; some don’t even tell them what menstruation is.
It is bizarre that girl children who should have been scientists, doctors, physicists, chemists etc stayed at home three to seven days every month and this has an impact in their education.
My project “Menstrual care’ wants to address this. We want girls to go to school and stay in school and learn through out like the boys. If we don’t educate our girls we shall not achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s).2015 is tomorrow, and where are we with the MDG’s? We have not achieved any of the 8 MDG’s goals