A young Maryland woman is returning to her native Sierra Leone with plans to make some changes for young women in that West African country.  For the past year, Francess Cole has planned this trip to make a difference in the lives of young women in Sierra Leone.  She began with the launch of a special sanitary napkin drive here in the United States.  Francess Cole wants the young women of Sierra Leone to succeed in whatever dreams they can imagine.  The girls in Sierra Leone and probably the girls in many other African countries cannot afford to purchase sanitary napkins.

Cole told Global Woman Newsletter, “I remember when I was a young girl in Sierra Leone we could not afford sanitary napkins.”  She continued, “I had to improvise by using cloth and making homemade napkins.”

According to Francess Cole, many girls in Sierra Leone are forced to stay out of school during their menstrual periods because they cannot afford sanitary napkins during that time of the month.  Some girls remain at home up to five days each month or as long as their menstrual periods last.  Sierra Leone is listed as one of the poorest countries in the world; therefore their schools cannot afford to hand out sanitary napkins to female students.

“I know what I went through as a girl in Sierra Leone, and I don’t want to see anymore girls stay out of school every month only because of the lack of sanitary napkins, something we take for granted in the US.”  Cole explained.

A local women’s club in Northern Virginia heard about Cole’s sanitary napkin drive.  The National Association for Negro Business and Professional Women’s Club (NANBPWC) came forward to assist Francess in collecting sanitary napkins.  After a year, she has already shipped ahead several boxes of sanitary napkins to Sierra Leone.  When asked how many napkins she has set as an annual goal? Cole responded, “Unlimited – I do not want to tag the drive with a number.  Whatever we cannot afford to ship in a year, we will roll it over to the next year’s shipment.  There cannot be too many napkins at this point.”

Francess told Global Woman Newsletter in a recent conversation that the young women in Sierra Leone are already excited at the prospect of her arrival.  Cole plans to arrive in Sierra Leone in May, where she intends to conduct a workshop and speak to more than fifty young women.  Sanitary napkins are not the only thing these young women need.  They are in dire need of mentorship.  Francess intends to hold the workshop to motivate and inspire young women in Sierra Leone; stressing such things as remaining in school, avoiding teenage pregnancy, early child marriage, and most of all, to avoid becoming prey to the practice of female genital mutilation and cutting (FGM/C).  Francess says she plans to coordinate a mentorship program while in Sierra Leone.  The program is designed to continue long after she returns to the U.S.  She will engage responsible women in that country to mentor young women; the women will take the younger women under their wings and become examples to them.  She hopes that what she implements during her visit to Sierra Leone will be impactful and will leave an indelible mark among the young women.

Cole also survived female genital mutilation/cutting at the age of ten in Sierra Leone, and later, survived rape as well when she was still a teenager.  She understands and can identify with the daily challenges the young girls and women face in Sierra Leone and other parts of the world.  Francess continues to advocate against the practice of FGM/C, both here in the U.S. and in her country of origin.  She insists that the Sanitary Napkin Drive is closely related to the practice of FGM/C; since majority of the same adolescent girls who are forced to remain out of school during their monthly periods were once subjected to the FGM/C procedure.

In addition to sanitary napkins, the attendees can expect to receive pencils, toothpaste, toothbrushes and other toilet articles in their takeaway bags at the workshop.  The common things to which teenagers and young adults have easy access in the U.S, their counterparts in Africa might not see in their entire lifetime.  According to Cole, “The first fifty women to arrive at the workshop will receive a gift bag loaded with toilet articles and other necessities.

To date, Sierra Leone, Mali and Liberia are the three West African countries that have yet to put a ban on the practice of FGM/C.  Global Woman Newsletter will revisit this story when Cole returns from her trip to Sierra Leone.  She will give our readers an update of her return to Africa.

Francess A. Cole

Francess Cole continues to raise funds to support her trip to conduct this project.  If you are interested in donating to her trip, please send inquiries to francess@facole.org.