We knew when we started working in Uganda that there were limiting factors that could affect our work. We never sought to become an NGO in Uganda as we wanted to serve other organizations and NGOs already there by providing support for their programs. Our ultimate goal was to keep Ugandan girls in school to provide them with opportunities that would be lost if they had to leave school due to period poverty.
Uganda’s policies in terms of NGOs and foreign organizations have changed recently and several international organizations, including some UN programs, have been told to leave. We have also heard that smaller NGOs have been forced to re-register and are being denied their status so they are having to leave the country as well. You can read a detailed news report about these events here.
At the same time, any foreign aid items being sent to Uganda are being screened and checked to ensure that they meet the “standards” that have recently been implemented. This includes our period packs.
When we shipped our packs, they only had 2 guards, 4 pads, and the hygiene bag. As always, Betty was sewing the other 4 pads and the backpack, Andrew was buying the panties and the soap, and Anna was preparing to travel to the schools to teach proper use of the kits and period health to the girls.
Unfortunately, when the container was inspected before it cleared customs, the inspector refused to clear the period packs. Despite Sam’s valiant efforts and Andrew’s attempt to explain the full process of the program, the packs were seized. The only way they could have been approved was to have them tested in a lab to prove that they met the standards. However, no-one has shared where these labs are and what the standards are that need to be met. All avenues have been explored and much time has been invested, all for naught.
We have many theories about why this has happened but nothing can be said for sure. The only thing we do know is that 1250 period packs are now in line to be burned and ISEE will have to pay for that.
This is heartbreaking news on so many levels. What a terrible loss for the 1250 girls who will not receive these free packs in order to stay in school. And what a terrible loss of time invested by everyone who came to the sewing bees or contributed their time in other ways to the making of the kits. Yes, ISEE has also lost money but it’s the human impact that is more soul destroying to me.
We, as a board, now need to re-examine what the future holds for ISEE. We still have about 500 packs in Kelowna that we will put together for Kassia to take to Ghana as well as the kits waiting to be sewn together. But we won’t be making and taking kits to Uganda anymore which breaks my heart.
Thank you everyone who has been part of our journey for the past 10 years. We will let you know what is happening next once we have had a chance to really digest this and discuss what we want to do from here.