Those who’ve been following the subject of ‘period shame’ for some time are probably less surprised by the story told in the documentary A Journey With A Hope. The film by documentary maker Amelié Truffert is about the Kenyan girl Jackline Chepngeno, who committed suicide on Friday, September 6, 2019, after she was mocked in front of the entire class because of a leakage stain in her school uniform. By a female teacher, would you believe. Jackline was 14 years old when she hanged herself at a nearby water source after being kicked out of class.
‘Upon soiling her dress, she was told she was ‘dirty”
The incident caused great unrest in Kenya. Furious parents stormed the school when it turned out the police didn’t take enough action after a report was filed against the teacher of the Kabiangek primary school in Bomet County. ‘Upon soiling her dress, she was told she was ‘dirty’ and had to leave the classroom,’ the girl’s mother – Beatrice Koech – told the Kenyan press at the time. The case made international headlines and also brought the Kenyan Ministry of Education’s sanitary pad programme for schoolgirls back into the spotlight. Kenya was one of the first African countries to abolish the so-called tampon tax. Nevertheless, menstrual products remain unaffordable for many people. It’s estimated this causes Kenyan girls to miss 20% of their education, making them more likely to drop out of school permanently.
‘A cheerful and responsible girl who enjoyed going to school’
French documentary maker Amelié Truffert was immediately fascinated when she heard about the tragic incident, she says. Her film A Journey With A Hope is the outcome of a three-year investigation into the girl’s death – with some delay due to the corona pandemic. Truffert spoke to the girl’s mother and grandmother, classmates and the teacher in question. ‘Jackline Chepngeno emerges from those stories as a cheerful and responsible girl who enjoyed going to school. She also helped her family picking tea at a plantation after school and at weekends.’ Interesting detail: child labour is prohibited in Kenya.
‘How can we make sure something like this never happens again?’
What exactly the teacher is to blame for, is a question that remains unanswered in the documentary. Jackline Chepngeno’s family, however, is quite adamant about the fact she’s guilty. ‘Because the teacher never contacted them,’ Truffert says. Another question, which is asked in the second part of the documentary, is actually more interesting, according to Truffert: ‘How can we make sure something like this never happens again?’ To answer that question, Truffert spoke with Rachel Ouko, from Generation Africa, the program coordinator of NGO Femme International.
The documentary A Journey With A Hope was shown at independent film festivals all over the world and has won several awards. ‘It’s all very exciting,’ says Truffert, who’s currently completing her master’s degree at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, specialising in menstrual health. ‘My documentary isn’t the result of academic research,’ emphasises Truffert, who has lived in various places in Africa for the past ten years and has been living in the Netherlands for the last year. ‘However, this story did lead me to Menstrual Health Management and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Research (SRH). I feel like I’ve definitely found my passion.’
A Journey With a Hope is available for free to anyone who wants to learn about the impact of period shame. Watch the movie via ajourneywithahope.com or follow this project on Instagram. And please share this story, to prevent it from reoccurring.
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