Using animation to raise reproductive health awareness

Tuesday July 10 2018


By Esther Kibakaya

Anjela Thomas’ face looks serious while her eyes are glued in front of wall where a three-minute 3D animation film is displayed from the projector placed behind the hall. She is not alone though; other students from different secondary schools from Dar es Salaam are also part of the big audience watching the animation, which is aimed at inspiring behavioral change.

The 14-year-old girl was moved by the story shown on the film of a struggling young girl who is forced to stay at home for many days during her monthly period just because she cannot afford sanitary pads, “this is very touching because it reflects the reality of what most girls, especially those living in rural areas, go through during their monthly period,” says Angela.

Anjela was part of several students who attended an Innovation Week, which was held at COSTECH in Dar es Salaam. The Innovation Week was organised with the motive of bringing together different innovations that are focusing on making positive changes in the community.

Among the innovators was Mr Gwamaka Mwamuka, an animator and film producer who has been working as a volunteer for the last five years at Tanzania Aspiration Initiative, a youth-led organization. Together they worked through their project called Jali, which focused on investing in girls to prevent them from dropping out of school. This is done through education on reproductive health and self-awareness to students in underprivileged secondary schools.

Menstrual challenges

Understanding the challenges facing girls especially during their menstrual period is key. UNESCO estimates that one in ten girls in Sub-Saharan Africa misses school during their menstrual cycle and many of them drop out of school altogether once they begin menstruating due to lack of facilities, lack of information or lack of sanitary products. “That pushes the invention of Harakati za Lucy,” says Mr Gwamaka.

According to him, Harakati za Lucy is an approach, which focuses on raising awareness on the importance of menstrual hygiene management to both men and women and particularly students in order to end the silence caused by stigma and taboos on menstrual issues.

“Before I came up with this approach, our Jali project required us to visit schools hence we were at times forced to use a lot of energy with limited resources to reach out to a large number of students to educate them about menstrual hygiene management. But I realised that through the passion and experience I have in film, I can come up with something that can reach out to a large number of people, instead of the previous approach we were using of going to schools, which limited our reach to different schools at once,” says Gwamaka.

He knew that using this approach would help to make a big contribution in their initiative. “Before we came up with this idea we looked at the main aim for having this project and that was to empower girls by helping them stay in school even during their menstruation, we knew this approach will help us achieve that,” he says, adding, “We wanted to show how important men’s involvement is in supporting girls while they are in their monthly period.

And so I wrote the script using my background in film and started to animate. It took six months of day and night to make Harakati za Lucy 3D animation prototype, this is because we didn’t have enough resources because they are expensive,” he noted.

He knew that what he was doing was an expensive project since most who do animation do it for commercial purposes, unlike those who are doing it with the purpose of impacting the community. With this in mind, he decided to do the project with the limited resources they had despite the fact that they were of low quality.

However, pushed with the ambition of making an impact to school-going children, Mr Gwamaka and his team decided to apply at Amua accelerator program, a program which supports different innovation ideas from youth which focus in empowering adolescent girls especially in sexual and reproductive health. The program is aimed at supporting the social enterprises.

“We applied and we are among the ten youth groups who were selected to attend a boot camp which trained us on how to develop our idea into a business and so we managed to improve our idea and we pitched it in front of investors. We became one among the four winners and won $6000 which we used to buy the machine which we are currently using to make the animations that are more standard and with better quality,” he says

Today Mr Gwamaka is happy that his dream to make a high quality Animation film to educate youth will come true.

“Animation has a great opportunity to bring positive changes within our community since it is educative and entertaining, something which can help to change people’s minds on certain issues and that is what I want to achieve,” he says.

One thing he wishes to see is girls becoming more empowered through their initiative, “Through Harakati za Lucy, I wish to see that girls are more educated in two aspects which are menstrual hygiene where they will be able to stay in school and a community that can support them and understand what they are going through as a normal biological process and an awareness about teen pregnancy as well,” he concludes.