Shewaye Belay Tessema has worked on a lot of projects. With an MSc in parasitology and immunology from Addis Ababa University, and a B.Ed. in Biology at Mekelle University, he’s contributed to studies on leishmaniosis, controlling bedbugs, obstetric fistula, de-worming, and a number of other public health issues. However, until he met Dr. Lewis and Helen Wall, he didn’t think much about menstrual periods.
“Before my involvement in the Menstrual Dignity Project, I never thought about the real and practical solution for menstruation-related problems for women and girls. Being from the rural region of northern Ethiopia, I had witnessed all the taboo beliefs and attitudes related to menstruation. The wrong perceptions about the reality of menstruation were reflected not only by the uneducated and religious leaders but also from ‘educated’ people.”
But after meeting the Walls and hearing about potential solutions to this problem, he quickly became one of Dignity Period’s strongest allies at Mekelle University. He first worked with Dr. Wall on a research project on obstetric fistula in the Tigray Region.
After completing the data collection for the fistula project; both Dr. Wall – affectionately called “Prof” by Ethiopian friends and colleagues – and Helen Wall raised the topic of menstruation-related problems and possible interventions with Shewaye. Since that discussion, Shewaye has been dedicated to helping women and girls who lack menstrual hygiene management options. He is especially dedicated to underprivileged women and girls living in rural areas.
“Through the stops and starts of this project – from getting it off the ground to managing the logistics of research data compilation – Shewaye has been there to ensure our data were complete, accurate, and on-time. He is our go-to person on the ground when we need to get things done,” says Dr. Wall.
Helen Wall adds, “It isn’t just the efficiency of his work, but you can really tell that he cares about solving this problem. He has three sons and he is passionate about ensuring that young girls stay in school, and that boys are educated to support them.”
When asked what he wished people in Ethiopia knew about Dignity Period’s Menstrual Dignity Project, he said, “I wish people here could differentiate this project from some of the other work being done in the region. There are a lot of projects in Ethiopia through nonprofit organizations that are not as ethical or well-run. Dignity Period, on the other hand, is a charity organization that uses more than 90 percent of its budget to reach hard-to-reach rural schools. All staff members of the project are working hard because they believe menstrual hygiene is so important.”
For people in the US, Shewaye had this to say: “I want all the donors to know that if they give just $5, one Ethiopian girl will be taught about menstruation and she will be able to attend school all days of the year without fear. She will learn in class with full confidence.