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That time I got my period in a refugee camp

As a self-shooting documentary director it usually means I work alone in the field. And being a woman, means once a month I have to manage continuing my work despite any discomfort or pain knowing I am the only one doing my job. And sometimes, that job happens to be in one of the world's largest refugee camps.

As I was in the camps last week filming and photographing the visit of Dr. Natalia Kanem (UNFPA Executive Director) I saw a different skyline to that when I was there in February; sandbags were added to the roofs of many of the shelters in preparation for the impending monsoon season. It made me reflect on essential things to think of in a refugee camp:




...the list goes on for the refugees, and the list is not too dissimilar for those who work in the camps to provide services as I learned in Cox's Bazar. Everyday I found myself packing a lunch of nuts or a protein bar into my hand bag that has a bottle of hand sanitizer eternally hanging off of it. I'd fill a bottle of water and take the extra one from my hotel room. This is luxury amidst the world's largest humanitarian crisis, a seaside view and room service. But with the laundry list of things to think about as a self-shooting director (are all my batteries charged? literally and figuratively? Do I have all my lenses I need for each set up I'm doing? What about my recorder and microphone? And did I remember a filter because this sun is so unforgiving?) some things inevitably get forgotten. Given the fact I spent over a month in the camps in total, the one thing I wasn't prepared for was to get my period...while in the camps.

I was at a UNFPA Women Friendly Space in the camp called Lambasia filming for the day, doing some intense interviews with Rohingya women. This was not the time or the place to have forgotten any sanitary supplies. Most of latrines in the camps are nothing more than a hole or a cement circular basin in the ground. With the amount of people they have to serve and how lacking the overall camp is in its resources, toilet paper is no where to be seen (even in the stalls along the roads). It was to my surprise when I opened the corrugated metal door to the latrine that instead of panicking and trying to determine what piece of cloth I would sacrifice to be able to continue the day, there was toilet paper!

It made me ask more questions to some of the women about how they manage their periods while in the camps. Women inevitably have to spend more time in and near the latrines at this time of the month and that doesn't restrict them to only day light hours. I was worried about being able to finish the day, but it made me worry how these women made it through the day, and the next, and the day after.

I learned some women make use of the Dignity Kits that UNFPA and others provide and this gives them red cloths they can use inside their shelters, along with culturally appropriate clothes that are long and lose fitting. As I was layering the little bit of tissue and toilet paper I had to get me through the day I understood how easy it is without what I felt was the appropriate sanitary supplies to just want to get to one place and stay there without moving out of comfort.

Without asking for it, I had a first hand lesson in why its so important that along with food, water, and shelter that women's menstrual needs are addressed as well. Like hunger or thirst it is something that comes around in a cycle eventually. And neither a shelter nor a woman going through her menstrual cycle can withstand the elements they are up against without the appropriate supplies.

Lauren Anders Brown is a female documentary filmmaker and public speaker focusing on issues of global health. She supports demystifying menstruation for girls and women everywhere, you can too by donating to UNFPA. Follow her on Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.

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