Her passion in life has always been to be a voice for the voiceless, to develop community partnerships and to create equality across cultures.
Annastesia Mims, a USF College of Public Health global health master’s student, deployed to Swaziland, Africa in June 2014. She has been serving as a community volunteer for her 27-month long commitment through the Peace Corps Master’s International Program.
Mims notes that half of the students at the Franson Christian Primary School where she is volunteering are considered orphans, the majority of which are girls. However, girls often face hardship while on their periods. One of Mims’ major projects during her time there has been to teach girls how to make leak-proof bags for sanitary pads.
“Due to a lack of funds, these girls do not always have access to disposable sanitary pads, and using tampons—inserting objects into the vagina—is a cultural taboo here for young girls,” Mims said. “Girls often use toilet paper and newspaper while on their periods at school. The teachers have also reported that some girls have also been known to skip school while on their periods due to this lack of access to feminine hygiene products.”
While many prior volunteers have conducted sanitary pad workshops, Mims said the girls have not been comfortable using them because they do not have a plastic bag to put soiled pads in during school. So, Mims set out to address this issue.
The bag resembles an envelope with two compartments. One is lined with a table cloth material, which is waterproof, and the other is lined with denim. A large snap button covers each compartment. Dry pads are held in the denim compartment and soiled pads are placed on the other side.
“With this bag, the girls are able to carry their pads discretely in their book bags, and are able to take them off and change them throughout the day,” Mims said.
A grant approved by the Peace Corps Swaziland and funding from the national headquarters has made it possible for Mims to provide workshops for 30 high school and 30 primary school students. The workshops began in the last week of September.
“Helping these girls with this issue means that they will miss less days of school thereby increasing their education level, increasing their pass rates and increasing future opportunities they may be presented with in the future,” Mims said.
Also among her many public health endeavors in Swaziland, Mims has developed a home-to-home gender-based violence education program in collaboration with the Nhlangano AIDS Training Information and Counseling Center’s (NATICC) monitoring and evaluation officer.
“There have been many door-to-door and home-based screening programs for tuberculosis, HIV, and other STIs, but there has never been one for gender-based violence which has been known to be a cause and consequence of HIV contraction,” Mims said.
The program will provide families in the Shiselweni region with couples counseling, family therapy, child counseling and more.
“It is unlike any other gender-based violence awareness program I have experienced, and I firmly think it will provide many families with the kind of communicative counseling that families and partners need in sustainable relationships,” Mims said. “The program not only provides education on concepts of gender, gender-related laws, civil rights and resources for survivors and perpetrators of gender-based violence, but it is a resource for those who witness violence regularly and don’t know what to do.”
The program pilot will be completed by December and Mims said it is expected to be transformed into a full-scale, five-year program by 2017.
“I would like to see this program become a success and be received whole-heartedly by the communities and families NATICC aims to service,” Mims said.
Having lived in Swaziland for 12 months now, Mims said that her community members have been very welcoming and are eager to work with her.
“Upon meeting them on the way to and from town, they are eager to speak SiSwati with me and teach me new words,” Mims said.
In addition to working as a program developer at NATICC, she also acts as a monitoring and evaluation specialist providing assistance in reviewing and developing reports for donors, stakeholders and the media.
“I am grateful for these work opportunities, and I am grateful for the freedom in time and flexibility to do the work that my community and I find most fulfilling,” Mims said. “I can honestly say that my first two years of studying at the College of Public Health has prepared me for many of the challenges I would come across while in Swaziland. I have been able to build progressive and productive relations and develop innovative programs with very intelligent, humble, hardworking and generous people.”
Mims will host a presentation highlighting her experiences on Tuesday, October 13 at 4 p.m. at the University of South Florida in the Interdisciplinary Research Building (IDRB) 3720 Spectrum Blvd, Room 302, Tampa, FL 33612.
Story by Anna Mayor and Tabassum Tasnim, USF College of Public Health. Photos courtesy of Annastesia Mims.