Raleigh teen hopes to tackle 'taboo' topic in India – puberty and menstrual cycles

Sarah Jumma attends Leesville Road High School in Raleigh.
Sarah Jumma attends Leesville Road High School in Raleigh. Christa Gala

When Sarah Jumma learned that nearly one-fourth of girls in India quit school when they reach puberty and begin having menstrual cycles, she wanted to do something about it. The 16-year-old, who was born in India and now lives in Raleigh, talks about a solution for feminine hygiene that not only meets an immediate need but also provides a livelihood for women.

Q: You’ve been a Girl Scout for 12 years. Why did you decide to focus on this issue to earn your Girl Scout Gold Award?

A: I was born in India in a small town called Lucknow. I wanted to focus somewhere close to my heart — women’s issues in India. I started researching topics that were vital to their health. They didn’t have a lot of menstrual education or sanitation products, so I geared down that road.

Q: Part of your mission is to educate women and teens about the issue. How will you do this?

A: I’m going to India June 7 to a small village called Bihar. I will give them a basic education course they’ve never gotten that most kids in the U.S. get in sixth grade — sex education and learning about their bodies and what’s going on, especially for the teenagers who have no background and don’t know why it’s happening. It’s a really taboo topic and not talked about.

Q: You’re planning to buy a machine that makes sanitary products. How did you find out about it?

A: The Healing Fields Foundation (a nonprofit committed to providing affordable health care to the poor in India) helped with that. In the beginning, I just wanted to provide them with pads and tampons, but those wouldn’t last. Where would they get the next ones?

The machine will not only provide them with the products they need, but they can make a living from it and sell them at a suitable price to other villages. We’ll buy the machine in India, then take it with us to the village and show the ladies how it works.

Q: How will you pay for it?

A: Right now we’re doing a lot of fundraising in the U.S. I’ve sold calendars and I’m doing a bake sale soon, but we’re going to collect all of that money and go to India this summer and buy this machine, which is about $2,000 to $3,000. I’ve raised a few hundred so far.

Q: What’s been the most challenging thing so far with this project?

A: Motivation. Girl Scouts is very strict on earning this kind of award, and there are many hoops you have to jump through. With school, extra-curricular activities and sports, it’s hard.

Q: What else are you involved in?

A: School-wise, I’m taking a lot of hard subjects like AP History and AP Environmental Science. I’m also taking newspaper, and I’m in the Key Club. I do volunteering on the weekends for Springmoor (retirement community), and I’ve been a swimmer for eight years now for the YMCA of the Triangle Area Swim Team.

Q: Do you think you’ll still be interested in this issue once you earn the Gold Award?

I definitely think so. Not only because of the sustainability side of it, but I also have the idea of giving this project to the clubs at school so it could be something they do every year to help different villages in India raise money.

Q: Has this affected what you might want to do for your career?

A: I want to be a doctor. I’ve always wanted to do pediatric oncology. But I might go for general surgery.

Know someone who would make a good Tar Heel of the Week? Send nominations to tarheel@newsobserver.com.

Sarah Jumma — Tar Heel of the Week

Born: Jan. 17, 2002, in Lucknow, India

Raised: Miami, Houston and now Raleigh

Education: Attends Leesville Road High School in Raleigh

Family: Parents and two younger brothers, ages 11 and 12

Favorite book: “Out of My Mind” by Sharon Draper