There is nothing like a first tampon story as an icebreaker.
Over a decade ago, second-year Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) student Anna Chen was struggling with her first tampon. She describes the experience as “Traumatic. There was blood. I was crying. I didn’t pick up a tampon again until college.” Now, as Chief Period Pro at MUSC, she shares her first tampon story and her “period truth” with her team of Period Pros as they train for their first Period Education Project (P.E.P.) Rally.
P.E.P Rallies, led by medical students (Period Pros) like Anna and her team, are community–based education workshops that aim to improve menstrual health and fight period poverty among youth ages 11-15 years.
To prepare for those awkward questions, shy students, and potential silliness, Anna and her team ran a series of mock P.E.P Rallies within their own MUSC squad. The training familiarized Period Pros with the curriculum and the off-script parts of the program: introductions, period truths, and Q&A with students.
Over the course of their training, Anna saw her squad start to open up and become more comfortable talking about their own period stories. Introductions started off a bit stiff, but by the time the team started talking about their period truths, the awkwardness faded away.
“If we all [share our stories], we’re on the same level of vulnerability,” Anna says. “It is a privilege to hear people’s stories and experiences with menstruation and have it be received by a group that is so open and supportive.”
It isn’t every day that young people feel comfortable enough to share intimate menstruation experiences with their peers. Even as an adult, Anna was surprised by the common experiences she shared with her fellow Period Pros: “I wish someone had told me all of this when I was in middle school.”
The Period Education Project aims to do exactly that: educate and empower young girls at this vulnerable age when menstruation is often surrounded by stigma and misinformation. Period Pros have the unique opportunity to share the stories and knowledge they wish they had known when they were younger. Personal stories, like “period truths,” are a central part of P.E.P Rallies, according to Girlology Foundation Co-Founder Dr. Trish Hutchison. “Adolescents love personal stories you can share because they can really connect with them.”
Audience participation from students is also a central part of P.E.P rally curriculum, and Anna expects the students to come with plenty of questions. The MUSC squad prepped for this by “fielding ‘out-there’ questions and seeing how Period Pros would respond.”
For now, Anna is looking forward to applying her training and “hearing what the students don’t know and what they want to learn more about.”