As a young girl growing up in Ethiopia, Darartu Doto ’18 remembers how older girls would skip school for about a week every month. She never understood why until she moved to the U.S. at the age of 11 and had an “aha” moment: girls in Ethiopia lacked both feminine hygiene products and menstrual education, forcing many to skip large chunks of school every year.
“I grew up seeing girls and women struggle to get the right access to feminine hygiene products and skip school because of lack of access to menstrual education. To be able to go back and share information that I’ve learned and have it come full circle is unreal,” says Doto.
Just a few weeks after Commencement, Doto is headed back to Ethiopia as the recipient of a $10,000 Davis Projects for Peace grant allowing her to travel and run a three-week menstrual education program. She will partner with the Burka Faya Medium Clinic in Shashamene to reach women and girls of nearby villages. In addition to the education program, Doto, an economics major, hopes to teach women how to make and sell reusable pads, a way of using needle and thread to earn money.
“I’m looking forward to having hard conversations about a topic that is so taboo. I’m looking forward to learning, teaching, and having the project make a lasting impact on girls, women, and young boys as well,” she says, adding that she plans to help train more than 100 leaders in the education effort.
Having spent many late nights working on problem sets for economics classes, Doto is now looking forward to solving problems in the real world – and believes the critical thinking skills she learned at Pomona will help her achieve her goals.
She also will draw on her economics major for the project. The idea of teaching women how to make reusable pads using needle and thread was an important one for Doto, who wanted to figure out how to help women become financially independent and ensure it’s a locally-based program. “This information can be shared with hundreds of women if just one local woman is taught because as they say, you teach a woman, you teach a nation.”
Doto has plenty of valuable experience from her time working at the Draper Center for Community Partnerships that has come in handy in her grant proposal and coordination of the program. Doto co-planned the first Black Alternabreak spring break program. With no template to follow, she helped design the week-long program in Oakland where Pomona students connected with social justice organizations. During her junior year, she received a small Draper Center grant to teach young girls how to make their own hair care products using everyday items. This past year, Doto planned a fundraising event that raised more than $4,000 for hurricane relief for Puerto Rico and Houston, Texas.
“I’m grateful that Draper has trusted me with that much responsibility because I believe that’s why I’m so confident going into this project. Having an idea and making that idea come to life is something that I’ve seen for myself all four years at Pomona through working at Draper so, although I’m a little nervous about the project, I know it’ll be great at the end of the day because I know I have the skill sets to make it happen.”
In addition to her fulfilling work at the Draper Center, Doto also managed to write and publish a book for students like her. As a low-income, first-generation immigrant student, Doto took all the knowledge she gained in her four years at Pomona and poured it into “You Don’t Have to Have Your Future Figured Out,” a book on how to survive college that touches on issues of mental and physical health; studying and writing tips; basic understanding of investments, saving money and credit cards; including how to find the cheapest textbooks.
Her advice for younger students: “If you have an idea, make it happen yourself. Don’t wait for someone else to do it. Everything big starts small.”
After her summer in Ethiopia, Doto will return to the U.S. to work for Facebook in Chicago, Illinois. With two previous summer internships for the social media company, Doto fell in love with the culture, values and the people she met. However, she has a longer-term goal to become a social entrepreneur to not only solve problems like lack of menstrual education but also “help women be inspired and motivated to do all they can do.”