The Red Movement Retreat

Arete
5 min readAug 30

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Arete is a communications agency that partners with NGOs around the world to tell stories that #makeadifference. Jacqui Norman-Smith is the Production Lead for Arete. Here Jacqui recounts her experiences of a retreat in which storytelling is used to raise awareness and funds to end period poverty.

On a warm South African winter morning, I embarked on a 2.5-hour car trip along the North Coast to go on safari. The Thanda Safari Game Reserve would be my home for the next three days.

Jacqui Norman-Smith, wearing a sponsored dress from Heart Stuff, a local South African brand, sits on one of the game-viewing vehicles on the way to cocktail-making in the bush at Thanda Safari Game Reserve on the 5th of August 2023 -Photo Credit: Lauren Cumming

On arrival, I was greeted by the game rangers, who helped unpack our car before driving us through the park to the camp. At the tented camp, Lee, the co-founder of the Red Movement, welcomed us with a drink, which was of course red. Lee gave us the itinerary for the weekend and explained what the Red Movement is all about. It is clear the retreat means a huge amount to Lee and her husband. They are passionate about eradicating period poverty and have created a space for women who want to make a change.

Joseph and Lee Mpyana, co-founders of the Red Movement, pose on a game-viewing vehicle at Thanda Safari Game Reserve on the 5th of August 2023- Photo Credit: CC Rossler

As we watched the sunset over the safari park, sipping cocktails sponsored by Bacardi, there was a buzz of excitement as women from all walks of life talked of their common goal of ending period poverty. The wild animals too were a great source of conversation!

“The red movement is about eradicating period poverty and providing girls and women with a sustainable way to manage their periods through the use of the menstrual cup.” — Lesego Mpyana

A close-up shot of the menstrual cup, that the Red Movement distributes to school girls around South Africa, at Thanda Safari Game Reserve on the 5th of August 2023- Photo Credit: Jacqui Norman-Smith

Period poverty affects over 83% of school-going girls in South Africa. Out of these, only 1 out of 5 knew what was happening to them when they had their first menstrual period; many girls thought that they were dying due to a lack of education about periods. Period poverty also damages the local economy and future leaders because 1 in 4 girls miss school monthly, due to lack of access to menstrual products. This is why it is key to support organisations such as The Red Movement to help eliminate period poverty and keep girls in school.

At 5:15 the following morning my alarm clock went off, but it didn’t matter that it was so early, I was excited to start the itinerary of day 2 of the retreat. We began the morning with Yoga in the bush and then were treated to an early morning game drive where we were lucky enough to see a pride of Lions sunning themselves in the early morning sun.

Once we arrived back and had eaten a delicious breakfast, we were treated to a talk by Clarins Skincare on how women should be conducting their skincare routine every day and night and why Clarins South Africa has chosen to partner with the Red Movement and help in the fight to eliminate period poverty.

A photo of the Clarins South Africa skincare setup at Thanda Safari Game Reserve on the 5th of August 2023

“In so many parts of Africa and the world, women are taught that your period is something to be ashamed of. So, we are trying to break that narrative and change the stigma around periods by adequately educating young ladies and letting them know their periods are normal” — Lesego Mpyana

Next, we were off in the game driving vehicles to Cocktail-making in the bush. Personally, I have not had much experience in making cocktails, but I really enjoyed combining the different flavours in the shaker as the giraffes strolled around nearby.

For dinner that evening, we were treated to a traditional South African barbeque (also known as braai) under the stars with women from the nearest town singing traditional Zulu songs. One song was about the poaching of Rhinos, a practice that has devastated the species. It was a spectacular evening.

Women from the nearest town singing traditional Zulu songs at Thanda Safari Game Reserve on the 5th of August 2023-Photo Credit: CC Rossler

“We are supported by women. Women go through periods, they understand, and they do really want to get involved and make a difference in the lives of other girls. For the retreat, we have seen the value of women coming together, inspiring one another, and hearing each other’s stories. The retreat is also a way to expand the knowledge about the work we do, to create awareness, and to give women an opportunity to get involved with us and go back into their world and share to others to help combat period poverty.” -Lesego Mpyana

At 6 a.m. on Sunday morning, a few of us ladies - bundled up in our scarves, beanies, thick jackets, and hot water bottles - joined the early morning game drive to see what exciting wild animals we could spot. It did not disappoint. We saw four baby lion cubs with their mother walking to meet their father. It was like the scene from The Lion King when Simba and Nala reunite. The male lion was so happy to see the female lion, while the little cubs ran up to their father so he could give them each a lick. We also had the privilege of seeing four cheetahs sunbathing — they didn’t seem to have a care in the world. It was an incredible end to what had been a wonderful, thoughtful, and beautiful weekend.

A lioness on an early morning walk, with her 2-month-old cubs, at Thanda Safari Game Reserve on the 6th of August 2023- Photo Credit: CC Rossler
Four cheetahs sunning themselves in the early morning sun at Thanda Safari Game Reserve on the 6th of August 2023 Photo Credit: CC Rossler

“Menstrual blood is the only source of blood that is not traumatically induced. Yet, in modern society, this is the most hidden blood, the one so rarely spoken of and almost never seen, except privately by women”- Judy Grahn

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Arete

Arete is the expert storytelling and training agency for NGOs, UN bodies and foundations.