My friend Jana posted on Facebook about a service project she helped organize in her community for the Days For Girls Organization. I thought that it was such a great example of a community living a good story through service that I asked her to write an article for me about the project.
“Days for Girls was founded in 2008, when Executive Director Celeste Mergens prepared to travel back to Kenya to continue working with orphanages and communities in the wake of great political and economic upset. One night she awoke with a burning question: ‘Have you asked what the girls are doing for feminine hygiene?’ When she asked the assistant director of the orphanage she was working with, the answer was shocking: ‘Nothing. They wait in their rooms.’
The conditions were cramped, unsanitary, and would leave girls without food and water for days unless someone brought it to them. Furthermore, sanitary products were available, but only if girls were willing to suffer sexual exploitation in exchange. This moment was the beginning of awareness to the vulnerability millions of women and girls face throughout the world every month, simply due to this basic biological function. These women and girls suffer in silence, due to cultural ideas and taboos surrounding this issue. Because of this, girls and women can feel that they are tainted, or fundamentally flawed or less in some way. Washable, quality hygiene kits and accompanying education changes all that.”
The washable, reusable feminine hygiene packets are a work of genius. Each packet comes with two shields that snap onto underwear (also provided) and that hold the liners. The liners fold into thirds and tuck into pockets in the shields holding them in place. Up to three liners can fit into the shield depending on how heavy the flow is. There are eight liners in each packet. The shield is made of 100% breathable cotton. The liners are cotton flannel for more absorbancy. Dark colors and patterns are preferable to hide stains since these are dried on an outside line, and menstrual cycles are taboo in many areas. The packets also include a small bar of soap and washcloth for cleaning, a Ziploc bag to carry the dirty liners in, and an instruction sheet using drawings.
Most packets are hand delivered by someone in the organization. They help each girl get the right size underwear, train them how to use the packets, and teach them about their menstrual cycle. In many countries, even the older women don’t know or understand how the menstrual cycle is related to child bearing. This knowledge empowers the women to take control of their bodies, understand their worth as mothers in their villages, and helps them see their menstrual cycle as a blessing instead of a curse.
The process of completing an entire packet is a detailed one. Every piece must be the exact right size, sewn correctly with the right material in the proper colors and patterns, and includes underwear and washcloths in the correct sizes and colors as well. That being said, there are many way to get involved and help. You can donate money with which they purchase material. You can buy underwear, washcloths, soap, and Ziploc bags to donate. You can learn how to make one piece: the shields, the liners, or the bags instead of trying to learn how to make all of them. You can even just make partial pieces since all three parts use a serger, and not everyone has a serger.
For our activity, we began training 6 months prior by attending the activities held in Orem, Utah. We invited a representative from each LDS congregation to attend the trainings as well. They in turn took the information back to their wards and taught the women that were interested in this project how to make the pieces. In the meantime, we collected money, material, underwear, washcloths, soaps, and Ziploc bags for the big day. We ended up with almost 300 women and young women at our activity. We made sure there was something for everyone to do. To succeed at this, we broke down the process into 30+ steps, including tracing, cutting, ironing, turning inside out and pushing in the corners, assembling, and even artistically combining the patterns to make it aesthetically pleasing for the girls. We had partial pieces done at each station so no one needed to wait around. We also sent many partial pieces home with the Days for Girls ladies that they can then bring to their activities and complete. We completed 100 packets in three hours, and accomplished much more that can be finished later as well.
To organize this big of a project is a huge undertaking. We did it for several reasons. One obvious reason is the love for our fellow women and young women, and our desire for their well being. Another reason is to light the fire of service and humanitarian work in the hearts of our community members. Service for others is incredibly healing. It helps us step outside our own problems as well as recognize our many blessings. The third reason was to unify our community. Whether LDS, of other faiths, or not of any faith, this was an activity that many could understand and get behind. Our differences fall away as we work together in a mutually caring way. And finally, we wanted to get as many people involved as we could so that they felt confident in continuing the work in their own homes and neighborhoods.
I must admit, I got teary eyed several times during the activity seeing so many women work together for the benefit of girls in other countries that they’ll never meet. It was a beautiful sight, and I feel grateful I got to be a part of it.