Stopping the flow of poverty


courtesy of Deb Nygaard Girls pose with their reusable feminine hygiene kits; each kit includes a waterproof shield and eight flannel liners that can be inserted, removed and washed.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. For many girls in developing countries, something as simple as a maxi pad is key to continuing their education and avoiding the complications that come with premature marriage and childbirth. 

But in rural parts of Africa, Asia and Central America, a maxi pad is often nowhere to be found. 

Deb Nygaard leads one of the local chapters of Days for Girls, an international nonprofit focused on providing young women in developing nations with reusable fabric menstrual pads. This spring, Nygaard’s chapter is hosting monthly events in the north suburbs where local volunteers will measure, cut and assemble personal hygiene kits for girls in Madagascar and Haiti. 

Each kit consists of two waterproof shields and eight flannel inserts that can be removed and washed. Additionally, kits include two pairs of underwear, a washcloth and soap. The absorbent flannel can be sterilized in the sun when water is scarce, and discreetly carried to and from school in the kit’s fabric pouch. 

Without access to pads or tampons, girls can miss weeks of class at a time, unable to leave their rooms while they are bleeding. 

 

“They stay home and sometimes they just sit on cardboard,” says Nygaard. “Hopefully, somebody brings them something to eat.”

 

Boosting opportunity

Due to long absences from school, many drop out. It’s impossible to keep up with classes when they are missing up to a full week every month. Not being in school makes them eligible for marriage, so girls who get their periods young can end up having children at age 12 or 13. These births often end in serous medical complications for the mother. 

“Their little lives are over, and they’re 14 years old,” says Nygaard. “If we just give them a way to manage their periods, they could have a completely different life. They can stay in school, they can get their education and they don’t have to drop out.”

Nygaard found out about Days for Girls through fellow Rotary Club member Judy Johnson. Johnson was at a convention in Australia with her twin, an avid quilter, when a wall of bright fabric caught their eye. They made their way to the Days for Girls booth, and came back to Minnesota committed to starting up a local team. 

Many women who have gotten involved with the organization are quilters or seamstresses themselves. Often, they’ll stop by to drop off large bags of excess fabric and stay to learn more about the organization’s unique mission. That said, there are many jobs that don’t involve sewing; volunteers also cut fabric, assemble the parts for each pad and attach snaps to the shield.

Mary Rom, a longtime volunteer, found out about Days for Girls after reading an article in the Osseo-Maple Grove Press. 

“I went by myself, which is rather scary and not normally for me,” says Rom. “I had fabric that my mother-in-law had given me to make a quilt, and I didn’t want to ever make the quilt, but I had a hard time parting with the fabric.”

 

‘It’s pure joy’

Rom donated the swatches and quickly formed a lasting relationship with Johnson; they bonded over a strong desire to help their fellow women and a strong love for the Minnesota Lynx. Now, Rom not only attends events, but also sews kits at home in her spare time. 

“What I like to do is to match the fabrics and put those pieces together, because I get to be creative,” says Rom. “There are two pockets on that shield. I like the pockets to match. There are other people that will do different ones — I’m more of a matching person.”

Each kit carries with it the unique signature of the person who made it: the patterns that volunteers choose to put together and the time that they put into each component. This powerful connection, and the satisfaction that it brings, pervades the room at volunteer events.  

“It’s pure joy,” says Johnson. “They’re just excited to help our sisters.”

Once the kits are completed, they’ll either travel with a trained Days for Girls ambassador, or be sent directly to a partner organization on the other side. The kits are then hand-delivered to their destination, accompanied by an education component.

“The girls are taught how to use the kit,” says Nygaard. “If they take good care of it, it should last between three and five years, and that’s a long time. They’re also taught biology, anatomy.”

The girls “pay” for the kit by paying it forward. They teach friends and classmates about menstruation, helping to break the taboo surrounding periods. Most importantly, they stay in school. 

“If you let girls learn and go to school and take care of themselves, that will cause peace within a family. And that will grow out grassroots,” says Johnson. “World peace is possible, because of a maxi pad.”

 

–Bridget Kranz can be reached at roseville@lillienews.com.

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