Local kits help girls. Period.
- Published: December 11, 2014
It may be true that poverty does not discriminate, but there is at least one major difference between the way that males and females experience lack of wealth in poor countries around the world. Though it’s largely invisible, menstruation plays a major role in keeping adolescent girls and women at the very bottom socioeconomic rung in their communities. Without means to buy or even access sanitary padding, girls and women are systematically isolated because of a biological distinction that causes them to miss school, lose self esteem and become irretrievably subordinate to and in some cases abused by their male counterparts.
Local resident Chris Powell has always tried to turn her global awareness into local activism to change the things she has the power to change. And when many years ago she visited orphanages in China and saw the conditions in which so many girls in particular were living, the issue of not only the poverty but the discriminatory way it was handled, became real for her.
So when she learned about Days for Girls International, a nonprofit group that sends menstruation kits to underprivileged girls and women around the world, she felt moved to become part of the solution. The relatively simple aid project would go a long way to help mobilize girls and women, the members of society who demonstrate the highest rate of reinvestment into their own communities, Powell said. She felt the work had the potential to make a disproportionately positive impact on the poverty cycle.
“Days for Girls’ goal is by 2022 to get every girl in the world access to sustainable, feminine hygiene,” Powell said. According to the website, the group’s ultimate aim is to eliminate global gender disparity.
So from her little corner of the world in Yellow Springs this summer, Powell started Days for Girls Yellow Springs, a group of volunteer seamstresses who meet regularly to sew reusable cotton menstration pads to send to girls in need.
The kits include four cotton liners and four cotton pads (lined with a polyurethane moisture barrier) sewn together in celebratory colors and patterns, along with soap, a wash cloth, two plastic bags (for storing soiled pads) and a pair of underwear, all packed into a handmade cotton totebag. The kits are carefully designed, using patterns from the Days for Girls website with feedback from initial users and are made to last three years.
“Quality control is really important — because these kits are also a message that’s meant to promote dignity and self esteem,” Powell said. “These should be celebration packets.”
The half dozen members of Days for Girls Yellow Springs has met regularly — sometimes at the Antioch School where Powell teaches the Older Group — since July to make the first batch of kits. And this month, local resident Ashley Lackovich-Van Gorp will take the batch of 20 completed kits to Addis Ababa to share with the adolescent girls she is helping to put through school in the capital city of Ethiopia. A mutual friend introduced Powell to Lackovich-Van Gorp, who recently finished her Ph.D. with Antioch University’s Leadership and Change program and started Enhance Worldwide, a nonprofit group that supports orphaned girls in Ethiopia.
According to the Enhance website, throughout Ethiopia, child marriage, female genital mutilation, trafficking for both labor and sex, violence against women and poverty “create an environment where the transition from the world of a girl to the world of a woman is a perilous journey.” The disproportionate threat to the female population, especially girls without a social network, is the reason Enhance is now sending 20 orphaned girls to school in Addis Ababa, and organizers hope to continue to support more. For Lackovich-Van Gorp, who worked for aid organizations in Addis Ababa for five years, the support for girls is essential to stopping the poverty cycle, and the Days for Girls kits will help these girls to not only stay in school but educate others about the value of women and their need for respect.
“This is a need that intersects with everything — when girls drop out of school during menstruation, they get behind their peers [missing up to two months of school per year], tend to drop out and either get locked into early marriage or become the victims of trafficking,” she said.
If Enhance can use the kits and their own donor support to empower these 20 girls, the group will have started a cycle in which more and more females are able to lift each other out of poverty and into lives of employment and independence.
“Ten years from now, here is a group of women born into a situation but got out and hopefully are able to help others out,” Lackovich-Van Gorp said.
A statement by one woman from Zimbabwe, whose testimony appears on the Days for Girls website, is evidence that the upward cycle can work. After receiving help from Days for Girls, she now helps to administer the program in her community.
“I am among thousands of girls in Zimbabwe who suffered during high school days. I used to hate my period … It meant l had to choose between humiliation of managing a period with no resources at school or stay at home. Most of the time I would end up using newspaper which used to give me rashes. I was very scared of messing my uniform ‘cause it had happened to me and to others and the boys in our class laughed at us. We would stop going for awhile. It seriously interrupted our learning. This project is my passion.”
With the most recent shipment of kits, Powell is taking a break from sewing for the month. But she intends to keep sewing for Days for Girls Yellow Springs, and invites anyone with either skills or interest to join the effort to make the next batch of kits for girls in some part of the world where there might be a need. Participation is also possible through donation of colorful 100 percent cotton fabrics, soap, washcloths or funds to purchase such materials. Prospective participants can check the Facebook page Days for Girls Yellow Springs for future meeting information.
Though she will sew alone, the last group of kits would not have gotten done in time without the “excellent team” of women who encouraged each other and made it fun.
“Really, when it’s a community effort, everyone’s part is important,” Powell said.