Jane Williamson tells us how one woman inspired volunteer
action to keep girls in school
DAYS FOR GIRLS (DFG) WAS LAUNCHED IN 2008 by Celeste Mergens, an
American involved with educating, feeding and clothing a group of
orphans in Kenya. She tells of praying for the children, then
waking in the night with a burning question: what happens when the
girls have their periods? She asked the director of the orphanage
and was told that they sit on pieces of cardboard on their beds and
wait. Imagine no privacy, no bathing and no appropriate means of
coping with menstruation every month.
The key to avoiding poverty
In many countries, menstruating girls and women are forbidden
from engaging in a multiplicity of activities of daily life. A
critical activity for girls is education: every year that a girl
spends in secondary school raises her earning potential by 10-20%.
The increased income is suffi cient to raise a girl out of poverty
and creates a more prosperous society. We also know that educated
girls marry later, delay child-bearing, have fewer - but healthier
- babies and ensure their own children are educated.
Girls recognise education as their way out of poverty, valuing
scholastic achievements and opportunities. But beliefs based on
ignorance and generational tradition result in girls being excluded
from school when menstruating. With periods lasting up to fi ve
days a month, catching up with missed lessons becomes impossible,
so girls leave school. They are then considered marriageable,
becoming mothers while still children themselves. This presents
huge risks to both mother and child and locks the girls into a
lifetime of grinding, inescapable poverty.
A simple, effective solution
It doesn't have to be like this! The worldwide lack of
affordable feminine hygiene resources for those living in poverty
has a very simple solution. Celeste knew that single-use sanitary
towels required two things: disposable income and a safe, reliable
means of disposal. As neither of these was remotely achievable, the
solution had to be something affordable, washable, reusable and
long-lasting: the DfG feminine hygiene kit was born.
DfG makes and distributes hygiene kits (which last three to four
years) enabling girls to cope discreetly with their periods, and to
fully participate in education.
The kit is now in its 28th stage of development and at every
stage DfG evaluates the kits, asking the girls and women their
preferences and making adjustments accordingly. An early example
was that initially everything was white, like disposable products.
But this only served to make the purpose of the products obvious:
not desirable in a culture where anything to do with menstruation
is regarded as unclean and forbidden. So now all kit items are
brightly coloured to hide stains and look nothing like traditional
sanitary products, drawing as little attention as possible.
Brightening girls' lives
Celeste witnessed the delight of girls in the orphanage
receiving their kits. It meant they no longer needed to rely on
desperate alternatives: leaves, grass, mattress stuffi ng,
newspaper, sand, soil, stones and dried corn husks used as tampons,
or dried cow dung (used for its absorbent qualities!), or
exchanging sexual favours for sanitary towels…
Days for Girls throughout the world
DfG is administered worldwide by only nine paid personnel:
everything else is undertaken by volunteers. Globally, the
organisation has distributed kits to over 640,000 girls as well as
providing education on sexual health, personal safety and avoidance
of traffi ckers. Girls are reassured that they are not cursed, that
this happens to women everywhere, and no periods means no people!
Menstrual cups are also offered but often refused owing to cultural
objections. There is a DfG University in Uganda, where women (paid
for by a DfG team or chapter) learn kit-making and the skills
necessary to start up a local enterprise. Using locally sourced
materials, Enterprises provide kits for schoolgirls with local
women purchasing Pods, the starter version of DfG kits containing
the essential components for managing menstruation very cheaply.
The aim for local enterprises is selfsuffi ciency, with kits for
school girls still being ordered and paid for by sponsors.
Days for Girls UK
We have a fast-growing number of teams and solo-sewers in the
UK. As well as overseeing all UK DfG activities, I have a local
team comprised of members of our Wellspring prayer and bible study
group plus others. These brilliant, generous women meet three times
a month to sew, as well as putting in many hours at home producing
kit items. We have people who cut out fabric, dye donated panties,
attach snaps, make cloth bags, hand sew, assemble components to
complete kits, as well as a treasurer and co-leader. Each team is
self-funding so fundraising events such as coffee mornings and
Christmas Fairs are essential. We have also received generous
donations from national and local organisations.
It is very difficult to accurately estimate the cost of making a
kit, but we think it's somewhere around £7.50 to £10. We are always
looking for ways of obtaining kit components and materials cheaply,
to make more kits for the same amount of money. For example, we
have just ordered 500 metres of the breathable, waterproof fabric
we use, from China, which should considerably reduce the cost. To
date, we have supplied kits to girls and women around the world:
South Sudan, Haiti, Kenya, Uganda, Malawi, Sierra Leone, DRC, Nepal
as well as to various refugee camps.
'I couldn't go to school, and you gave me a DfG kit ...' (my
Jane says: We can only supply kits to the extent to which people
are willing to use their skills and give their time to create them.
I am amazed to fi nd God using me in this way.
If you feel called to help and would like more information,
please contact me on e: email@example.com.
More information about Days for Girls can be found on their web
site w: www.daysforgirls.org
PHOTO © JANE WILLIAMSON