featured image: the selfie that I took of all of us with our menstrual kits
So far, we’ve been doing a lot of tap dancing and a lot of photographing and a lot of teaching thereof, as we do. But in addition to these things we’ve also got another project in the works: we’re partnering with a really cool organization called Days for Girls to give sustainable menstrual kits to the girls in our dance class at Banjuka. Let me tell you a little bit about Days for Girls and why I think they’re so cool:
Days for Girls provides washable menstrual kits to women and girls all over the world. This is much better than simply giving disposable pads and tampons, because a lot of the parts of the world where they work don’t have very good waste removal systems, and giving throw-away pads would a) create more waste in the neighborhoods of the people they serve, and b) leave the recipients out of luck when they run out of the supplies given. By contrast, the kits provided by Days for Girls can last up to three years if they are properly cared for.
Days for Girls employs locals. They have individual enterprises in a lot of places, and all those enterprises need people to run the business, sew the kits, package and deliver them. People like Christine (more on her later) are able to earn a living while working for cause that they’re passionate about.
They take education seriously. When you buy menstruation kits with the intent to distribute them, Days for Girls requires you to complete an online training course that covers puberty, menstruation, sexual health, how to properly use the kits, and how we as teachers can connect with the people we’re teaching in a way that is respectful of them, instead of coming in and acting like we know everything and they know nothing. DfG has clearly spent a lot of time honing this training program, and it’s important to them that the people we’re giving the kits to are well informed. Education and understanding of our bodies helps to alleviate the stigma around a lot of women’s health issues and helps us to take better care of ourselves.
Their kits are easy to use and take into consideration the environments where they will be used. In the training program, they explain why they choose reusable pads over menstrual cups. While they highly endorse menstrual cups as a sustainable option, it’s not always possible to use them hygienically in rural areas. In addition, a lot of the places where DfG works are places that practice female genital cutting, and women who have been affected by this practice often find it painful or impossible to insert menstrual cups. Reusable pads are easy to use for everyone, and they can be washed with a little water and a bar of soap which is provided in the kit. Hanging them out in direct sunlight kills the germs–no fancy disinfectants required.
The way we came to be working with DfG started with a grant that Stefanie was applying for. The grant was focused on girls and women, and because our tap class at Banjuka is almost entirely girls, she decided to focus on Banjuka for the grant. When corresponding with Simon and Jackson (the teachers at Banjuka) and gathering more information for the grant, one thing they expressed a need for was reliable and consistent access to menstrual supplies for the girls. Stefanie had heard of Days for Girls years ago and decided to incorporate it into what we were doing at Banjuka. We ended up never hearing back from the grant people, but decided to go ahead with Days for Girls and we would figure out a way to pay for the kits.
The person we got the kits from is a woman named Christine, who has her own enterprise here in Nairobi. She came to our apartment around lunchtime on the Monday before last to give us the kits, and we invited her to stay and have lunch with us. She told us a little of her story: she was married at fourteen, and she couldn’t read, but she learned how to sew. Her skills as a seamstress eventually led her to Days for Girls, and with them she attended the DfG University Program in Uganda. In addition to running an enterprise, she also runs a very full household: she has children that are biologically hers as well as some that were almost literally left on her doorstep. If I recall correctly, she has five kids in total, ranging in age from very young to mid twenties. Her children help her sew and assemble the Days for Girls kits. She talked about her life and her work with such humility, saying that she thanked God for giving her this life and acting like it was nothing to care for all those children. If I could do half as much in my own life I would be happy.
Towards the end of her visit she asked if we could all take a picture together (see above), and that surprised me and made me happy, because when she first arrived she was rather quiet and shy and I wasn’t sure how to connect with her. But by the end it felt like we were friends. She asked that we send her the pictures, and she showed me how to find her on facebook. I’m so glad I got to meet her, because oftentimes I find these nonprofit organizations are hard to connect with on a personal level; they send you postcards in the mail with pictures of their work, and that’s all well and good, but I don’t feel like I know the stories of the people doing the work. Days for Girls isn’t just a postcard or a website to me anymore; it’s Christine.
Now that we have the kits and have completed the online training, we will be giving them out the next time we see the girls at Banjuka, which will be this Saturday. I’m sure you’ll hear all about how it went. And if my words have moved you at all, I encourage you to check out Days for Girls on their website, their general facebook page, and the facebook page of Christine’s enterprise. Happy menstruating!
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Update 1/24/16: We gave the girls their kits yesterday, and they love them! Many many thanks go to Naomi, the flute teacher at Banjuka Project, for her patience and her excellent explanations in Swahili (as far as I could tell) of how to use the kits after Monika explained in English. I wish them all many healthy periods.