On our recent trip back to Uganda, we were blessed to partner with Days for Girls, a non-profit which recognizes the impact of quality, sustainable feminine hygiene on girls’ physical wellbeing, education, and dignity. Days for Girls has chapters all over the country in which people come together to sew sustainable menstruation kits and then distribute them to other non-profits/churches/teams who are traveling to under-privileged areas where girls and women are in need of a better way of managing their periods. When our local San Luis Obispo Days for Girls chapter offered to send us with kits for the girls in the village we serve, we were overjoyed. Taproot Charities serves girls in secondary school and college, so considering the ages of our girls, this was the perfect partnership for us!
There are often many taboos, much embarrassment, and lack of education about menstruation among teens in developing countries. In attempts to break the ice with our girls and demonstrate that menstruation shouldn’t be embarrassing to talk about, I peppered them with questions about their experiences and then shared some of my own. I discovered that mothers generally don’t talk with their girls about how their bodies are developing and don’t help them understand what changes to expect as they enter puberty. Passie, one of our Ugandan mentors and leaders at Taproot Charities, had to explain to some of the younger girls in the village who hadn’t yet had their period what to expect. They had no idea what was waiting for them right around the corner! She even had to explain that they need not worry when it happens, that it doesn’t mean they were bewitched. Imagine how horrifying it would be if you had absolutely no idea it was coming!
We also talked about the power we girls have over our own bodies and our ability to choose healthy ways to take care of ourselves. We talked about how we are STRONG and that we have the right to stand up for ourselves. We talked about how amazing our bodies are and why we menstruate and the beauty of it. Then, we passed out the kits, and the girls lit up with enthusiasm and curiosity. They were eager to practice with the pads and talk with their friends who were sitting next to them. It was like Christmas in June! Thankfulness abounded! It was absolutely amazing to see the joy these girls expressed over menstrual pads. Something we take so for granted. They were literally hugging their kits. Days for Girls suggests having a volunteer demonstrate how to snap them in place and put them on over their pants, and sensing that anyone from our group who “volunteered” would have done so more out of duty and obligation (not to mention they were all in skirts having come directly from school), I decided I would all let them have a good giggle and watch me demonstrate. (Check out the picture for a good giggle yourself!) All in all, it was such a sweet time building trust and community talking about an important issue that is not talked about often. I left our meeting giving great encouragement to start talking about periods to younger girls in the village and to talk openly and lovingly with their own daughters someday. If there is less taboo over the issue of menstruation and access to sustainable feminine hygiene supplies, solidarity happens and girls don’t miss school and stay healthier longer.
My greatest hope and encouragement was from what I witnessed was when we left our gathering space. There were a few other teenage girls from the village who were waiting outside to talk to us. They wondered if they could have some kits as well. Of course, we obliged them, but I encouraged our Taproot girls do the education portion and show the other girls how to use the pads while I supervised and listened. There wasn’t a hint of embarrassment in our girls who shared, and they honestly had the education and demonstration completely down and needed no help from me. These girls are sharp! This was such an amazing thing for me, because one of our goals is to develop these girls as leaders in their communities, and because the San Luis Obispo Days for Girls team sent us with many more than our own girls could use, we planned for our girls to take a leadership role after my departure by periodically gathering teen girls throughout the area and dispersing the kits while teaching others how to use them. They clearly are up for the challenge, and transformation is happening.
Days for Girls, thank you so much for choosing to partner with us and for the gift of time, resources, energy and love. Together, we are seeing the futures of these girls in the Ewata Village of Arua, Uganda unfold in positive and amazing ways.
Please take a minute and read about Days for Girls here and consider being a part of the transformation that is happening all over the world.
Sara Messer, Founder