2015 is off to an exciting start for the Days for Girls team! In addition to all of the amazing growth and activity that is happening among the international network, the Uganda team has been on the move to make sure that we are progressing towards our goal to reach every girl. Every where. Period.
DfG Follow-up Visits
This February marks 1 year since we held our first official Uganda-led partnership training program where we train other organizations to train trainers and conduct their own Days for Girls Program. We’ve had nearly constant training activity since then. One of our huge priorities going forward is to make sure that all of our training programs are measured to ensure they are having the lasting impact that we originally intended. Therefore, we have been busily scheduling follow-up field visits to all of the groups we trained. Our team has been spread out across Northern and Eastern Uganda to check up on our groups and see what has gone well and where they need more support. We will also be collecting surveys during this time and taking testimonials about changes since the project was launched. So far, we’ve visited about 50% of our groups, and the results are pretty exciting! While some groups have faced challenges with getting organized, nearly all of the groups have at least sold soap, many have sold kits, and all have conducted some kind of community outreach about health & hygiene.
DfG & SNV Follow-up Visits
Our follow-up visits with our own program coincide beautifully with our follow-up visits to SNV community groups. Last September, we held a training of trainers program with SNV, the Dutch development organization, and now we are heading out into the field to see how everything is going! The data we have collected so far indicates that all of the target schools have been trained in reproductive health, and many of the trained women’s groups are selling kits. Through this program, we have reached nearly 30,000 girls with information about washable menstrual hygiene kits, and supplied 9,040 girls with enough materials to make a shield, a liner, and a bag. The women’s groups will act as continued access points for the rest of the kit components, and full kits, for years to come.
A visit from Laura Martin
The Uganda team was excited to start off their year with the return of DfG’s intrepid traveller, Laura Martin. Laura has been working as the volunteer International Alliance Liaison, coordinating and visiting with DfG teams throughout East Africa to evaluate progress and needs. Laura kicked off her site visits with the Uganda team, and then traveled onto Kenya, Tanzania and Zimbabwe, before returning to the Kampala to say goodbye and head back to the US. Days for Girls measures and evaluates programs regularly so that we can ensure that girls and women are getting the results of more dignity, health and access to opportunity. Laura has now returned to the US full of stories, inspiration, and ideas that will help DfG reach the next level of impact.
Teacher Selection Meeting
Days for Girls Uganda believes that partnerships are a vital part of creating programs that will having a lasting and meaningful impact. So, we were happy to be invited to exhibit our products and program at the National Student Selection event hosted by the Uganda Ministry of Education. During this event, Secondary School teachers from around Uganda meet to select the students that will move onto the next level. We had many teachers visit our stall to learn more about menstrual hygiene and the important role that it plays in keeping girls in school. We hope to continue talking with these schools and students that can serve as local leaders at their school, so that we can meet the needs of their bright, young students.
Last October we had the chance to train a group of amazing young students in Budondo village, Iganga District. We were invited back in January of this year to conduct a kit making training with a group of women from Suubi Health Center in Budondo. We carried new sewing machines for the group and spent time teaching them to make our beautiful washable kits. The ladies also learned important reproductive health information, as well as basic business skills that they will use to make and sell these kits in their community.
In February, we hosted a training close to home in an area of Kampala known as Nansana. There, we met with 8 Secondary School Teachers who were passionate about learning to make kits that they could provide for their students. The teachers engaged in a lively discussion of reproductive health and gender equity, before launching into the hands-on-work of kit making. One of the male teacher participants discovered he had a hidden talent for sewing and was the first one to complete the kit!
The trainings continued in February with a women’s group based in Lugazi town, just east of Kampala. This small church group has big plans for menstrual hygiene kits in their community. They completed the business and kit training, and have already started production on their starter pack of materials. They are hoping to develop into a full Days for Girls Enterprise so that they can earn an income for themselves, and also meet the need of so many girls in their community who do not have adequate menstrual hygiene solutions.
Sister Acts Training
Our last training in February brought us a totally new experience – training from our office! Funded by the Sister Acts project, we had two exceptional ladies from Gulu, and two fantastic ladies from Thika, Kenya join us for a weeklong training in our Kampala office. The ladies learned reproductive health, kit making, soap making, and basic business skills. They have since traveled back to their hometowns with their starter packs of materials and they have already started brainstorming potential markets to sell their kits to.
Perhaps the biggest change of 2015 so far is our new office. Days for Girls International's first in-country training center for other nations to come train beside us in the field in apprenticeships. DfGI calls it the Days for Girls University in Uganda, but we're not too fancy. It's a humble but effective new location that will create greater self-sufficiency and opportunity to increase our program's accessibility to train even more effectively. The new office space in Kampala will give us more room for our kit production and training programs, and it will also allow us to house volunteers, visitors, and trainees, saving them funds and helping us be more self-sustainable. Creating global entreprenuers who serve as local health leaders.
Days for Girls at the United Nations
Days for Girls was just featured at the United Nations Women's Summit this last week as our founder, Celeste Mergens shared our global thought leader standing on the impact of menstrual hygiene managment. Last weekend Days for Girls held it's Global Leadership Summit as a webinar and Days for Girls volunteer chapter leaders from around the world got to hear all of the global impact. From Australia to Ghana, Germany to Anchorage, the reports showed how many girls, women, families and communities Days for Girls International is reaching.
Thank you for your continued support in making all of these milestones possible as we continue to make tremendous progress towards our mission, every girl. Every women. Everywhere. Period.
"I just want to give back," Lydia says from her small village of Budondo, Iganga District in Uganda. At the age of 7, Lydia’s father travelled to Russia for work, leaving Lydia with her younger brother Dennis, and their mother. While they missed their father terribly (and he missed them too!), and it was often difficult to pay for school fees and put food on the table, they found tremendous support in their community. With her father’s hard work, Lydia was able to graduate from high school (one of the few girls in her community to do so) and even made it to University in the capital city, Kampala.
Once there, she struggled to pay the fees. She did a short tailoring program and realized she could use this skill to help raise money for school. She managed to convince her school to hire her to make the graduation gowns and she sewed many with a few of her friends. With that income, she was able to support herself throughout University and graduated! The support she had from her community as a child was her primary motivation to return to her home village after graduating. She wanted to give back.
When Lydia learned about the Days for Girls training program, she knew it was the perfect match for her community. She joined in the training and made a beautiful kit for herself. After completing the training, she raised enough money to purchase materials and train high school students in her community to make kits for themselves. She plans to use this skill to start a small business at their community health center in January so that they can reach as many women as possible with this solution.
Meanwhile, in the first week of December Uganda conducted their last scheduled training of 2014. The DfGU team traveled to Lira, a beautiful town in Northern Uganda, to conduct a Kit Business training. This training was hosted by Children of Peace, and brought together 30 young women to learn reproductive health, kit making, soap making, and business skills. Days for Girls partners with many such wonderful organizations. These women were affected by the war in the early 2000s, and Children of Peace has provided them with opportunities to learn, grow and become ambassadors of peace going forward. The ladies were attentive and ready to learn Days for Girls Ambassador of Women's Health program, and they also lead some memorable singing and dancing sessions during our breaks.
Here is the story of Dilish, just one of the women there:
Dilish is a quiet and beautiful young woman from Lira district. Just speaking with her one would never guess the horrible violence she experienced at the hands of the Lords Resistance Army (LRA) during the war in Northern Uganda. As a child she was kidnapped by the LRA and held for years. During this time, she lost most of her family. When she finally managed to escape, she found herself with no parents or guardians and many young siblings to care for. Today, at the age of 16, she is the head of her household.
Although she receives an educational scholarship from Children of Peace Uganda, she struggles to pay for other household essentials. Due to these difficult circumstances, pads are often low of the list of priorities and she finds herself with nothing to use during menstruation. She has primarily been using old rags or underwear as her menstrual hygiene solution, which leaves her vulnerable to leakages, stains, and infections. Dilish joined the Days for Girls training and was so excited to have her very own kit! She has even mastered the sewing machine and helped many of her fellow classmates complete the sewing of their own Days for Girls kits. She says that one day, she would like to become a Days for Girls trainer so that she can teach others these kinds of life-changing skills!
Planning for 2015
This has been an amazing year of learning, growth, opportunities, challenges, and accomplishments. We have come a long way from where we started thanks to the dedication of our team, the excitement of our communities, and the support of Global Giving and our amazing partners!! Leaders from many nations are scheduling visits to DfG Uganda to learn to replicate components of our programs in their areas. We are ready for 2015 and can’t wait to share with you many more of the stories of the girls and women we serve! Thank you for making so much possible.
Yesterday my friend Betty and I fell into fits of laughter over, let’s just say it, the pathetic first kits of Days for Girls. I usually say that you have to be with our team for 6 months before we’ll show them to you, because they are that embarrassing. Betty and I were sharing the wonder of Days for Girls global effectiveness in just 6 years (Our birthday is November 1st) and how far the kits and our unexpected purpose has come. I can tell you that one of the secrets of our success has been tenacious flexibility to listen to feedback and respond to the wisdom of those we serve. In other words, we failed fabulously forward and the resulting empowerment has reached 75+ nations on 6 continents.
Failure 1: Overlooking the basics. I had been passionate about seeking and implementing global sustainable solutions in Kenya and beyond for 2 1/2 years, looking for solutions to break cycles of poverty. I failed to ask a basic question that is pivotal to reversing barriers to education, health and dignity for women around the globe. It came to me in one of those, “How-did-I-not-think-of-this-before?” breathtaking moments. I had been voluntarily helping raise support for an orphanage after meeting the children during a dignitary invitational visit to the slums of Kibera. My response was practical solutions such as efficient Rocket stoves, library books and food but I never thought to ask the basic question, “What are the girls doing for feminine hygiene?” The answer turned out to be, “Nothing. They wait in their rooms.” I tried to imagine how girls waited, packed 50 to a room in overcrowded bunks. It turned out they waited on a piece of cardboard. No sanitation, no classroom access, nothing, for 4 days. Every month. I knew we had to do something.
Failure 2: What works for me.... I found a nonprofit that offered disposable pads at a discount right in Nairobi. We purchased one month’s supply for $200 for the 500 girls needing them. Somehow I had failed to consider that there was no place to dispose of soiled disposable pads. The pads were left littered everywhere, causing more stigma and health issues as the girls tried to wash and reuse pads discarded in piles. Not to mention that every pit latrine was stopped up with soiled “disposables.”
I did know, however, that even if I could manage to raise $200 a month for disposable hygiene, if I sent money for pads, and they needed food, they would purchase food, not pads. That turns out to be true worldwide. Anywhere that a family or group has to choose between food and pads, the choice is clear. We knew we had to come up with a sustainable solution. We had 3 1/2 weeks to design and implement kits for 500 girls before I returned to Kenya. Impossible? We did it thanks to another secret of our success, passionate, phenomenal volunteers.
Failure 3: Design informed by what we know. We made our 500 sanitary kits white, because pads are white, right? We made them oval... because that’s what pads look like. Both traditional choices caused problems for the girls. There is such stigma about menstruation that they would hide the pads under their beds rather than dry them in sunlight. But would you and I want to publicly display stained pad-shaped items in our front yard? I hadn’t thought of that. I had only considered the need-- what they needed was colorful stain-busting pads that didn’t look like pads.
Here’s where the magic of failure comes in, but it only happened because we sought the wisdom of those we serve, listened and responded with tenacious flexibility.
How to make a pad not look like a pad
Twenty-three. The number of versions of pads we made to get to the one we have today, which thanks to the wisdom of thousands of women’s feedback and the input of our volunteer network, is culturally, environmentally and physically relevant to women and girls around the globe, including in the United States. We made them colorful to serve as a cheerful stain-buster and we modified them to be square and foldable, so they look like a washcloth, not a pad, busting taboo barriers in their wake. It turned out that by responding to the need to modify there were important bonuses, the liners now washed with 1/4 the water and dried much faster. Thank goodness we listened.
Informed design isn’t the only thing we learned. Those first girls had more to teach us, because we were listening. When they thanked us they explained, “Before you came we had to let ‘them’ use us if we wanted to stay in class.” I hoped that didn’t mean what I thought it meant but it was true, they had been sexually exploited in exchange for simple pads until we brought a solution they could count on month after month. The kits turned out to give them days of health, dignity and opportunity, which is where our name came from. For me learning that they also freed the girls from exploitation has made all we have done for Days for Girls worth it.
Fast forward to today
Days for Girls kits have reached girls, women and communities in over 75 nations on 6 continents, reversing the cycle of poverty in a simple, direct, effective and yes, surprising way: We help women have access to sustainable feminine hygiene. Who would have guessed that one of the major causes of disempowerment of girls in poverty is their monthly cycle. Many girls cannot afford feminine hygiene products and as a result cannot attend school. A girl absent from school due to menstruation for 4 days of every 28 day cycle loses 13 learning days, the equivalent of two weeks of learning every school term. Studies show that every year of schooling increasing a girl's future earning power by 10 to 20 percent, allowing her to break the cycle of poverty. help girls feel their voice is vital, to be confident and not have to be isolated in their rooms. To understand that menstruation is not a disease to fear nor be shamed by, in fact without periods there would be no people. The impact of sustainable quality feminine hygiene has been breathtaking. One school in Uganda went from an average of 25 out of 100 girls dropping out upon reaching menstruation, to only 4% dropout rate the next year after receiving kits. The impact of our kits, our women’s health curriculum and resulting community conversations has proven to help communities stand up to child trafficking, exploitation and even FGC, female genital cutting.
Now we are training trainers to make Days for Girls programs their own local enterprises. It'w working.
I was looking for means to reverse cycles of poverty and violence against women. Who would have imagined that one of the keys would fit in a small bag? There are millions of girls and women worldwide who suffer days of isolation, infection, and exploitation due to this single issue-- it will take all of us to reach all of them. With attention to collaboration, and responsiveness to local feedback Days for Girls tackles large systemic challenges with simple solutions that are turning out to be key to social changes. Far beyond what I could even imagine the day I asked the question, “What are the girls doing for feminine hygiene?” Asking questions and listening with tenacious flexibility and yes, embarrassing failures to find ways to be relevant with the local feedback of those we serve has made all the difference.