The sun was shining brightly through the branches, and the grass was prickly on our legs, but we were all excited to be sitting there together in Karamoja – a captivating, but economically devastated region in northeastern Uganda. Our team had traveled to conduct a training with out-of-school girls on reproductive health and making of the DfG Washable Hygiene Kit as part of our 3-year partnership with Samaritan’s Purse. During this visit, we had the opportunity to sit with a small group of girls who had received the Kits 6 months prior. We were conducting an important follow up focus group discussion to learn more about the actual impact of the DfG Kits on these girls’ lives.
We sat under a tree in the middle of a large grassy field, with tall mountains in the background and thatched roof huts dotted around the landscape and well disguised by their thorny fences. Six out of the seven girls we spoke to that day had received the DfG Kit, and one girl had not, as she was not originally recruited for the program.
Yet we learned something amazing. Not only did each and every girl remember nearly every detail of the training program – demonstrating to us how she washed and dried her Kit, explaining the phases of the menstrual cycle, and talking about personal hygiene – but they all still had and faithfully used their DfG Kit. The one girl who had not been part of the program actually learned how to make her own Kit from her friends who had participated in the program.
These stories and testimonies shattered our greatest expectations. After distributing Kits, there is always a lingering thought; will the girls really use these Kits? Do they really need them? Well, we learned first hand that the answer was a resounding yes!
As we go out and conduct more and more trainings in our vision of reaching Every Girl. Everywhere. Period, we are also focused on answering these tough questions about impact. We are doing this through new mobile-based surveys, through focus group discussions, and through site visits to the girls and women we work with. The support of the Global Giving community is what makes this mutual learning possible!
It is farming season in Lebanon. Every day, Syrian girls are sent to the fields in Bekaa Valley to work the fields for less than $3 per day. When she is paid, she gives 50% of her money to the Informal Settlement camp manager and the other 50% to the head of her household. If she needs anything for herself, she has to ask for money and explain why, even if it is for menstrual pads. She's too embarrassed to ask him herself, so her mother supplies her with pads. The pads are the most inexpensive ones at the store, but still, they are a drain on the family's small amount of money. The cheap pads irritate her skin and the plastic is uncomfortable when she is working in the field. Sometimes there isn't enough money for pads, so she uses old cloth to manage her period. She is afraid of bleeding through the cloth and makes sure to wear a black dress on those days, just in case.
Imagine what a Days for Girls kit can do for this girl. When she gets her DfG kit, she can now manage her own menstruation needs. She does not need to ask anyone else for money to buy pads. She does not worry about irritation from cheap products. Each night, she puts a little of the water that she used for cooking in her plastic baggie with her pads and shield. After dinner, she is able to use a little soap and water to clean them thoroughly in the plastic baggie. The flannel liners and shield are thin enough to need only a few cups of clean water to rinse. She can hang them to dry on the small line outside of her tent with her clothing, and no one will know what they are. The next day, she still has a second shield and liners to wear while today's set is drying in the sun.
She is one one hundreds of Syrian girls that struggle in countries that are not their own.
Through the efforts of Days for Girls, we are reaching those girls. Our donors are making it possible to bring a little piece of freedom to the lives of these girls. With our sewing classes throughout Lebanon, we are able to teach women and girls to make reusable pads for themselves and the women in their families and communities. Receiving a Days for Girls kit is exciting, but learning the skills to create one for another woman is priceless.
We have just returned from two weeks in Lebanon where we distrubuted over 300 DfG kits. After each session, we also taught a brief sewing course for making the shields and liners. Over and over, we heard comments like these:
"I won't have to worry about buying pads any longer"
"I would like to make one for my daughter too"
"The women in my community would love these"
We were also able to meet with women previously served two months ago. These women told us repeatedly, in different towns and living conditions, that after two months of using their Days for Girls pads, they were very happy with them. One woman told us that she had struggled with infections and rashes from cheap disposable pads, but not any longer. One woman said that she hadn't even realized what a burden her pad purchase each month was to her family until she no longer had to make that purchase. Another woman was so pleased with how the DfG pads helped her own daughter's allergic reactions that she asked to volunteer her time to sew more pads for us to distrubute to other women in her daughter's situation. Over and over, we heard words of confirmation that the DfG kit was needed, appreciated, and special to the women who had received one.
With the help of IRC Lebanon, ANERA Lebanon, and the Amel Association, women and girls all over Lebanon can now have control over their own menstrual cycle. Your continued support will allow us to expand our parnterships with these organizations to bring more kits to women, especially in rural areas, and coordinate sewing classes and distrubution of sewing supplies and fabrics to those who wish to sew for their own communities. We will be returning in September with more DfG kits for distribution as well as the fabric and supplies to teach expanded sewing classes to both recipients and representatives of our partner organizations.
Cissy** sat in the back of the class, fidgeting quietly and glancing uncomfortably at her peers. She wore the same beautiful skirt that all the girls had – knee-length, bright, multicolored, swinging, and full. It had been hand-sewn by her from strips of cloth. She was among her friends, but still she look nervous and unsettled.
Our team was in the Nakapiripirit district of Uganda providing a training to out of school girls in women’s health and an introduction to Kit making. Each girl would learn to hand sew her very own washable pad using the tried and tested Days for Girls pattern. In partnership with Samaritan’s Purse and with the support of Global Giving, Days for Girls will be training 3,000 girls in total across one of the most remote, low-income regions of East Africa over a period of 3-years.
But on this day, our lead trainer, Dianah, could tell that something wasn’t right. As the training assistants began passing out materials to begin sewing, Dianah approached Cissy to find out what was wrong. Shyly, Cissy revealed that she was menstruating. Cissy did not have a pad, and she did not even have underwear. She was rotating her skirt to absorb the flow. Normally, Cissy would have gone to the river and sat on the rocks throughout the day. She would have returned home at night to sleep, and gone back to the river the following day until her period ended.
At the end of the day, Cissy had sewn her own Days for Girls Kit. Her smile revealed everything. Utter joy, happiness, and most of all, relief. Relief that she would no longer face long days missing out on her life because of something as natural as a period.
Along with the Kits, each girl had gained valuable knowledge and a rare opportunity to share their stories and experiences in a safe space with Ugandan women who they could see as mentors. To express their gratitude, the entire class of girls gathered together and began singing and dancing. They composed an original song about their new knowledge of menstrual hygiene.
This is just one example of the incredible work that has been possible because of your support! In addition to this program, Days for Girls Uganda has trained over 2,000 girls so far in 2016, they have supported 13 Micro-Enterprises across the region to sell Kits. And the data shows that these Micro-Enterprises are already selling Kits even in the most rural communities. This would not be possible with the incredible support from our Global Giving community. You are helping us to reach girls like Cissy every day, with long-term, sustainable solutions!
**Name has been changed to protect her privacy