One of the greatest needs of women that is under-represented in poverty situations, overlooked in development projects and a risk to their health and hygiene is one that is also not often talked about. Their periods. Menstruation is a regular part of life for half of the World’s population, but it is also one of the least talked about, often hidden behind veils of shame. In developing nations, when a woman has her period and no access to hygiene products, it usually means they stay at home, missing work, school and regular life for days at a time while they stay hidden.
In the past decade there has been a resurgence in support and focus on providing women at risk with access to hygiene products and training on menstruation and healthy sexuality in general. Every cycle of girls at our school we teach them about their periods and have given each group a set of washable, fabric based hygiene pads that were donated to us by the Days for Girls organization. They were very popular and met a strong need in the community.
As our grads have finished the school and been looking for ways to continue to grow their businesses and also grow the sustainable business side of our school, these hygiene projects stayed on our mind. In 2016 we had a team of ladies come over to teach us a pattern and process of making re-usable washable pads. We sourced multiple local fabrics and did liquid absorption tests to ensure we could use the best performing fabrics locally available. We strongly believe in supporting local markets and importing as little (or nothing) as possible so the project is locally reproducible. We want these girls, this school business, to be able to do it all on their own.
Fast forward a year and we found a partner who connected us with a couple NGO groups who showed interest in making orders for these fabric pads. Many International Aid organizations have funding that is designated to be spent locally, and meeting the hygiene needs of women is a need that isn’t going away. There are internally displaced groups of refugees and people fleeing violence who are living in camps with no access to hygiene materials, there are villages of women who suffer in shame in silence, women suffering from fistula in the country who need good products for hygiene.
The original test order was for 100 kits. 70 of these went out to a refugee camp, and 30 were given locally through another NGO. Another order for 250 is currently underway for the the Belgian Development agency for schools in a conflict hit region. They are working on funds to order 1000 kits as well.
This is one more step towards our goal of helping the school to be launched as a sustainable, self-run and self-supporting cooperative business, with our grads at the centre of it. Our desire is to see these students and the staff grow in their capacity to be successful and confident leaders in their lives and businesses. Involving them in every step along the way means soon they can do it on their own. We want them to understand the relationships between costs, salaries, prices and profit. We want them to be able to do the whole process of producing the products themselves; buying materials, measuring and cutting fabric and sewing the product. According to our team there, currently the sewing is all done by the grads, we showed them the process of sourcing and buying materials and they will be able to do that themselves next time and now we need to work on client contact and finding more contracts. Soon we hope their current contracts and partners will parlay into more naturally without our help as well.
Will you join us in praying that these hardworking young ladies will find continued connections, partners to grow their markets? WIll you pray they continue to work together as a team, encouraging and supporting each other.
Long lasting development is hard. We are so proud of the success of these girls and the impact they are having on their own families, their communities, and now reaching into at risk villages and camps around their own country.
Once these kits are given to our Aid partners, these reach women in need across the country. Thanks to the IRC for giving out these kits in the Diffa region and for the photos below of the distribution.