i’m old. It’s been many years since i’ve dealt with menstruation.* When i was new to the cycle, it was a pain in the ass – heavy, bulky, pads, anchored to elasticized belts that were all we had in the stone ages of the 70’s.
The liberation of tampons found me during high school! “You mean i can go swimming at the lake with my friends this weekend? Hell, yes!”
i was privileged. Globally, it’s not quite that simple.
Such conveniences are not readily available, and there are tremendous cultural barriers. Many girls are stuck at home – missing one week of school each month. Many are STILL forced to resort to rags, mattress stuffing, banana leaves, feathers – whatever is handy to manage menstruation.
Celeste Mergens was working with a family foundation near Nairobi, Kenya in 2008, assisting an orphanage.** She recognized that the options for dealing with periods were limited – she first tried supplying disposable pads, but that it was not viable, or sustainable. Days for Girls was born…
Kits, with cloth-based, pretty, washable, and long-lasting components — with education — were the solution. Since Days for Girls was founded, more than 1 million women and girls have been assisted, in over 125 countries world wide.
Where do the kits come from? Volunteers. A global network of volunteers, organized in local groups, diligently make the kits to a prescribed standard. Other volunteers are trained to do distribution and education.
i stumbled upon a local group about a year ago. Went to a monthly gathering. Fell in love with the mission. For two hours each month, i join a diverse group of retired women. The group leader has arranged work stations – cutting, ribbon sealing, folding, packing, grommeting. The sewing is done off-site during the month by a cadre of skilled volunteers (not me).
And now i am the Grommet Queen.
Happy chatter. “How are the kids?” “Has Marge recovered from the fall?” “Did you get tickets to the game?” But mostly we are focused on our tasks. i measure, punch holes, set up the grommet thingie, apply grommets. Repeat.
i was happy this month – in 2 hours i completed 60 pad holders. As i make them, i offer kind thoughts and encouragement to the woman or girl who will someday use this as part of her kit. “You go, li’l sister! Being a woman should not get in your way.”
There was a time in my life where i enjoyed being in a leadership role. Helping re-start a bicycle advocacy group, being on a high-visibility board or two, being a mouthpiece for a cultural organization. What i’ve learned is that there is deep joy, and satisfaction, in being nothing more than a useful pair of hands.
i can’t fix all that is wrong in the world. All i can really do is chip away at it… one grommet at a time.
*After breeding, i opted for a tubal ligation in 1999. Ten years later, i chose uterine ablation – a procedure which fries the lining of the uterus, eliminating the montly cycle. Back then, i was recently divorced, and decided that the annoyance of a period would be a buzzkill to my aggressive “dating”… (cough, cough). Menopause, for me, was a year of being hyper-emotional, with the occasional ‘thrash night’ in bed, due to overheating.
** More about Celeste, and Days for Girls at their website.