A group of Girl Guides who attended an international conference in Sylvan Lake recently lent a helping hand to a local project that seeks to provide girls and women around the world with sustainable feminine hygiene and better women’s health.
The Guides had selected Days for Girls as a service project during their time here in Central Alberta, said Darlene Grasdal, co-director of the Days for Girls Red Deer chapter.
“They approached us about a year ago, saying they were going to be at Sylvan Lake for the jamboree, and that they wanted to make Days for Girls their service project.”
Having been established in 2008, Days for Girls International is a grassroots non-profit organization.
Today, they are working in more than 70 countries, said Grasdal.
“(To help provide) every girl and woman in the world with ready feasible access to quality sustainable hygiene and women’s health education by 2022.”
Working with Days for Girls provides plenty of fulfillment for local residents involved with the organization, said Grasdal, who was part of a mission to Guatemala last year.
“The name comes from the idea of giving days back to the girls,” she explained. “For every period they have, there’s up to five days each month that they can’t do anything. In a lot of countries, they are staying at home just waiting for their period to be over so they can carry on with life. So they miss school and some of them are missing work if they are working to help contribute to the family,” she said. “So these (products) really give them ‘days back’.”
Volunteers create hygienic kits which contain sewn items that are reusable.
“The idea is that they can also take extras with them to school, or to wherever they are headed for the day so as they need them they can change them,” she explained. They are also given nicely-crafted bags to put their kits in, she said.
“They love them, because some of them don’t even have a school bag. So we’re giving them something they can take with them and not just on their period days – they can use these bags all of the time.”
Other kit items include pairs of underwear, face clothes, soap and instructions.
“The Red Deer chapter started with my co-director Shelley deBoon, who went on a missions trip and was helping at a girls’ school teaching them to sew,” said Grasdal. “She met up with someone who had been involved with Days for Girls. Shelley really had a passion for it, and was asking how she could get involved.”
Ultimately, she teamed up with Grasdal and they decided to form the Red Deer chapter.
Locally, the chapter has between 40 and 50 volunteers who may come out on a regular basis to the sewing and assembly days. Since forming in 2013, they’ve supplied kits to many countries including Kenya, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Ghana, the Philippines and Ethiopia.
Typically, it costs about $10 to make and provide what’s necessary for a kit, but Grasdal pointed out that fabric and other supplies are often donated as well. Red Deer Sewing Center, for example, provided nine sewing machines for their use during the week working with the Girl Guides.
Ultimately, it’s usually not a huge issue in the western world but in developing nations, the topic of menstruation can be a huge challenge in terms of self-care and managing without easy access to hygienic feminine products.
“We could send over boxes of pads, but what are they going to do with them? They often don’t have a garbage (pick-up) system. So this is perfect because it’s washable and it’s reusable,” she said, adding with Days for Girls, there is an entire educational component to the program as well.
“We make a connection with the countries we are going to; we make a connection with the schools,” said Grasdal.
Education on reproductive and sexual health can also be provided along with giving out the kits, for example.
“We’re explaining how to use them, but we are also talking about how there is no curse about having your period. It’s normal, and if we didn’t have than we wouldn’t be here! So it’s good to have some of those discussions, too.”
Sadly, a stigma and a sense of negativity still exists in some countries when it comes to a woman’s cycle.
deBoon said it’s a taboo topic in many regions across the developing world.
“Some mothers won’t tell their daughters,” she said, adding she knows of a team member who visited the Dominican Republic on a mission with Days for Girls to distribute the kits and provide some supplemental education as well.
“When one of the mothers found out, she pulled her daughter out of school,” said deBoon. “So in a lot of places, it’s rarely discussed. And in a lot of places it’s just totally taboo. Some countries, when you have your period, you have to leave the village.”
Meanwhile, on her trip to Guatemala last year, Grasdal and her team took 675 kits with them.
“We went and distributed those kits, and took some postpartum kits as well for women. Some of them, even if they could possibly afford to go and buy product, they have the problem of getting rid of it once you’ve used it. And also, if they have to make the choice between feeding their families or buying feminine hygiene product, they are going to buy the food.
“So they were pretty happy to see us and to see this, and to see that their girls were hearing about it as well.”
For Grasdal, the trip was personally fulfilling as well.
“I was so excited to go and actually and see how excited they were. Everyone on our team – they would just hug us and they were so thankful.”
For more information, visit www.DaysforGirls.org, email firstname.lastname@example.org or find them on facebook at ‘Days for Girls Red Deer Alberta Chapter’.
Grasdal also said the organization is always on the look out for donations including fabric, thread, ziploc bags (large freezer size), girls’ underpants and bar soap. Financial donations and donations in kind will also receive a tax deductible receipt.
As deBoon said, “People love to help, so it’s something you can get the community involved in.”