Sunday, March 1, 2015

Kenya Pad Initiative - The Story

If you are looking for the menstrual pad tutorial, click here.

For those of you who do not already know, here is the story of how I got involved in making washable, reusable pads for the women and girls in Lodwar, Kenya.

A few years ago, my church, Crossroads Nazarene in Chandler, AZ, began a new partnership with Lodwar, Turkana County, Kenya. Together with a few other groups, including UNICEF, our goal is to help eradicate Gender-Based Violence (GBV) in this patriarchal society.

I have always been mission-minded.
I'm a helper.
One of my top love languages is Acts of Service. I show love by doing things for people. By being there. By being present. Available in times of need.

I wanted to get involved with the mission, but being a new mom, GOING to Kenya was out of the question. I couldn't BE there. I couldn't help in the traditional ways I always envisioned for myself. I began to pray and ask God how I could get involved, knowing that I was more-or-less stuck state-side. I have few tangible skills and I didn't really see how quilting was going to specifically help this group of women.

Then, about a year, year-and-a-half ago, Heidi (one of the leaders at our church who works with our Mercy department {outreach}) began asking for disposable pads to take to the women and girls on their upcoming trip to Lodwar. I thought, "Hey! I can do that!" and bought up some bags of pads as my budget allowed, but it got me thinking: how are the disposable pads going to help in the long-run? Once they're used, they will be burned and the women and girls will be right back where they started. Why don't we MAKE some that can be washed and reused?

I approached our Mercy team with the idea and they loved it! After discussing with the leadership planted in Kenya, we got the approval to move forward with the project. For the past year or so, I have been researching, interviewing, YouTubing, and testing different products and designs to find which would be the best for the women in Lodwar. We settled on the design we're using and now, we are trying to get the pad kits together before the next trip in May. Our plan is to give kits to 200 women, each kit consisting of three pair of underwear, three washable, reusable pads, and one bar of soap. The women and girls who receive a kit will have to go to the Wings of Hope counseling center, which is connected to the hospital there in Lodwar, to learn about how to care for their pads and how to use them. This means we need 600 pads made, 600 pairs of underwear donated, and 200 bars of soap donated.

We have two goals with this project:

1. To keep the young girls in school. The week of their period is considered their "week of shame", and without the proper protection, they are forced to stay home from school, and after a few months, they struggle to catch up and many end up dropping out. (More on that in Heidi's letter below.)

2. To build up educated, confident women who will open a small business making these pads in their own region, creating jobs and opportunity in an area where women are not often afforded those possibilities. Heidi told me about this clay working company there in Kenya: A few women came together to open a small business making clay beaded jewelry to sell. They now sell mugs along with their jewelry and employ 200 women, who have their jobs for life. I'd love to see something like that come of this project.

This is not toxic charity. We are not throwing money at a problem, but actively trying to help the women and girls succeed in school so that one day they can contribute to their society.

There are countless stories of what's going on there, but here is an email Heidi wrote to our group of volunteers as we were beginning this handmade journey:

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There is some discussion going on about the possibility of making reusable/washable menstrual pads for the women & girls of Lodwar, Kenya. Many of the girls there do not finish school, and their menstrual cycle is one of the main reasons. The region is a very poor one, so many (I would venture to say MOST) girls do not have the resources to procure feminine hygiene products. I want to share with you the context behind the discussion.

One of the meetings we sat in on my first visit there (Sept ’13), the teachers and school headmasters shared that once a girl started her cycle she would begin to miss one week of school a month. Month after month the amount she misses compounds until she is far behind, has missed foundational concepts and can no longer keep up with the class. And so she drops out of school.

For those who stay in school, many are using pieces of their mattresses for absorbency. The mattresses used there are more like a tempurpedic type of mattress, made with a foamy or spongey material. They are usually 2-4" thick (depending on the quality/ how much is paid) and the width of a twin mattress here. Girls will tear off pieces of their mattresses to use as feminine hygiene products, while their mattress shrinks in size each month, until there is no mattress. And then she finds herself in the same position as the first girl.

This last trip (March ’14) we took over a bunch of disposable pads (collected whatever people were willing to give), and I purchased a few reusable/washable types to take over as kits. We gave them to the Field Coordinator and the Public Health Rep there and asked them to get back with us on whether they thought the washable ones were something they could use, that would be helpful in that region. Lodwar is located on top of two large aquifers, so water is available. Though most cannot afford to have it piped to their homes, a pump or well or river is within walking distance. (Their walking distance is a lot farther than ours. They walk everywhere. We walk to the parking lot.) So the reusable/washable pads are usable there. Both Sam and Whitney {Danny note: Sam and Whitney are our liaisons to the area and part of that leadership I talked about earlier. Sam is a local pastor.} agreed that they would like to do kind of a pilot program, train how to use them, distribute some, and then evaluate before moving forward. This is where you come in. :0)

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Another story Heidi shared with me really hurt my heart: The government in Kenya, at one point, gave school-aged girls each a pair of underwear and a few disposable pads to help keep them in school. The men and boys were so outraged the girls were given preferential treatment that they retaliated. The government then gave the men and boys bags with seven pairs of underwear and pants and other things just to make them happy, and no more packages went to those girls who NEED the feminine hygiene products. Women are treated as second-class citizens, if not property. They are often raped (and when asked about it during the very first trip, the women didn't even consider rape as something they feared, just as a part of life). The mothers try to mutate their daughter's bodies to make them less desirable. It's a terrible world they live in, one we are trying to make better with this small project.

As the letter said, this is a pilot program. We want to roll out these kits to 200 women then evaluate how they help. Whitney may come back and tell us the pads aren't helping. She may come back and say they are wonderful and to send more. We may need to make them longer or shorter or more absorbent, but for now, we are sending these in hopes they will make a radical change in the lives of these women.

And, who knows? Maybe it will be great and we can expand to help women in regions other than Lodwar. Maybe we can help women in other countries. I'm not sure where we will end up, but I'm confident we are beginning on the right foot.

There are lots of other organizations out there doing the same thing but we wanted to help the community we're working in, so we chose to do our own grassroots program. If you have any questions about what we are doing or how to get involved, please do not hesitate to contact me. If you are a no-reply blogger, please leave your email address in the comments if you want me to get back to you.

I am looking for help in making these pads. I am also looking for donations of flannel, fleece, PUL (waterproofing layer found in the cloth diapering section of craft stores), snaps (size 16), and thread (cotton or polyester). If you are interested in donating in any way, please contact me so I can get you the information you need.

danny{dot}heyen{at}gmail

And if you don't have donations and you can't make the pads, I would love your prayers, good thoughts, and positive vibes. We are changing lives with this little project and I am so grateful for your support!

Menstrual Pad Tutorial Here




Danny

1 comment:

  1. Are you still looking for pads to be donated? Also, have you heard any updates on if the idea was a success? I'm interested in helping out.

    ReplyDelete

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