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:


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)


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.


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


Kenya Pad Initiative - Menstrual Pad Tutorial

If you are looking for the story of how I got involved, click here.

The Kenya Pad Initiative has begun and I couldn't be more excited. This weekend I had a group of people come together at Crossroads Nazarene Church in Chandler, AZ to help make menstrual pads for the women in Lodwar, Kenya. I wanted to wait to post this tutorial until I had a chance to have people test it. Changes have been made and now I think it is ready for all of you to see!

We need 600 menstrual pads for our first distribution to the Lodwar women. We are hoping to have three washable, reusable pads, three pair of underwear, and a bar of soap in each kit to give out to 200 women. They will be required to get their kits from the local counseling center (Wings of Hope) where they will learn to take care of their pad kits, how to use them and how to clean them. Our hope is to equip 200 women, including school-aged girls, with these kits and get their feedback for how we can adapt the pattern to better suit their needs. Once we have feedback from these women, we will be making many more to hopefully reach all the girls and women in need in this area of the world.

If you are interested in making pads for this cause, please contact me to let me! I can let you know where to send them when you are finished. If you can't make pads but have some extra flannel or fleece or thread lying around that you would like to donate, please let me know! We are taking donations! If you don't want to make these for others, but want to make them for yourself, feel free to use this pattern.

  • Menstrual Pad Tutorial [this blog post in Word .DOCX file format]

  • Inside Pad Template [pdf]

  • Outside Pad Template [pdf]

  • Menstrual Pad Tutorial


    (1) Fleece outer piece for the bottom
    (1) Flannel outer piece for the top
    (1) PUL liner
    (2) Flannel liners


    Sewing machine
    Marking pen
    Rotary cutter/Cutting mat (optional)

    1. Prepare your templates

    Print and assemble your templates. The outer pad template spans four printed pages. Cut out each piece and tape them together to create one outer pad template. Cut out your templates and trace onto cardboard, then cut out the cardboard templates. This is especially helpful if you will be using the rotary cutter to cut the fabrics.

    2. Cut the fabric


    Using your cardboard template, trace the pad shape onto the appropriate fabric and cut it out using scissors.

    If you own a rotary cutter and cutting mat, you can rotary cut through multiple layers of fabric at a time, using the cardboard cutout as your straight edge. Be sure to use a sharp rotary blade so you can cleanly cut through the multiple layers.

    3. Assemble the liner

    The liner of the basic menstrual pad is made with two (2) flannel liner pieces and one (1) PUL liner piece. You will need to lay the PUL on top of the two flannel pieces, waterproofing side down toward the flannel. (The waterproofing side is the shiny, smooth side.)

    Pin the stacked liners to the wrong side of the flannel or quilting cotton outer piece. To reiterate, place the outer flannel pieces right side down, place the two flannel liners on top (right side or wrong side is fine), and place the PUL liner piece with the smooth, shiny, waterproofing side down. I like to use four pins to hold my layers in place. The PUL is super slippery and will move around if you don’t secure it in some way.

    4. Stitch the liner to the outer piece

    Using about a 2.5 stitch length, topstitch around the liner (about 1/8” from the edge). Backstitch at the beginning and end of your stitch path.

    Clip the thread tails.

    5. Assemble the menstrual pad

    Place the fleece outer piece pilled (or rough) side up. If your fleece is anti-pill, you will not need to worry about the direction of the fabric. It may be nice to place the side with the clearer image (right side) up so the design will show on the final product. Place the quilted, top outer piece on top of the fleece bottom outer piece, right sides together.

    Pin around the edges of the pad. On one end (shown on the right side in the photograph above), place two pins about 3/4” from each of the corners. This will mark your starting point and ending point when stitching around the perimeter of the pad. Between the two pins will be left open (unsewn) so the pad can be turned right side out. It is important that you stitch around the corners here. It makes the opening easier to close after you have turned the pad right side out.

    Remember to backstitch at the beginning and end of your stitch path to lock the threads in place. Stitch around the perimeter of the pad, turning at the corners. Use between ¼” and 5/8” seam allowance.

    Clip the thread tails.

    6. Turning the pad

    You will need to clip notches at the corners of the pad, both inward and outward. This will help give the pad crisp points when completed. In the photograph above, the lower portion of the pad has been clipped while the top portion has not. The top portion has been marked where notches should be cut. You will need to clip close to the stitches. Be careful not to clip through any stitches.

    Turn the pad right side out through the opening you left on the end.

    Use a chopstick to press corners outward. Press carefully so you do no rip through the stitches in the corners.

    7. Closing holes: intentional and not

    To close the opening you used for turning, fold the seam allowance for each fabric into the hole and pin shut.

    Sometimes you will end up with a hole in the seam after turning the pad right side out. To remedy this, fold the seam allowance for each fabric into the hole and pin shut.

    Once all the holes are pinned closed, topstitch around the edges of the pad, closing the holes and giving the pad shape. Remember to backstitch at the beginning and end of your stitch trail.

    Clip the thread tails.

    Here, you can see the hole from the aforementioned photograph is closed.

    A note about accuracy: You do not have to worry about unstitching if you overstitch your mark. Due to the nature of these menstrual pads, there will be slight discrepancies in the construction and that is okay. They are utilitarian and will not be rendered unusable by slight variations in stitching.

    Completed product:

    The above picture shows the completed sewing project. If you would like to stop here, please feel free to do so. The last step is applying a snap closure to the wings, which can be completed by people who already own the tools and supplies at the collection site.

    If you would like to add snaps, here are some images to show how to install. Directions for installing snaps can be found on the package for snap installation pliers. We are using size16 (11 mm/.43 inch) snaps. These can be found in the cloth diapering section of Jo-Ann.

    How can you help?

    Even if you are unable to help cut or sew, you can help by donating the supplies or tools we need to make more menstrual pads.

    We need fleece, flannel (including receiving blankets), and PUL, which can be found in the cloth diapering section of Jo-Ann. We are looking for these specific materials, so please do not donate items like curtains or tablecloths. We will need yardage of the above fabrics for these pads. If you are purchasing to donate, try to get a flannel that does not have a painted design on it, as these designs affect the absorbency of the fabric.

    If you would rather donate notions or tools, we can use any cotton or polyester thread (this is a great thread stash buster project!), snap pliers, and coordinating snaps. Snaps and pliers are found in the cloth diapering section of Jo-Ann.

    Please feel free to share about this on your blog or other social media. I would love to get as many people involved as possible!

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